The well known and eminent scholar Fr. James V. Schall, American Jesuit Roman Catholic priest, teacher, writer and philosopher, spoke earlier this semester at the University of St. Thomas.  The talk was entitled, “Is Intelligence Impractical? – Reflections of a ‘Rigid’ Thomist,” and is well worth the hour of your time to listen.

He also gave a lecture specifically for the Center for Thomistic Studies, available here. You will find an imperfect transcription below, which I am slowly editing when I have time.

One of his websites (that, I think, other people curate) can be found here:


“Moderator: Thank you very much let me introduce to you the director of the center Dr Tom Osborne.

Osborne: To mark it’s 25th year the center for Thomistic Studies initiated the order of St. Thomas to be awarded  to persons of distinction in their writings, teachings, philosophy way of life to what the (unclear 0:42) of the Catholic church describes as the incomparable value of the philosophy of St Thomas (unclear 00:53) each recipient is presented with a medal in the image of St Thomas and a model of the order (unclear 01:01) dare to do all that you can . In the  world and natural year 2006 we were privileged to honor Cardinal Avery Dulles of the society of Jesus and Mr George Craig Jr since them we have followed this pattern to awarding this honour to international recognized scholars and to friends of the center. Tonight we will honour Fr James B Schall of the same society of Jesus. Fr Schall taught at many institutions, he retired in 2012 as professor of political philosophy at George Town University. His career started with a stint in the US army from 1946 to 1947 after he was in the army he joined the society of Jesus the California province in 1948, he received a degree in political theory from George Town university in 1960, did MST from the university of Santa Clara four years later. He taught in several institutions and is a member of the government department at George Town university from 1977 to 2012. He was well as a teacher at George Town his excellence as a teacher can be shown by the fact that 1993, 2004 and 2010 Fr schall was presented the Edward B Bunn SJ award for faculty excellence by the senior class in the college of Arts and Sciences at the George Town university so several times the students have decided when they want to lok at the university who was their teacher that they respected and worked close by and they chose Fr Schall. He’s written hundreds of essays I couldn’t list them on political, theological,literary and physiological issues in academic journals. He also contributed regularly to popular journal for instance he writes in Crisis and Homiletic & Pastoral Review. He’s also know for his expertise on G.K. Chesterton so the amount he has written on, that he’s talked on is it’s incredible. He’s the author on numerous books on social issues, spiritual, culture and literature including Another Sort of Learning, Christianity and Life The Distinctiveness of Christianity and A Student’s Guide to Liberal Learning. I should mention that this is the first St. Aquinas lecture to whom I owe a great deal and as a high school student a friend and I had this book Another Sort of Learning and I sometimes thought when I had students why did they believe these things that are obviously false so why would they empirically accept what people tell them, then I realized they didn’t have the benefit of Fr Schall’s book. The most important parts of this book the essays are great but the book list are excellent so you ca just buy this book for the list of books in it and another thing since that period I’m also interested in 16 and 17 century  works for various reasons often I think that these writes are superior to writers of our own day. But one of the ways they are superior are the subtitles Fr Schall even agrees to this so this book is another sort of work in selective contrary essay on how finally to acquire an education while still in college or anywhere else. Containing some collated advise about how to employ your leisure time. The ultimate question remain perplexing in spite of your highest earned academic degree, together with summary book list nowhere else in captivity to be found. So what more can you say. Tonight we will award him the order of St Thomas for his contributions when academically it’s really philological philosophy that’s  been his focus that he’s contributed  to but it’s hard to measure his influence in just passing on the catholic intellectual tradition, telling people about it giving people book stories coming up with book list, writing articles that’s where a lot of his influence has been.and so it’s for hi work in political philosophy but also for his role in passing on the catholic intellectual tradition to the following generations so here we have the medal. He will now give the 38th Aquinas lecture in intelligence and practical verses reflections of a rigid Thomas.

Schall: That’s the subtitle. Well can you hear alright?

Audience: Yes

Schall: Okay. Now I’d like t begin most of my lectures with the following covenant within a lecture, that is to say a lecture was something red that’s what the world literally means. So it means that somebody has been invited to come and give advice to people he’s never usually met before sometimes never heard of before. So I’m invited here although I knew some people here of course I invited as a lecture and which you came to listen to imagine you with my mind as people who will listen to this you don’t have to believe every word I say but you have to listen as I tell you what I think I want to say. Now I will begin with 2 quotation or 3 quotations and I will read them to you and they kind of give the flavor of what I want to say so I’m going to read these quotations to begin with. The first one is from Joseph Pieper book which is a great book which is called simply A Guide to St. Thomas which I’m sure many of you have. And Peiper said in that book “St. Thomas’ Summa is also attempting to give an embodiment to an idea, its structure is an attempt to express the structure of the reality as a whole, that’s what he intends to do. Reality is not a static state but a happening. It’s dynamic. In more precise language that means event permeated by spirit and flowing from freedom.” End of the quotation.

And the second quotation is from Gilson’s famous book, The Unity of Philosophical Experience in which she says what is that the mind is bound to conceive all that belonging to all things and as not belonging to any one or any two things in exactly the same way such is the matte that every man is asked to be on the threshold of metaphysics, end of the quote.and hence they betray their real vocation. This thee we called the 1927 book of the french essayas Julien Benda called The Treason of the french intellectuals as well as the English historian Paul Johnson book in 1988 called simply The intellectuals. The problem with the intellectuals it relates to the classical notion of aristocracy. The highest levels of human virtue and intelligence are rare among men in every society and age but they were none the less needed for any common good if it was to flourish and preserve belief as a  quality over time, so it persevere itself in existence. The american founders manifested this  where council is of a genuine aristocratically element within  a broader republic composed largely of people  with ordinary including christian virtues and common sense. Though it exist also in democracy the aristocratic vice is ended indeed refuses to honor a genuine good  in someone else to do so is supposed to reflect negatively on one’s own accomplishments and character. Envy is of the spirit its essence does not concern material things envy is by far the more dangerous vice more dangerous that injustice and greed these are the principle vice of democracy and aristocracy or an oligopoly. in a recent column of all thing the elitism of Starbucks coffee houses which we kind of put in a package from Plato, George Weil wrote the following things, he says after elementary needs shelter, food and clothing are satisfied consumption never the less continues indeed it increases because desires are potentially infinite which he recalls from Plato people compares themselves to their neighbors envying their neighbors accomplishments and strive to bolt ahead in the envy orientation sweepstakes Weil recalled. Envy obscure the list of chronic virtues needed in all societies nothing is wrong in recognizing the fact and usually there’s a current of high moral virtue and intelligence. So the very fact that we can recognize that there re people who are more virtuous and more intelligent than we are is a health thing.

Our world is populated with billionaires not building any more millionaires so I sure the president of the university knows that today. The wealthy seeks (unclear15:03) ways to dispose of their wealth for good through and beautiful things. So you remember Aristotle said precisely that, that the wealthy in order to accomplish a common good give their wealth to these particular purposes and we have here like a contemporary reconsideration of Aristotle practice on Oligopoly and aristocracy along with Aquinas commentary. They presuppose both and intellectual and moral virtue, Weil first principle science, courage, temperance, justice, prudence , they include both the ability and willingness of man free and responsibly to rue themselves  additionally according to an objective standard based on what is and not on un-grounded will or changeable historical (unclear16:19)  to clarify my point here fr the need for aristocracy. An old peanut sequence shows charlie Brown walking lazily by a brooding snoopy who recognizes something weird in the old order of things. Snoopy asked himself and  gazing on the flatten figure of Charlie he said, I wonder why some of us were born dogs while others were born people? I don’t know where he got that from but problem. The next scene shows snoopy watching Linus this time walk by as if he did not have a clue what was going on and mindful of the virtue of justice Snoopy says to himself somehow the whole thing doesn’t seem very fair. In the third scene we see snoopy off by himself diligently trying to figure it all out and he asked himself  is it just per chance what is it and in the final scene the dog happily trots away and he concludes to himself just the opposite of our anticipated answer. What if he’d ask himself what if I had been the lucky one. In the end it’s the dog not the human who receives the better deal. Now it’s more difficult to be a human than to be a dog, in case you’re wondering, by the same principle it’s more important more aristocratic to be a good human being with dominion over creation and yet it may well be better to have been a canine than fundamentally bad human being. that too is a metaphysical issue if you recall the words of Jill Sunders that I recited in the beginning and say the difference between the dog and a human being or an animal. We are not initially given the chance of being either a human being or beetle we are only given the choice, a much more difficult choice of being a good or bad human being on this issue we will be judged as Plato illustrated at the end of the republic i keep quoting Plato and I keep saying  there is no such thing as a university with out the constant reading of Plato anyways a young German student I met  one time told me he was angry at not being given the choice of  being born or not, now think about that. Every abortion presents a similar problem except that in the firs case it is God’s choice about whether we will exist or not in the second it is the choice of another human being following on God initial creation both choice have infinite  but radically different consequences our elections recently are about the deep neglect of ordinary citizens, ordinary human beings. As long as the common man is contrasted with the very rich and the very poor, the very poor are now considered  always considered to be largely victims of someone else sin and not of their own problem and faults. They are said to have little or nothing going on internally in their selves, everything that happens to them is outside of them selves, very insulting.  Helping the poor become the  main justification of the lives of the very rich (unclear 21:32) the absolute state needs the poor to be very poor, governmental help of the very poor is what justifies what they think they are doing and the means chosen to do it, the aid that is given is often is provided under the ruse of population control. The very poor are seen to be helpless, helpless victims for us to  justify the moral authority of the central state as it cares for citizens. The state has also become the chief and only body capable of defining rights, dignities, duties and dalliance in almost anyway that it wants it entitles the functional state they have of the very rich to assist in humanitarian intentions of the modern state to control and define what man is allowed to be in this particular realm.

Concern for the poor largely comes from the now secularize  heritage of christian priorities little is heard of S Paul, if he will not work not to let him eat something that’s cruel to us. The ordinary man who acts who are not exactly poor or destitute are often disdained  or deplored by  their betters they are said to be motivated by (unlear 23:36)  the classification of which (unclear 23:37) strange tokenism with theological overtones. The ordinary man often revels a stubborn common sense using Aristotle awareness that descent mam could seethe present things even if the y could not articulate it  in sanitized terms often required in academic journals and elite medium. The advent of robotic and other technologies may well bring up Aristotle’s consideration of slavery in a new way. The modern experience about socialism has clearly shown that making work just to keep people employed is degrading in addition you know Weil Simone in one of his books made the point suppose you offer somebody $450 an hour to dig a hole 6 foot 6 foot wide and 2 foot big and when he filed it you filled it beck up and then you digging your salary will continue over the thing. He said after a couple of days or a couple of weeks of doing that you will go mad because thee is no purpose in doing it, no purpose. So you will have to have some kind of purpose to dd that.  So this sense of purpose is behind many of the so called benefit vouchers that  we now find among Christians that says find some kind of way to do (unclear 25:30) no matter how small and Aristotle remarked that if we could invent machine that could o all the leg work needed to keep society going we would have no need for man slavery. Well we now had the machine all we have to do is see how they are booked on amazon and get from one place to the other in the Amazon warehouse hey don’t need (unclear 26:00) Our technology advances seems to have made the middle passage obsolete, of course in a free country  other kinds of jobs are properly being developed often ones requiring much more technical education basically. the world thus becomes ever more sanctification while the traditional jobs disappeared it was this middle class neither slavery or aristocracy but Aristotle  argument was the stabilizer factor in ant society no that was any need for employment early retirement and shorter work days may be part of the answer (unclear 26:56) the economy. What else would you know what is meant by education you look for one that does not mean bread and (unclear 27:09)  a liberal education concerns things for their own sake other than things because we need them for food, clothing and shelter, recreation and all the varieties (unclear 27:27) holy father waste no time complimenting intellectuals political correctness and dogmatic diversity and the problem of needing over reason, of relativity over truth have left our academic institution often open to too much ridicule. We find they are not too subtle censorship that seldom allows any critique to be heard by the students leaders. A critical friend of min tells me that he has taught christology over many semesters in several Chinese national universities, something he could not do in any of our own public or maybe private institution.

Those of you who still read Plato (unclear 28:43) on pride will be alerted to the aberrations that first arise in the minds and  hearts of the academic and clerical dawns, practically all evil things that comes into the world comes through academia, present company not necessary excluded. Man indeed are necessary to let me term that intelligent people are necessary to any supposition if anything to keep themselves from corrupting their own souls and minds and the thing is corruption is the best is the worst. Those who know Chesterton the common man will appreciate his preference for ordinary common sense and sanity over  the theory of intellectuals man on transforming mankind  into something that noone in his right mind would want to be. In a chapter of (unclear 30:01) in a very interesting book called the scholar 30:06 in the twentieth century (unclear 30:11) and it’s  very interesting for all the clergy man her okay. Knox paid his congregation a complement in believing that they had minds, minds that could be challenged and advanced  of the man giving a sermon talking to people to think. This is the final theme that I want to take up in this lecture this evening namely. What does it means to have minds and to know that you do have minds. The best books on the topic I think is monsignor Robert Sokolowski the Phenomenology of the human person, Sokolowski told me he originally called that book The agent of truth and the publisher of that book was the Cambridge university press and  they told him he couldn’t use that title and the reason he couldn’t use that title was because it sounded too much like a detective story so he changed it to this god awful title called the Phenomenology of the Human Person (unclear 31:310) the title aught not to frighten anyone away, away from one of the most clearest exposition of the mind and reality that you have, It is a book whose scripture comes closes to that emotional text response expose issues when it comes to guiding a reader to see what his own mind , what the truth of it is on any question that concerns itself as reality. Here I think primarily a a student now  I know there;s the student thing here to so I’m thinking primary of a student who is a bit skeptical of what this is all about I think that’s about every student probably n the beginning but I hope that. So this student hears of the marvel of great books but none of the confusion he will experience when he finds out as William Strauss put it that the great book contraction one another. Any student who metricate at a college or university that bears the name Thomas Aquarius I hope realizes that he needs something more than just great books to become educated.

Before he was 20 the youngster has read or heard some learned men maintains some pretty ridiculous position , I assume all 20 year old respond to that but the student was not quite sure why they were learning the opinion was ridiculous  but he had a gut feeling that something was a-rye and with the disciple education he might well be able to identify the problem and as Aristotle intimated in our own lives already include pallets to moral vice we will probably use our minds to concoct theory to justify what we did not chose to do and how we choose to live. When we try systematically to find the truth of things we are really doing minimal work than we call in the spirit of Thomas Aquinas. His teaching had the virtue of clarity he had the ability to articulate what people  including professors and cleric were talking about even when  they were wrong which is probably often. Aquinas reduced  what was claimed to be true to it’s bear essential in any argument he clarify what was coherently  true and what was not true and unless error was also extricated. We were not likely to drift away we were likely to drift away from the truth, the mission of truth is a pre-requirement of similar civilizations and a part of any education. The search for truth even when talking of Aquinas is line with (unclear 35:28) remark that no great philosopher no matter how good and systematic ever uncovers all of the implications of his own position or sees every possible objection or measures what rival system might come into being centuries after his life. The study of truth is also even first a study of error. We should do our level best not to fall to error but we should devote a considerable time to discover what it is and why it is.

Aristotle said somewhere in he ethics that when we understand why someone may err we are also able to rasp he truth better. So if you can explain why something is in error you understand why the truth is the foundation. And this view naturally presents a particular problem for someone who refuse to admit that there is such a thing as truth or that he is subject to it. We live in a relative sculpture (unclear 37:02) that insist that no such thing as errors can be identified or detected we only have a feeling un-grounded opinions just so a much healthier view of this topic he wrote to poet it is a privilege of a truly physiological history of philosophy and in it’s light ans not only in it’s philosophical truth but philosophical error becomes intelligible and to understand error as such is also to be free from it , good quote. And the sub title of this lecture in a Plato mood I remarked that we have a confession of a rigid Thomas, sound horrible does it? Pope Francis has recently become famous for warning against rigidity in all it’s forms some things no doubt should be rigid (unclear 38:25) says that a glass goblet for example if you do not drop it although it retains it rigid for down the ages but it is rigid you cannot bent it or else he said because the bird is soft it can fall and survive.

Somethings in other words are meant to be rigid and others are not. To be rigid (unclear 38:58) seems to mean an ability to see exception or to accommodate one’s self to his circumstances. Of course St Thomas himself in his discussion of the law along with his analysis of justice and (unclear 39:17) was quite clear circumstances surrounding any act needs to be considered, circumstance of time, place and the condition of the actors of the situation this flexibility of approach was in Aquinas’s view more than normal approach to any issue , what was rigid was the principle. It was the principle that round our civilization the (unclear 39:59) it was never right to be wrong if this principle is not rigid then it does not hold in other words then what follows is what is right if it isn’t right to do wrong. The principle much of our culture has accepted and denies universal compliance. in essence circumstances do not change principle but they see their objective reality in them with out the embodiness  or the un-changeability of the principle, we have no principle only flux as Heaclitus even before Socrates had said for his to be a man as a consequence what it is to be not a man bt in control of anything you don’t know what you are. Hence William Strauss also said we make our self the object of our own sciences and not the subject we can now recreate ourselves not to be the devise moral of our own being but on the artistic model of our longings and imaginations. Now in the tradition of Aquinas the great sweep of the cosmos not only do we strive to know what is but also to know what is not and why it is not? At the end of the ages the knowledge of the whole universe includes the knowledge of what went wrong with it and why, so the knowledge of what is evil is a good thing, the knowledge of what is evil is a good thing. So don’t do it. And while we are not studying the age of error it’s more fascinating than the study of  what is,  what is true.

The study of error of what Chesterton in his 1905 book called Heretics contains his own abiding (unclear 42:28) you know they claim any type of play you know he writes a play and he puts Lucifer in his play, Lucifer always steals the show,  he’s one of the best charature in the show. Now Murphy law that if a thing can go wrong it will go wrong, I’ll shoot that down it’s not devoid of philosophical insight you have all heard it so if it can go wrong it will go wrong. The opposite statement is also true if the thing can go wrong it wont go wrong . When things go wrong fro human beings that’s human beings they do so with his consent, how do they do that? When things go wrong for human beings as human beings they do so with his consent, the great (unclear 43:40) principle that no evil can touch a good man is seeing the light of Socrates addendum that we are not sure that death is evil, the book of wisdom for example  teaches us that from the beginning God did not intend death nor did he intend to change evil into good. He probable did intend  to do something about evil if if it should come about, if it should come about something we now call the incarnation. In American universities and higher education Peter Dussler has Peter Dussler talked yet (cross talk-no) well he should he’s really good. Peter Duuler told us as others has told us before him that all we are for our education is a room, a good book, some students a teacher who has read the book that all.

Now I would certainly agree with this assessment (unclear 45:04) we should not have any computer, cell phones or power toys in our class rooms. I remember at George Town I decided not to allow computers in my class and I read an article about this and I was doing by learning because I was sick and tired of talking to students looking at the computer and so before I did this I pointed out to the students about is this a good idea you know you’re teaching you don’t really know what these kids are thinking about. So I asked a couple kids I said pardon me I’m Fr Schall I’m running this by you I’m thinking of stopping not having a computer anymore in the class and what do you think about that? Some says look Father he says I sit in he back of the class, he said I know that you re watching on that other computer and I said thank you very much, no more computers in my class and further ore you don’t want to know what they are watching. While e are at it the best educated people often have large vocabularies usually acquired from reading, they often comes from homes where there are books where parents and siblings read often aloud. Students should build their own library a book that they have read, not yet read not just ebooks they should plan when they build their own homes in the future if they can thy should include a library or at least a reading room of some kind.

(Unclear 47:02) makes this point about books, we hear about adapting our self to the circumstances but a book requires s to do just the opposite, it requires us to adapt ourselves to it, to what it tells us. Books speak to no one in particular nor the writers this violates the common principle that your teaching style ought to vary according to the learning styles of the students. No the students and you have to read the book as it says. The last thing a student ought to hear is what he wants to hear, a teacher provided that he himself is a man of truth does the greatest favor to his students when he takes him to a book that they both read together. A book that takes them both to what ii to whats true. My greatest adventure (unclear 48:21) partially because I didn’t know him at the time with a semester with some 60 or 70 students we read together all of the dialog of Plato except the Alcibiades and the Parmenidas we just didn’t have time in one semester take that addition collection works of Plato we read all of those except hose two. Those are tough one to do. There’s nothing quite like you Plato unless perhaps it’s reading St Thomas.

In conclusion what I want is to simple assure students they can get an education in college even if the college is off on some neurological or technological tangent that takes it forgetting about imports things next to impossible. This is in what my earlier book as Francois has been sort of mentioning another kind of learning in the back. How to get an education even if you are still in college (unclear 49:39) 1920’s book in the list buy it will explain pretty much how to go about organizing one’s life to include Mars he’s a the very, very famous book written by French Dominican Guy in the 1920’s, the book has been transcribed into most languages. People with usage things are not to be considered oddity even he (unclear 50:14) to be called Plato (unclear 50:17) should be able remember  she made two philosopher want to go down the street and talk to him about it. The higher things and there’s a big pothole there. And you walk all over the pothole and (unclear 50:30) at them  (unclear 50:34) wear tighter shoes. So the philosopher (unclear 50:41) said not only learn to ti your shoes and to shoot baskets and to learn how to shop if they had to Horus makes the same point in another way, St Augustus said action and contemplation are for all of us even Socrates should have praised the virtue of generosity and charity and parental responsibility that’s one of the great accusation against Socrates who did get any (unclear 51:10) and all this should have some time because we are all given the n word  inclination to contemplate the truth about what who each of us is and what we are born to do listen to St Augustus man who so often decided reminds is again of the bishop of Hippo there is no one, no one who ye will be who is more provocative  to your own soul. My favorite passage in Augustus I did not first know this when I read the passage and the book itself. I only saw it because it because I read another book one I once came across by chance in a bookstore in (unclear 52:20) in Washington. There at shomocker a guy put it for plus , the book that is for simply most of us sculptured pages. The first page of the book contains one unidentified statement signed in both in Latin and in Negros from the city of Gath. The sentences I’ve located  here is in the 19th book of the city of Gath, the sentences reads as follows in Latin (unclear 52:55)  that is there is no other reason for philosophizing except that may be happy, what this sentence means it that issues of lives in our souls that are not merely practical ones for learning how to do things even though there’s nothing wrong with know how to build a better mouse trap, a computer (unclear 53:33) tell me to these issues and to things for their own sake and we looked on them we are merely not yet human. (unclear 53:50) Thomas coins he finds one of his accomplished it begins with a question, why did the son of man have to suffer for us when we have never wondered about this question. We have hardly begun the why’s of the mind, here’s the beginning of St. Aquinas response, the question again why did the son of man have to suffer for and to begin he says It can be considered the question there’s two question to St Thomas (unclear 54:36) to be considered in a two fold way. In the first as the willingness of sin and second as an example how to act. Now the willingness of sin involved the willingness of the man god to take on the consequences of sin about sin about choices and that we are defeated and we are not defeated by someway that’s important to understand the subtle effect the redemption of our sins does not eliminate suffering. 

It just teaches us that suffering is not useless or the worst evil as we would likely  in God himself in the person of Christ is not at the same time as someone who is sinless  and someone who suffers. So in the case of Christ why did Christ suffer when he didn’t have to suffer and he didn’t sin. So the point being is that evil does not have to suffer . Suffering is not the problem, sin it the problem finally let us remind ourselves that unless we begin to wonder about these things we have not yet even begun ti be what it is to be a man a human being. With a complete understanding of ourselves of what it is to be a human being. Thank you. 

Schall: If somebody assigned you to read the summa and yeah I’m going to read the summa then you have to know the summa is 40,000, 6 pages long

Audience: We are not given a choice whether we can be a human or beetle but whether we can simply be a good human or  bad human. But you already talked to us about people who think that you do have a choice about whether you are going to be let’s say a male human or a female human. Just bringing forward  we didn’t that choice either

Schall: That’s the kind of question we almost have to say  (unclear 58:42) and only to say is this go ahead and try it and let’s see what happens to you when you do get it. Do you then become what you think you become or you become some sort kind of artificial (unclear 59:10) what you wanted to do and what you intended to do. And people accept what you’re doing  and they do accept what you’re doing and the only way they will accept what you’re doing is because they will get shouted at if they don’t sit. In answer your question personal common sense  and politics for men because your going to ask this question precisely in which anybody in his right mind would say look this is disorder and the point is we have the (unclear 59:47) and it says you have the right to say this, somebody objects to that cannot say this because the (unlear 59:53) of the bible. But this is madness, it’s madness to say that I can’t say anything.”