Peter Kreeft, in his introduction to his book on Pascal, says, “There is a higher and a lower mode of teaching. Books are the lower; living is the higher. ‘Sayings’ are halfway between. They reflect and approximate the higher, the mode of Christ and Socrates…. That’s why Socrates is the greatest philosopher, according to St. Thomas: because he taught like Christ, in the higher mode. That’s why he wrote no books.”
Let’s break that down.
He’s not knocking books. After all, these sentences are in Kreeft’s book.
1. We learn the most by observing the lives of our teachers. We teach the most to those who have direct access to watching us live our lives. This is why parents, teachers, and coaches have such profound influence–even if they’ve never written anything. Kreeft calls this the “higher mode.”
2. We also learn from books. A lot. But not as much as we learn from watching a life lived in front of us. In fact, you might argue that the books that teach us the most are the biographical. Kreeft calls books the “lower mode.”
3. Notice he gives us a third category: “sayings.” Maybe you have someone in your life who likes sayings–who regularly quotes sayings. Kreeft says that sayings are between “living” and “books.” They are proverbs, maxims, ways of explaining our lived lives in short, memorable phrases. They are rich distillations about which we could write entire books.
If you want to grow in wisdom–pay attention to sayings. Turn them over and over in your mind. Try them out. Quote them.
Need a place to start? The Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) in the New Testament contain the sayings of Jesus Christ. The book of Proverbs in the Old Testament is full of wise sayings.
If you’re looking for an excellent resource I suggest Timothy Keller’s God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Book of Proverbs. By the way, this makes an excellent gift, and if I had the resources, I’d send one to each of you!