The famous French Dominican philosopher of the early 20th century, Antonin Sertillange, published a work entitled “The Intellectual Life” in which he presented a practical guide to progress in scholarship. Sertillange held that scholarship is natural. Human beings have a natural vocation to the intellectual life. All human beings have a need to develop their intelligence, to engage in study and to search for truth. In this way they imitate God whose image in the human person includes the intellect. The intellectual life searches for truth and so leads to God. The fulfilment of this Christian vocation requires personal commitment to study, time spent in prayer, and participation in community life.
Sertillange held that the intellectual life involves virtue; one must love the truth. Study that comes from virtue seeks above all union with God. Virtue turns mere study into genuine pursuit of truth, with the end being the highest truth; God Himself.
Still, the intellectual life has other considerations, as well. It requires physical health, as well. As the saying goes, a healthy mind requires a healthy body. The material goods of human nature are important, even though the intellectual goods have priority. We share with animals physical goods, but it is the intellectual goods that distinguish us. So when physical goods take priority over intellectual goods, the body becomes an enemy, not a friend, and the human person is diminished, for all physical goods have as their purpose to promote the intellectual goods. Even sleep has as its purpose the production of ideas.
Intellectual pursuit means focusing on particular ideas, but never one idea to the exclusion of others, lest a certain prejudice develop by which one comes to see reality from a single point of view. Following the example of St. Thomas Aquinas, the intellectual life requires information from various sources, all in pursuit of the one truth. The nature of truth is that the search never ends.
Finally, the intellectual life requires us to be efficient in our study. It is not enough simply to study. We need the intellectual virtues that help us to understand and retain what we have learned. Because all the virtues are connected, we need to practice all the virtues if we wish to study well. Only then may we formulate our own thoughts and cheerfully give to others the fruits of our contemplation.