In his Commendation and Division of Sacred Scripture (which I, for one, plan to spend more time upon!) St Thomas quotes psalm 103
“You water the hills from your upper rooms, the earth is sated with the fruit of your works.”
St Thomas then explains that he is going to examine four things in order
“the height of spiritual doctrine; the dignity of those who teach it; the condition of the listeners; and the order of communicating.”
I was particularly interested in the third thing, namely, “the condition of the listeners” which I take to be the same thing as “the condition of the students” or more bluntly “the way students should be.”
And guess with what he compares a student?
Students should be like earth!
Three reasons: Humility, Stability and Fruitfulness!
‘the earth is sated’. This is because the earth is lowest. Proverbs 25:3: ‘The heaven above, and the earth beneath.’ Again, it is stable and firm. Ecclesiastes 1:4: ‘One generation passes away, and another generation comes, but the earth stands for ever.’ Again, it is fruitful. Genesis 1:11: ‘Let the earth bring forth the green herb, and such as may seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after its kind.’
As always St. Thomas is not just making this stuff up. He actually finds fantastic scriptural support even when making points with which I was already inclined to agree.
So he continues.
Similarly, they (ED. “students”) should be low as the earth in humility. Proverbs 11:2: ‘Where humility is, there , also is wisdom.’ Again, firm with the sense of rectitude; Ephesians 4:14: ‘That we may be now no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine.’ And fruitful, as the precepts of wisdom bear fruit in them, Luke 8:15: ‘Having heard the word, hold it fast and bear fruit in patience.’
And he winds the whole argument up thus (as if he could be any clearer!)
Therefore humility is required of them with respect to the learning that comes from listening, Sirach 6:34: ‘If you wilt incline your ear, you shalt receive instruction: and if you love to hear, you shalt be wise.’ Rectitude of the senses with respect to the judgment of what is heard; Job 12.11: ‘Doth not the ear discern words?’ But fruitfulness in discovery, by which from a few things heard, the good listener pronounces many things; Proverbs 9.9: ‘Give an occasion to a wise man, and wisdom shall be added to him.’
I think we are all able to easily see that a student needs to be humble. A person has got to listen and submit his mind to some extent to the words of another.
What I find illuminating is that the student must be firm or stable- which St Thomas also appears to be naming “Rectitude of the senses with respect to the judgment of what is heard.”
St Paul’s exhortation teaches the point well
“That we may be now no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine.”
In other words I suppose an excess of humble disciple-ship might produce the kind of students that they used to call “ipse dixit” men. In other words, especially in the case of someone like Aristotle (Ipse), it is not a virtue to simply believe whatever is heard from a teacher even if one has a vague suspicion that the teacher might be speaking a little out of his sphere.
Would-be Aristotelians, like me I suppose, might suffer a little from a criticism in this regard. I admit it. My tendency is to immediately accept as true anything that Aristotle says even if that means suspending other things that appear to have been demonstrated pretty squarely.
For example, it does appear that there is something called light which in fact does appear to move. Yet Aristotle definitely excludes the movement of light by a pretty good argument. I think his argument is basically something like this: If light moved then, one standing on a high mountain at the crack of dawn should be able to see it move. But guess what? A person standing on a high mountain at the crack of dawn does not see it move. So therefore light does not move!
I think that is a great argument. Nonetheless one does have to admit that modern science has enabled us to detect movement at greater speeds than perhaps even the great Aristotle dreamt was possible-although it pains me to say this.
Not that he was wrong about what light is mind you. I mean so what if it moves. The real question is what is it!?!
At any rate, we shouldn’t be tossed to and fro like children by every passing doctrine- and so firmness, like the earth, is what a good student needs.
But don’t let anyone confuse this with granite or marble headed stubbornness!