“To Live a Life Truly Infused with Wisdom”
The 2011 Senior Address
By Luke Bueche (’11)
Your Excellency, chaplains, President and faculty, members of the Board of Governors, friends of the College, parents, and my fellow students; graduates of the Class of 2011: Welcome and thank you for the privilege of giving this address.
I will begin by observing the duty of any recipient: to offer thanks for what he has received. So for myself and on behalf of the whole Senior Class, thank you to all of those who made this day possible: to Your Excellency for celebrating Mass and giving the Commencement Address, and to all of those who assisted in preparing the grounds and executing the ceremonies.
As we seniors saw all the preparations being made in the last few days, we would nudge each other and say, “That’s for us!” We are really appreciative of all the effort that has gone into this day on our behalf. Thank you also to the staff, and the administration as a whole, for attending to the practical side of this institution, keeping it running and organized. Without you we would not be here.
Thank you to our parents who were instrumental both in bringing us into this world and to Thomas Aquinas College, and who made many sacrifices to keep us here. I am eternally grateful to my parents for all they have done for my education, and we thank all of our parents who were similarly committed.
We also owe a huge debt of gratitude to the faculty. They have been our teachers for four years, the master artisans who formed and shaped our thoughts and learning. For their tireless dedication, for their eagerness in sharing, for their willingness to stay late and “repeat it one more time” to those of us who didn’t get it, for the fun times in class, and for the hard times, thank you. We will take more from you than from anyone else in this community, and it is through your devotion and effort that we sit here today. Thank you, and may God bless you for it always.
As my classmates and I observe the proceedings of this day, it seems to me that we ought to have two questions in mind: What have we done, and what ought we to do?
What We Have Done …
In answer to the first: Graduation signifies the fulfillment of four years of labor, in which we have struggled to complete the rigorous program laid out for us at Thomas Aquinas College. It signifies that we have completed that program with a degree of aptitude and comprehension sufficient for that institution to deem us “knowers,” and to go out to the world stamped with its seal. Most of all it signifies that we, through our labors and knowledge, have grasped something of Wisdom, and know, in theory if not in practice, what it is to be a wise man.
We have studied Wisdom at its foundations, in subjects like geometry, mathematics, and laboratory. These disciplines do not so much impart Wisdom as, by their internal order and study of the natural world, prepare the mind for the reception of Wisdom. The countless hours spent memorizing props and the endless flow of (seemingly) unrelated handouts in lab were for this end: to bring the mind to a condition of orderliness, accustoming it to logically follow premises to their conclusions; and to familiarize the mind with the works of created nature in which the genius of the Uncreated manifests itself.
We have also studied the beginnings and intermediary stages of Wisdom. Philosophies of nature and of created things help us to see broadly where to categorize any of the numberless particulars we may happen upon. They present us with a comprehensive view of reality, and lead us to understand nature and created things through their causes. Aristotle’s Physics and De Anima have especially assisted us to realize these truths.
Finally we have studied Wisdom itself. In the Metaphysics we no longer study nature or particular created things, but all things in one span. We study being as being. This study reveals to us the first causes of all things. Since it deals with what is causal for all beings and with what is causal primarily, it is the highest science and it encompasses all others. We also study Wisdom itself by studying the first cause no longer as cause but in itself. This is the study of God, which we do through the Metaphysics and the Summa of St. Thomas. It is truly the primary science because its subject, God, is Himself the highest being as well as the source and cause of all being.
Our efforts, then, have led us to Wisdom, which is, in summary, knowledge of all things ordered as all things are seen under the formal aspect of being, as well as knowledge of the highest being. We did not seek this knowledge as a means to any further end, nor could we have. Practically speaking it is useless. We sought it because it is perfective in itself, and because this knowledge is highest and most true. Man is a knower, and his natural perfection is therefore to know true things: the things we have studied.
This is what we have done.
… And What Ought We To Do?
I now turn to what we ought to do. Our studies have given us a brief glance at the most precious of all things. There should be no influence whatever that should induce us to surrender these things. No kind of calling or occupation should distract us from what is highest and most essential.
Through our studies we possess the means to be as good as possible from a human standpoint, as well as to reach out to the Divine. In the human mode of knowing, the mind actually takes on a likeness of the thing known. Our souls, by being full of Wisdom, can actually become like Wisdom. We can interiorize and become what we study.
It is for this reason that St. Thomas calls the pursuit of Wisdom perfect. He says: “It is more perfect because, in so far as a man gives himself to the pursuit of Wisdom, so far does he even now have some share in true beatitude. And so a wise man has said: ‘Blessed is the man that shall continue in Wisdom’ (Sirach 14:22).” St. Thomas describes the study of Wisdom as beatitude, the vision of God here on earth. It is the highest possible possession. We ought to cherish it for the rest of our lives.
A second duty we graduates ought to consider is the sharing of truth with others. We are now knowers, and as such are invested with certain responsibilities. Truth is a common good; it follows, therefore, from its very notion that truth is a public commodity. We who are custodians of the truth and realize its character have a duty to communicate it to others. In this regard we are uniquely situated to fulfill the command of Christ, Who said, “Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men” (Mat. 5:15-16). We are the lamps burning brightly with the truth. Christ Himself has ordered us to be teachers. In virtue of what we know then, it seems especially imperative for us to take this role upon ourselves.
An Appeal to Simplicity
I would like to make one last appeal. It concerns the virtue of simplicity, which I think ought to be especially relevant for us. Simplicity, according to a common notion, might be described in several ways. For example, one could call it single-mindedness, clarity of vision, striving for what is essential while disregarding what is ancillary, frankness, or a kind of humble lowliness. I think that this virtue ought to be the special virtue of the wise man for two reasons.
First, with regard to the wise man as teacher, simplicity will guard against the temptation that besets all instructors and those considered wise: namely to regard themselves as superior. To realize that one has more necessarily means that he realizes that others have less. This in itself is not an evil, because a teacher must have more, and even realize how much more determinately he has, in order to teach well. From this point, however, it is easy to attribute to ourselves more than we actually deserve, namely that we are the cause of our achievements. Such a view can lead to disdain of the students and eventually even to a disposition which would encourage us to keep our knowledge to ourselves and refrain from enlightening those who we deem are not “worthy” of it.
This is exactly the opposite of the view of the truth, I argued a moment ago, that the wise man ought to have. Anything we have is received from God. If we remain simple we will attribute our knowledge to God. In other words, we will assign to ourselves a correct view of our lowliness and never lose sight of our true roles as teachers. We will also be better teachers because we will realize the character of our knowledge. In this we can take as our example the Blessed Virgin, who, though herself the Seat of Wisdom, the Lord chose to regard “in her lowliness” (Lk. 1:48).
The second reason I think that simplicity applies particularly to the wise man stems from a consideration of Wisdom itself. Aristotle emphasizes in the Metaphysics that Wisdom is the knowledge of first causes. First causes are the most remote in the chain of causality. They are also the cause of numerous effects. For example, I am the immediate cause in the delivering of this speech. If one traced the line of causality back, he could say, more remotely, that my parents are the cause of this speech. In addition, however, my parents are not only the cause of me but also of my brothers. Further, since my brothers and I have the same cause, one could now see us under one aspect: as part of a family. Thus more remote causes can be the causes of numerous effects and they can also be the means by which I can better understand their many effects. Said in another way, I can know many things through one thing by knowing their cause, and in this way, since I see them in one view, I know them simply. Thus, as Aristotle teaches, a wise man knows first causes, which means that he knows the many through few. With these thoughts I can now build a simple syllogism:
A wise man knows first causes.
Knowing first causes is to know simply.
Therefore, a wise man knows simply.
Thus the notion of simplicity is intimately tied to the wise man himself. He knows the first causes, and the First Cause Himself, and he sees all things in one simple, united vision. Since this is the character of the Wisdom of the wise man, it does not seem amiss to regard simplicity as a virtue especially germane to the wise man as a whole. If, as Plato describes, a wise man ought to imitate the things he seeks in wisdom, then, as his Wisdom is simple, so the wise man ought to be simple.
For this reason I think that we ought to foster the virtue of simplicity, not only in the manner in which we know, but in the whole of our lives. We ought to live our lives with the unity and purpose similar to the intellectual gaze of the wise man. As he sees all individuals in all their complexity, yet bound together as emanating from one source, so we ought live, partaking of all particular events singly, yet seeing them as directed to one final goal, namely Heaven.
To live a life so directed would be to live a life truly infused with Wisdom. As we graduate and leave this place, and as we live out our lives in the future, it will be no small accomplishment if we can put in to practice these things, which the study of Wisdom has taught us.
“Thomas Aquinas College is doing on the undergraduate level exactly what should be done. The College's alumni and alumnae prove that with this kind of education you can go on and do anything.”
– Dr. Ralph McInerny (†)
Scholar and Writer