At the beginning of his forward to A. G. Sertillanges’ The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods, Catholic Priest and Political Philosophy Professor James V. Schall, S. J. makes mention of a letter, believed to be written by St. Thomas to “a certain Brother John, in which are enumerated Sixteen Precepts for Acquiring the Treasure of Knowledge.”

Needless to say, Schall’s brief reference sent me on a quest for said advice, and I eventually found both the original text (translated from Latin), listed below, along with various more modern interpretations (in parenthesis), included where helpful.

I hope you find this as insightful as I did:


Letter from St. Thomas Aquinas to Brother John

Because you have asked me, my brother John, most dear to me in Christ, how to set about aquiring the treasure of knowledge, this is the advice I pass on to you. Such is therefore my advice on your way of life:

1. That you should choose to enter by the small rivers, and not go right away into the sea, because you should move from easy things to difficult things (attempt the easier first, then move to the difficult)

 2. I suggest you be slow to speak (speak carefully/cautiously)

3. Be also slow to go to the room where people chat (avoid places of talk/gossip)

4. Embrace purity of conscience

5. Do not stop making time for prayer

6. Love to be in your room frequently, if you wish to be led to the wine cellar (love your home and be there often)

7. Show yourself to be likable to all, or at least try (be genial to all)

8. Do not show yourself as too familiar with anyone; because too much familiarity breeds contempt and will slow you in your studies (don’t be overly friendly with others in public, it breeds contempt, and causes distraction from your work)

9. Don’t get involved in any way in the deeds and words of worldly people (avoid altogether those who are toxic, materialistic, ego-centric, heartless, non-spiritual, etc.)

10. Above all, avoid idle conversation

11. Never mind who says what, but commit to memory what is said that is true (truth is truth regardless of who says it)

12. Work to understand what you read

13. Make yourself sure of doubtful points (research further any points that you’re unsure of)

14. Put whatever you can into the cupboard of your mind as if you were trying to fill a cup (remember any and all true and useful advice, fill your mind)

15. Seek not the things that are higher than you (avoid setting unrealistic or impossible goals, thereby wasting your time in futile effort)

16. Follow the steps of blessed Dominic, who produced useful and marvelous shoots, flowers and fruits in the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts for as long as life was his companion (walk in the footsteps of good and holy men)

If you follow these things, you will attain to whatever you desire.

Farewell.