St. Thomas Aquinas on Memorization Techniques

The following text is from Aquinas’ Summa Theologica II-II, q. 49, a. 1, ad 2
There are four things whereby a man perfects his memory.

First, when a man wishes to remember a thing, he should take some suitable yet somewhat unwonted illustration of it, since the unwonted strikes us more, and so makes a greater and stronger impression on the mind; and this explains why we remember better what we saw when we were children. Now the reason for the necessity of finding these illustrations or images, is that simple and spiritual impressions easily slip from the mind, unless they be tied as it were to some corporeal image, because human knowledge has a greater hold on sensible objects. For this reason memory is assigned to the sensitive part of the soul.

Secondly, whatever a man wishes to retain in his memory he must carefully consider and set in order, so that he may pass easily from one memory to another. Hence the Philosopher says (De Mem. et Rem. ii.): Sometimes a place brings memories back to us: the reason being that we pass quickly from the one to the other.

Thirdly, we must be anxious and earnest about the things we wish to remember, because the more a thing is impressed on the mind, the less it is liable to slip out of it. Wherefore Tully says in his Rhetoric* that anxiety preserves the figures of images entire.

Fourthly, we should often reflect on the things we wish to remember. Hence the Philosopher says (De Memoria i.) that reflexion preserves memories, because as he remarks (ibid. ii.) custom is a second nature: wherefore when we reflect on a thing frequently, we quickly call it to mind, through passing from one thing to another by a kind of natural order.

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