The Catholic Church has been a great patroness of philosophical wisdom, with Augustine and Aquinas being perhaps the greatest representatives of this tradition.
Some Christians think this emphasis on philosophy in the Catholic tradition, however, contradicts the Bible. For example, in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul identifies the message of Christ crucified as the wisdom of God and contrasts it with the wisdom of the world:
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart.’ Where is the wise man? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? . . .For the Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified . . . Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God [Christ crucified] is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Cor. 1:18-25).
How can the Catholic Church promote philosophy, it is thus argued, when Paul clearly says such wisdom is folly? Shouldn’t we stick to preaching Christ crucified and leave all that Greek wisdom behind?
Here are a few ways we can respond.
First, if we take God’s words “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the cleverness of the clever” to mean that he disapproves of philosophical reasoning, then he would be acting foolishly and therefore contrary to his nature.
It belongs to our nature as rational animals to have an intellect. And that intellect is naturally directed to contemplating reality. So, to engage in philosophy, which is basically the quest to know the ultimate causes of things through natural reason, is a good thing. And whatever knowledge of reality that we can use to direct our lives toward God, which is the virtue of prudence (a sort of cleverness), it’s good that we do so.
Therefore, for God to command us to not engage in philosophical reasoning would be to command us to act contrary to the good of our nature.
Now, for God to command us to act contrary to the good of our nature would be for him to command us to direct our lives away from him as our ultimate end or goal. In other words, God would be commanding us to not love him.
But God can’t command us to not love him, because that would entail a failure for God to love himself, which is impossible, given God’s perfect nature. A failure to love himself would involve God falling short of being fully actualized in his loving power. Since that can’t be given that God is pure actuality itself, or pure existence itself, he can’t fail to love himself.
Therefore, it can’t be that God intends to express disapproval of philosophical reasoning when he says, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the cleverness of the clever.” Nor can this be Paul’s intended meaning, for he, inspired by the Holy Spirit, would not contradict what we can know by the natural light of human reason.
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