The importance of memory for intellectual life

Intellectual life is a vocation

I start this article talking about vocation . Yes, of vocation, because as we will notice throughout the article, intellectual life is also a vocation, a calling. Intellectual life is closely linked to spiritual life, and medieval religious people knew how to live these two sides of the same coin so well. For this reason, I bring you a quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2461, which says: “True development encompasses the whole man. What matters is to increase the capacity of each person to respond to his vocation, therefore, to the call of God ”. This entire man also embraces intellectual life, a gift given by God so that we can love Him more vigorously.

Illustrative photo: Bruno Marques /

At all times, we are learning, so we need to memorize something that we read, study, hear or are in contact with. The student is one who carries out an extremely intellectual activity, so it is important to know how to study well, to understand how and by what means one achieves intellectual success or, at least, how he can improve his actions in relation to what is studied.

He who has an intense life of study or makes his days of intellectual work his vocation, needs to know that his intellectual vocation requires continuous deepening and methodical effort. One can use the example of sports athletes, who suffer hardships, hard training, making efforts even superhuman, in a similar way are intelligence athletes.

Dominican friar Sertilllanges says the following about the attitude of the student: “This last state of mind is that of a calling. It implies a serious resolution, because the life of study, being austere, imposes hard charges. It pays, and abundantly, but it requires a capital inflow that few are capable of ”. Some attitudes that we will see below are fundamental for you to grow intellectually.

What do I need to keep?

Memory has the function of keeping the elements that have been studied, read or the fruits of the work of the spirit. However, it is important to know that we must keep in mind what is useful. Sertillanges writes like this: “Each one must strive to keep well lived in memory and available for the first requisition, which is the basis of the work, which, for this reason, the noble people of their profession know”.

It is known to many intellectuals that the excess of information instead of helping, gets in the way, and, often, is of no use. Many people are able to sing or recite entire songs or long stretches of works that are to their liking and that have affection, yet unable to sing a single Psalm. Is it true or not? Therefore, it is also valid for the Christian to make, during his day, at times, recitations of passages that contain Christian spirituality , because what is recorded in the memory acts more easily in the spirit, also stimulating his faith. Recalling what was written above: intellectual activity is also a vocation.

What order do I need to keep?

First of all, you need to understand that your memory cannot be chaos. It needs to have order, so that its functionality is the best possible. Thus, it is not interesting, as we learned above, that you keep thousands of information without having any relationship between them. It is more useful to have two related data than twenty other unrelated data.

It is necessary to relate the new content acquired with the knowledge already assimilated. There are, in each subject, dominant ideas, which are key to that particular subject. There are also those that govern life , and it is in front of them that greater intellectual strength must be invested. Sertillanges also describes the ideas:

“Maintain, first of all, the master ideas; may they be present at the first call, ready to illuminate everything that is offered to you, to keep in your post, despite new contributions, old ideas, to be developed on the occasion of each progress […] ”. Thus, it will not happen that your memory is a mess, but the opposite, the data will be ordered and related.


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