Close

June 13, 2020

Literature Is Not the Enemy of Holiness

The Renaissance writer Petrarch on how piety and literature are not enemies:

Neither exhortations to virtue nor the argument of approaching death should divert us from literature; for in a good mind it excites the love of virtue and dissipates, or at least diminishes, the fear of death. To desert our studies shows want of self-confidence rather than wisdom, for letters do not hinder but aid the properly constituted mind which possesses them; they facilitate our life, they do not retard it. Just as many kinds of food which lie heavy on an enfeebled and nauseated stomach furnish excellent nourishment for one who is well but famishing, so in our studies many things which are deadly to the weak mind may prove most salutary to an acute and healthy intellect, especially if in our own use of food and learning we exercise proper discretion…

…While I know that many have become famous for piety without learning, at the same time I know of no one who has been prevented by literature from following the path of holiness. The apostle Paul was, to be sure, accused of having his head turned by study, but the world has long ago passed its verdict upon this accusation. If I may be allowed to speak for myself, it seems to me that although the path to virtue by the way of ignorance may be plain, it fosters sloth. The goal of all good people is the same, but the ways of reaching it are many and various….Hence ignorance, however devout, is by no means to be put on a plane with the enlightened devoutness of one familiar with literature.[Source: Petrarch: The First Modern Scholar and Man of Letters, by James Harvey Robinson (citing a letter from Petrarch to Boccacio), pp. 391-394]