Sapientis Est Ordinare: The Primacy of Prayer in the Life of the Mind
I want to begin my Catechismal Thoughts by quoting a line from the Commentary on Aristotle's Ethics by St. Thomas Aquinas, who was really just quoting a line from Aristotle's own Metaphysics (Aquinas really liked Aristotle, I really like Aquinas, and you happen to be reading me for the moment: it all works out to your advantage).
Sapientis est ordinare, said Aquinas: setting things in order is the wise man's business.
Why? Well, the human mind, as its proper work, grasps the order of things. Reason recognizes order and relation. Other animals have eyes and ears, but only humans do algebra. Because of our minds, we can see the relationship between one thing and another. And so since being wise is the mind's greatest feat (or if you prefer Aquinas: sapientia est potissima perfectio rationis) it follows that human wisdom is primarily concerned with the proper order of things.
How does this apply to the beginning of my Catechismal Thoughts? I'm no wise man, for sure. But I am planning on reading a book with much wisdom: the Catechism of the Catholic Church. But I want to do it in a funny way: I want to start at the end, Part Four rather than Part One. My plan could prompt someone to say, "You're going out of order." But I'm not. The Catechism begins Part Four by pointing to the underlying order of the Catechism, whose four parts are related to the mysterium fidei. "Great is the mystery of the faith!" it declares and goes on to explain that:
The Church professes this mystery in the Apostles' Creed (Part One) and celebrates it in the sacramental liturgy (Part Two), so that the life of the faithful may be conformed to Christ in the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father (Part Three).
So the Catechism is structured around the mystery of faith, which "requires that the faithful believe in it, that they celebrate it, and that they live from it in a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God."
The Catechism's Fourth Part concerns that vitality and that personal involvement in the Christian's relationship toward God, the Cause of All Things. What is that relationship? This relationship is prayer, the Catechism teaches.
Like I said above, the capacity for algebra is distinctive of man's mind. But so is man's capacity to enter into a vital and intimate relationship with God. Reason's work is to grasp order, which includes man's being ordered toward the Divine Good and Ultimate Truth. The creeds, the liturgies, and the Church's moral doctrines, dealt with in the first three parts of the Catechism, are all aimed at cultivating the subject of the Catechism's fourth part: prayer—an intimate life with Jesus, true man and true God.
So I hope it's tolerably clear why I wish to begin with the end. The life of prayer, the Catechism reminds us, is really the goal of all intellectual life, which you, the reader, and I, the blogger, are engaged in for a few minutes here at Catholic Phoenix (if I didn't lose you at the Metaphysics reference). Reading books, browsing blogs, writing posts, leaving comments, and more generally pondering issues and thinking things through are important but, in the order that faith reveals, secondary.
Prayer in Christ comes first.
Maria, Sedes Sapientiae, ora pro nobis.