The aim of the preliminary study plan is to acquire "as early as possible even at starting if it may be, a body of directive ideas forming a whole, and capable, like a magnet, of attracting and subordinating to itself all our knowledge." The tangible output of this task is a "personal summa."
In my opinion, the "body of directive ideas forming a whole" is one of the most attractive fruits of the intellectual life because it provides an intellectual foundation, which helps guard against the myriad internal and external influences that chip away at our most dearly held convictions. And, as I mentioned in my first post, the desire for an intellectual framework, was one of my motives for reading The Intellectual Life.
Although we feel a certain urgency when we read, "as early as possible," The Intellectual has in mind a thorough knowledge of Thomistic thought requiring "four hours a week...for the five or six years needed to form the mind." Sertillanges is an unequivocal champion of Thomism in the area of "directive ideas," and given the Church's endorsement of Thomas, it seems hard to argue with him.
While Sertillanges doesn't explicitly say that the "body of directive ideas" is the "personal summa," I think that he wouldn't object to considering them as analogous. "Every man who thinks and really desires to know can try to establish his personal Summa, that is to introduce order into his knowledge by an appeal to the principles of order." No small feet to be sure. A few days ago, I attended a question and answer session with a Catholic intellectual in economics and the questions reflected a clear expectation that the intellectual would have an articulate comment on a range of topics including recent statements by Pope Francis on conscience. The bar for the catholic intellectual is very high in the mind of your average layman.
Creating your "personal summa" requires that, as you proceed through each article of the real Summa, you "draw up your own article." A tall order to be sure and, since I haven't started on the Summa, one which I'm not sure is completely feasible. This exercise requires a liberal use of the articles that your article draws from. Many editions of the Summa will have these references in the margins to facilitate the work required to situate a particular article of the Summa within a proper context. While the effort of this exercise is great, the payoff is a mind with "flexibility, vigour, precision, breadth, hatred of sophistry and of inexactitude," while ensuring "a progressively increasing store of notions that will be clear, deep, consecutive, always linked up with their first principles and forming by their inter-adaptation a sound synthesis." What more could you ask for!
*quotes are from "The Field of Work," sections I and II.