the intellectual life

The Intellectual Life: Book Summary, 7 Key Lessons and Review

TitleThe Intellectual Life
AuthorA.-D. Sertillanges
PublisherThe Catholic University of America Press
Rating★★★★★ (5 stars)
Purchase LinkBuy Here

The Intellectual Life is a book that teaches the fundamental steps to have a profitable and fruitful study routine in the long term.

Reading The Intellectual Life is mandatory for anyone interested in subjects such as philosophy, literature, science and others. Read more book summaries about education and other themes here.

What is the Synopsis of The Intellectual Life?

The book is a true work of art for everyone who wants to learn how to study better. Shall we read a short review of The Intellectual Life?

The Intellectual Life is a book written by the Dominican monk Antonin-Gilbert Sertillanges. In the work, the monk teaches a series of guidelines that an aspiring intellectual must follow in order to pursue his vocation. However, he doesn’t just give study tips: he teaches how to integrate intelligence and personality.

In other words: it is a complete manual that goes far beyond being a series of meaningless rules. It is a book to take for life. You can buy The Intellectual Life clicking here.

What is The Intellectual Life Review?

I’ve always heard good things about the book, but I didn’t imagine it could contain so much profound information. 

First, the importance is due to the valuable tips contained in its pages: it teaches several notions about studies that are still valuable today. In addition, the author is practically contemporary with our time. The author understands (to some extent) the stressful life routine we have nowadays. In this way, he gives important lessons that make us study efficiently even if we don’t have much time throughout the day.

Finally, the review of The Intellectual Life is positive, as it is one of the most important books on classical studies of our time. Read a summary about the book Trivium here.

What are the Key Lessons from The Intellectual Life?

Indeed, there are many lessons in the book. Much more than seven! But I separated the main ones here.

1) Certain Privations are Necessary

“Let me stress this point: it is in the simplicity of your ordinary work, in the monotonous details of each day, that you have to find the secret, which is hidden from so many, of something great and new: Love.” Josemaria Escrivá, Furrow 489.

First, we cannot forget that studying is a vocation, regardless of whether it is total or partial, sharing it with other daily tasks. However, to really maintain a proper routine for this, it is necessary to lose a little downtime. Therefore, Sertillanges recommends at least two hours a day to maintain a satisfactory intellectual routine.

Thus, less than that ends up yielding little fruit; more than that, it ends up getting in the way because of the volume of information and our inability to deal with it. The Intellectual Life teaches that it is good to be thoughtful.

In fact: there may be people capable of learning a lot with little study per day and people who can study up to six hours a day without any kind of damage, but these are a minority.

Meanwhile, in our current routine, many may not have that much time available. So half an hour of close reading a day is better than none at all, or at least one content review on the bus.

Finally, maybe compensating a little on the weekend, without excesses, is a good alternative.

2) Leisure is Important

“It seems opportune to remind you of the convenience of rest. If illness knocks at the door, we will welcome it with joy, as coming from the hands of God, but we must not provoke it with our imprudence: we are men, and we need to replenish our body’s strength.” St. Josemaría Escrivá, Letter No. 14 (15-X-1948)

In fact: in the previous advice, the author seems to be too severe in giving us certain impositions of time. However, he emphasizes the importance of leisure: he mentions traveling, listening to music, spending time organizing his private library, taking time off on vacation, etc. On the other hand, the monk recommends in The Intellectual Life the abstention from certain types that involve a lot of futilities and agitations

For example: can a party at night be nice? Of course you can, but going out to get drunk and feeling good about your hangover the next afternoon doesn’t seem very healthy to me.

So much better is a bar with friends, where you drink a little beer and spend more time talking.

It is recommended to avoid too many jobs. Of course, in today’s society, saying that immediately gives you the title of lazy.

However, it’s worth putting your hand on your conscience and seeing if you’re not working more than you should, and if it’s not possible to give up a little income in favor of a simpler and less futile life.

In fact: people who work 40h a week would not be able to adapt, but each one can try to do it according to their possibilities. To know more about homeschooling, read a summary about Blueprinting Homeschooling here.

3) You need to plan your hours

“You have a warhorse called study. You resolve a thousand times to make good use of your time, yet you are distracted by the merest thing. Sometimes you get annoyed at yourself, because of your lack of will, even though you begin again every day.” Josemaría Escrivá, Furrow 523.

As mentioned earlier, the book recommends two hours of study a day. However, the author goes further, talking about how these hours should be used. Thus, it is essential to organize the day so that, during this period, there is no interruption and your focus is entirely on acquiring knowledge.

Therefore, it is recommended that you plan the material to be studied in advance, that you already have material to take notes nearby and that your daily tasks are already in order.

In addition, it is expected that you make better use of your time, avoiding complications and always counting on the love of your wife and children (when you have them).

In fact: perhaps this tip is the most difficult, as homes today are smaller and noisier with so many TVs.

Furthermore, our cell phones and computers are a temptation to distract us from this sacred time.

Also, our spouses, children and other relatives may not understand our objective, and for that a constant dialogue is necessary.

On the other hand, we must not fail to take care of our relatives, always dedicating our attention to them.

4) You must know what to study

“ Study. Study in earnest. If you are to be salt and light, you need knowledge, ability. Or do you imagine that an idle and lazy life will entitle you to receive infused knowledge?” Josemaría Escrivá, The Way 340.

In fact: we shouldn’t start studying everything that appears to us, because it would take our focus away and, in the end, we wouldn’t know anything satisfactorily. On the other hand, we shouldn’t study just one subject, as it would give us partial culture, and since knowledge is connected, we should take advantage of it.

Among the essential subjects, two subjects of extreme importance are mentioned in The Intellectual Life: Philosophy and Theology.

Therefore, as the Dominican monk that he is, he believes that every type of scholar should be aware of these two disciplines, as they contain the most important subjects that a person can learn.

Furthermore, we should logically study the subjects of interest to us. Logically, everyone has different interests and it is up to each one to choose them and look for their authors and characteristic bibliographies.

Finally, it is necessary to study subjects relevant to our professional life: higher education courses can help us in this mission, but it is always necessary to update ourselves.

In this way, we can use the various bibliographic recommendations that exist on the internet to our advantage.

However, we cannot get confused in the midst of so much information, seeking credible sources to base our information on.

In addition, the internet allows us to get in touch with several important writers who are still alive, and we should not underestimate this possibility. You can buy The Intellectual Life clicking here.

5) We must Apprehend Knowledge

“ There is no excuse for those who could be scholars and are not.” Josemaria Escrivá, The Way 332

First of all, one of the most interesting things in “The Intellectual Life” is when, in chapter VII (part A), there is talk about the nature of knowledge. According to him, we should not be eternal readers: that would make us just repeat what we read. So we should, as soon as possible, start writing about the things we learn and showing it to people.

The thought is incommunicable. In this way, what authors do when writing is to assemble a line of reasoning so that we can awaken that knowledge in ourselves.

Therefore, the intention of good literary works is to make the truths contained in them awaken in us, so that we can apprehend them, making our knowledge our own.

The truth, however much it has already been said by someone else, must be repeated by us, since we give our colors to the truth.

For example: a person X and a person Y can say the same thing in different ways, and one be understood and the other not. Each soul is unique and communicates its thoughts in its own particular way.

A great possibility we have is the use of blogs and social networks. However, we must have a knowledge of what we are talking about, in addition to accepting the corrections given to us and explaining the points that were not clear.

6) It is Necessary to Take Care of Your Spiritual Life

“It is good to see you put such determination into your study provided, of course, you put the same determination into acquiring interior life.” Josemaria Escrivá, The Way 341.

In fact: as a Dominican monk, it is obvious that Dom Sertillanges does not fail to quote several times from the life of faith of the man of studies. Therefore, even if an atheist or non-Christian is reading this text, I believe that the book’s advice can serve to emphasize the importance of deepening your convictions, even if these are different from his.

However, if you don’t want to know more about Catholicism, you can skip to the next point.

So, for Catholics, I reproduce here some of his tips:

  • Go to mass, to participate in the sacrifice of Christ, as many days as possible (if possible, every day).
  • Be faithful to the Church, Spouse of Christ, in its doctrines, in addition to studying the catechism to deepen the faith.
  • Learn Latin, the official language of the Church.
  • Read the Summa Theologica, the greatest work of Saint Thomas Aquinas (preferably in Latin).

Of course, it can be difficult for many to attend Mass every day and do all these things.

However, it is already known that, reading 10 paragraphs of the Catechism of the Second Vatican Council a day, it ends in less than a year.

In fact: there are those who prefer the Catechism of Trent, as the author himself recommends, and I believe it is possible to make a division like that so as not to get too heavy.

Finally, readings from the Bible in the light of the Magisterium of the Church, readings from papal encyclicals and other documents are certainly very edifying too.

7) We have to give importance to the Content

“If you are sensible and humble, you will have realised that one never stops learning… This happens in every field; even the wisest will always have something to learn, until the end of their lives; if they don’t, they cease to be wise.” Josemaria Escrivá, Furrow 272.

With the current political controversies, it is common to discard everything someone says because it is “petralha” or “coxinha”. However, what if St. Thomas Aquinas had downgraded the entire teachings of Plato and Aristotle as pagan? We would certainly have lost a lot in the field of philosophy.

Indeed: it is possible to get good things out of even the worst authors. Even for a Christian, it is possible to extract good things from the teachings of Marx and Nietzsche, removing only the disposable from them.

On the other hand, even for an atheist, it is possible to take good things from the writings of St. Paul and St. Augustine, removing what is incompatible with his belief.

If communication were perfect, it would be possible for everyone to have the same opinion about everything.

However, as she is not, there are as many opinions in the world as there are people alive, and it is essential to take the best of them.

Thus, by doing so, it is possible to reconcile the truths of each thinker and develop truly autonomous thinking. This advice can even avoid many Facebook fights. Read a summary about Dumbing us Down here.

What are the Negative Points of The Intellectual Life?

Honestly, I can’t see any downsides that would stop someone from reading the book. I’m just going to put here one thing or another that might bother some readers.

Because it is a book written by a Catholic priest, there are some rules that are not applicable for those who do not practice the Catholic faith. However, this does not hinder reading in any way, which remains very useful.

I believe that each reader has the ability to discern whether or not the rule is applicable to him or her.

What are the Positive Points of The Intellectual Life?

There are so many positives that it would be difficult to list them all here. But I will try to summarize in a paragraph only the best.

The book gives very practical and no-frills tips. Tips that will make you study much better after reading. It stands out because it does not focus only on studying, but on life in general: the attitude towards studying, the time to set aside, spiritual activities, etc. Required reading.

Therefore, it is a must-have book for any serious student. It will definitely stay on your bedside table for quite some time. You can buy The Intellectual Life clicking here.

Is The Intellectual Life worth reading?

Okay, you get the idea that the book is fantastic. But is it really worth reading? I’ll give my verdict here:

It’s worth reading The Intellectual Life: the book is a true masterpiece, and should be read by anyone who aspires to a life of serious study. Thus, if you liked this text, consider reading the work in full, because certainly what is in this post does not come close to the beauty of the original.

In fact: this post just gives tips on how to apply the principles described here in everyday life. Of course there is a need for adaptations, because times are different, and each one will make them according to their reality and according to their limitations.

If you are interested in purchasing The Intellectual Life, you should definitely do it! You can buy The Intellectual Life clicking here.