JMC : Saint Thomas Aquinas / by Raïssa Maritain

II. School

IN order to be wise and learned we have to begin in the kindergarten.

Do you like school, children? I loved it -- in winter I went every day in a sled -- it was in Russia.

What a fine time we had! The sun shone, the snow dazzled our eyes, the cold burned our cheeks. And my heart beat with great hope.

I was going to learn how to read. And all that was written was true. At least, that was what I thought. I know now that it is not so, but it ought to be.

The class was sacred. The teacher was a person apart, her head full of knowledge.

In school everything seemed to me either wonderful or terrible. It was terrible not to know one's lesson, not to be able to solve a problem. But how pleasant to understand the lesson, to have the fine books and copy-books with lines, the first page ornamented with a drawing -- either a bouquet of roses or forget-me-nots, or the head of an angel between two wings.

The atlas with its large thin pages shows every part of the earth. It shows the countries of the world in many colours, and all bathed by the blue ocean. The names of countries and principal towns (Russia, Asia, France, Paris) are written with capital letters.

In most big towns children do not go to school in a sled. Between the house and school buildings there are often not even bits of vacant ground where in spring we can see the first blade of grass pushing through the snow. But everywhere the sense of things is the same. The schools draw us by the promise of truth, just as the spring by promise of fine days to come.

Schoolmasters and mistresses possess and give out knowledge. They know many fine and interesting things. They teach such things as the multiplication table, poetry and literature, and even songs and games.

When children grow up, the desire for knowledge grows too; they want to know about everything that exists, and the causes for it. Then they begin to go to college and to the university.


When Saint Thomas went to Paris for the first time, in 1245, the Sorbonne, which is the University of Paris, did not yet exist. University courses were given in different places, in the convents of the Dominicans, of the Franciscans, and even in the cloister of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. Saint Thomas studied, and later taught, at the Dominican convent of Saint-Jacques.

But he came from a great distance, from the Kingdom of Sicily. There were many travellers in the thirteenth century, but they went on foot, on horses, or on the back of a mule. Travel was not very fast in those times, but in going along one could meditate and pray; the mind and heart did not waste their time.

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