Salt & Iron Seasoned Writing open letter graduate student

Open Letter to a Graduate Student

Letter from a professor, to a Hillsdale student embarking on graduate studies:

All that you study from here on out your professors will present in the framework of various new “critical theories.” Your university is friendlier than most places to an historical approach, though, which is why it is still a great place to get a prestigious degree.

You can trust some of what they expound, and the rigor can’t be beat.

Your job will be to find ways to maintain your intellectual integrity while surviving the program. That is it. This is not a time in which you will straightforwardly receive good things. Rather, you will learn the arts of polite but steadfast intellectual combat. You must pray often to the Holy Ghost for the right words in your heart, in your soul, in your mind, and on your tongue (or fingertips when writing).

You must also ask Him for the ability to maintain “divergent thinking,” which you couch in clear  language in your own mind as you converse with Him, and in apologetic language to others. (Undergraduate classes can be all too good at preparing students to be only convergent, dependent thinkers. Hence my more rough and tumble teaching methods. Spread the word.)

The Holy Ghost will, as we know, also be praying for you with “unutterable groanings,” covering the things that you don’t even recognize, to keep you on the right path.

Getting It Right

You must recall that not every argument needs to be made publicly and in the instant. Not every embarrassing rhetorical failure means that what you think is wrong. Pratfalls are embarrassing, but they make the pitfall very memorable, and you can ponder ways to avoid it next time.

Heaven forbid that our getting it right were the ontological ground of the Truth! It is our representation of the Truth, not the Truth Himself, that is the object of our defeat in those moments.

Pondering in the heart is the habit of the woman chosen to be the Mother of God Himself. She did not debate the Pharisees and Sadducees, let alone debate the evil one, but she sure scored a big one against them and the evil one all the same.

In the life of the mind, and in our humble status as non-Mothers of God, I call this pondering the  black box. Not infrequently, things have sat in my black box for decades before I had a blaze of insight regarding an unassailable counter argument.

At my age, I can say that fidens quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding) does eventually find it. Praise God I did not confuse my lack of a smart and devastating retort with an inadequacy in the Truth as delivered to us historically by God Himself. All too many have done just that.

Supernatural Gifts

I am going to be completely frank: The experience of this combat was what made me come to recognize the truth of Catholic teaching, particularly regarding the nature of our sanctification and our remaining safely under God’s protection, and even more particularly when exposed to the hazards of the life of the mind and soul in an exceptionally degenerate age.

That state has little to do with our own dispositions and thoughts. It has everything to do with the  actions of God upon us.

It will indeed be beyond your intellect to engage in this combat. It was beyond mine, and I have a very high IQ and a lot of guts, shamelessness, and discipline. These were easily defeated by the assaults of people of three times my age and experience who were my equals in all of those natural gifts.

Which only makes sense.

It is the supernatural gifts, particularly prayer and the Sacraments, that make the difference. God has a much higher IQ, guts, and discipline than any professor or fellow graduate student. The Catholic Church was where I found that direct, wordless partaking of the Word made flesh in the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist.

When you really come to the end of your rope, you realize: What use is a rope?

A False Critical Theory

Pope John Paul II called the consecrated Host “that Signifier that can never be alienated from Its Signified.” That says it all, and in terms that lay waste to all Postmodern nonsense.

It is the closest, most personal relationship with Jesus Christ that you can have in this life. He instituted it Himself on the night when He was betrayed. It comes out of a real moment in history when His own specially prepared people believed a false critical theory about Him, and the judge presiding over His criminal case asked, “What is truth?”

Sound familiar?

Keep yourself as close to Him in that historical moment as you can, because it is this one, too.

We are living in Good Friday times.

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