Sacred Study in a Time of Isolation

Throughout the world people are on lockdown, confined to their homes, with their lives put on hold until the COVID-19 pandemic ends. Along with the physical malady which has occasioned this unprecedented lockdown, people are also susceptible to different spiritual maladies occasioned by the experience of isolation.

One of the spiritual maladies that can afflict people during prolonged isolation is boredom. When we are bored, we become dissatisfied with the different goods available to us and become restless. We do not know what to do because we experience everything as not offering sufficient satisfaction.

The Dominican tradition of sacred study provides an antidote to boredom. In contrast to other religious orders, such as the Benedictines, which traditionally engage in daily manual labor, the Dominican friar engages in daily study. The Book of Constitutions and Ordinations of the Friars of the Order of Preachers, our governing document, instructs the brethren to be “assiduous in study.”

How could study form part of a Dominican friar’s religious observance? We study as part of our contemplative life because we cannot love what we do not know. As our brother Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches, love follows from the apprehension of the good (ST I-II, Q. 26, A.1). As rational creatures, intellectual love constitutes the form of love most proper to us; by nature we love the truth and want to know the truth. When we discover the truth, we love it and take delight in it. The higher and more important the truth, the more we want to know it, the more we love it when we find it, and the more we rejoice in beholding it.

Now, the greatest truths are the truths pertaining to God and the workings of God, because these are the most fundamental and ultimate realities. As rational creatures, we desire to know God through created things. However, God has given us a revelation of Himself, a revelation that far surpasses what God has manifested of Himself through the created order. We respond to this revelation with the assent of faith and attempt to understand this revelation more and more. We faithfully study revelation to understand more about God; we engage in the work of faith seeking understanding (fides quaerens intellectum.)

Through the faithful study of divine revelation, as presented to us in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, we begin to know more profoundly the goodness of God and the great things He has done for us. Our love for God grows as we come to know God more and more. Unfortunately, we cannot see God face to face in this life. Nonetheless, faith already provides us with an imperfect participation in that face to face vision to come. Indeed, faith provides us a participation in God’s perfect knowledge of Himself, which He reveals to us through Sacred Scripture and Tradition.

Through sacred study, we have access to the goodness of God that is anything but boring. We should allocate some time in lockdown to the study of divine revelation.