If I had to come up with a list of books whose title makes the book sound far drier than it really is, I’d nominate Gilson’s The Spirit of Mediaeval Philosophy. Merton fans may recall that he bought the book in his pre-Catholic days, then nearly hurled it out the window when he saw it contained the Imprimatur: “[I]t only offended Merton more to think a fine scholar had been censored–worse, that he had allowed himself to be censored.” Michael Mott, The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton, 109.
Censored or not, The Spirit is a great book. When you start it, you need to sit at a desk with blinders on, determined to focus on it until you get into the groove. Once you do, you won’t be disappointed. Gilson writes about a difficult subject–one separated from us chronologically by nearly a thousand years and intellectually by an eviternity–with ease. The book is packed with intellectual history and, in the course of unpacking it, Catholic philosophy itself.
Some day, I will go back through it and type of scores of choice quotes. There’s not much more I can do with a book like Spirit. Gilson’s quotes are self-sufficient, requiring little or no elaboration . . . and making a commentator feel wholly inadequate trying to do so (this is the third Gilson post I’ve attempted to write since starting the new TDE, and all three have struck me as lame). For now, I merely offer this fine quote from page 271:
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[T]he great fact on which rests the whole Christian conception of love is this: that all human pleasure is desirable but none ever suffices.