An Exhortation to Learning

“So learn as though you were to live forever. So live as though you were about to die tomorrow…..Seneca says, ‘Life without letters is death and the tomb of the living man’…and elsewhere: ‘I would rather learn from others with diffidence, than rashly pour forth my own opinions.’ ”  Alan of Lille, The Art of Preaching, trans. Gillian R. Evans (Kalamazoo: Cistercian, 1981), p. 137.  I altered Evans’ translation by adding the “tomorrow” which is found in the Latin text in Patrologia Latina, vol. 210, col. 179D. [Emphasis added]

Alan of Lille was a significant theologian, teacher, and poet in medieval France during the twelfth century.  He earned the title, “Doctor universalis” from his contemporaries because of his knowledge of the liberal arts and theology.  In Chapter 36, “Exhortation to Learning,” of his treatise on preaching, Alan wrote a model sermon to admonish Christians to study the arts and theology.  Interestingly, I have seen the first sentence from the quote above attributed to Mahatma Gandhi in many places, but I have found no earlier reference to this statement than Alan of Lille’s reference in the late twelfth century.  The second statement derives from Seneca’s Epistle 82, sec. 3.  The source for the last quote is unknown, but expresses the attitude of a humble student.



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