Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium

Here, dear reader, you enter the domain of a fool. “Fool” is said in many ways. In one way, it is the fool who says in his heart that “there is no God” (Ps. 13:1). In another way, all Christians are called to be fools for God. In one way, foolishness is opposed to wisdom: “Answer not the fool according to his folly, lest you become like him” (Prov. 26: 5). In another way, to be truly wise according to divine wisdom is to be a fool before all men: "So much wiser than men is God's foolishness; so much stronger than men is God's weakness" (1 Cor, 1:25).

I have certainly been a fool in many ways. Many times I have said in my heart, “there is no God,” whenever I have sinned: “They are corrupt, and are become abominable in their ways” (Ps. 13:1). But I aspire not to this foolishness. I hope to be able to say with the Apostle that “we are fools for Christ” (1 Cor, 4:10). I aspire rather to that divine foolishness which is wiser than the wisdom of men, that divine wisdom which is "to the Jews a discouragement, to the Greeks mere folly" (1 Cor, 1:23). As such I will be counted a fool by the wise men of this world, and indeed even before God I am a fool. But to be wise with the wisdom of God is indeed to renounce my own wisdom, for “For what man can learn the counsel of God? Or who can discern what the Lord wills? For the reasoning of mortals is worthless, and our designs likely to fail” (Wis. 9:13-14). In other words I must become the fool, I must know how much I do not and cannot know, if I am to have the wisdom of God. I must empty myself so that I might be filled with that wisdom which comes only from the Spirit of God: “Who has learned your counsel, unless you have given wisdom and sent your Holy Spirit from on high?” (Wis. 9:17).

"To us, then, God has made a revelation of it through his Spirit; there is no depth in God's nature so deep that the Spirit cannot find it out. Who else can know a man's thoughts, except the man's own spirit that is within him? So no one else can know God's thoughts, but the Spirit of God. And what we have received is no spirit of worldly wisdom; it is the Spirit that comes from God, to make us understand God's gifts to us; gifts which we make known, not in such words as human wisdom teaches, but in words taught us by the Spirit, matching what is spiritual with what is spiritual. Mere man with his natural gifts cannot take in the thoughts of God’s Spirit; they seem mere folly to him, and he cannot grasp them, because they demand a scrutiny which is spiritual. Whereas the man who has spiritual gifts can scrutinize everything, without being subject, himself, to any other man’s scrutiny” (1 Cor, 2:12-15).

Such is wisdom, and such is the divine foolishness, as told to us by the authors of the Holy Writ.

Socrates says of the philosopher that it is by a sort of madness that he may soar unto the divine mysteries. The philosopher is no mere man of the earth; he does not fix the eye of his mind upon earthly things, but proceeds from them to the knowledge of the supreme Good, the knowledge of God. “And therefore the mind of the philosopher alone has wings; and this is just, for he is always, according to the measure of his abilities, clinging in recollection to those things in which God abides, and in beholding which He is what He is. And he who employs aright these memories is ever being initiated into perfect mysteries and alone becomes truly perfect. But, as he forgets earthly interests and is rapt in the divine, the vulgar deem him mad, and rebuke him; and they do not see that he is inspired.” (Phaedrus)

In a similar manner, Socrates says of the poet that it is by no human wisdom that he is moved to the recitation of poetry, but by a sort of divine madness: “For not by art does the poet sing, but power divine, Had he learned by rules of art, he would have known how to speak not of one theme only, but of all; and therefore God takes away the minds of poets, and uses them as his ministers, as he also uses diviners and holy prophets, in order that we who hear them may know them to be speaking not of themselves who utter these priceless words in a state of unconsciousness, but that God himself is the speaker, and that through them he is conversing with us. And Tynnichus the Chalcidian affords a striking instance of what I am saying: he wrote nothing that any one would care to remember but the famous paean which; in every one's mouth, one of the finest poems ever written, simply an invention of the Muses, as he himself says. For in this way, the God would seem to indicate to us and not allow us to doubt that these beautiful poems are not human, or the work of man, but divine and the work of God; and that the poets are only the interpreters of the Gods by whom they are severally possessed. Was not this the lesson which the God intended to teach when by the mouth of the worst of poets he sang the best of songs? Am I not right, Ion?” (Ion)

The wise man and the poet alike represent the quintessential fool, the one infused with a divine madness, whose wisdom alone is true wisdom, unlike the wisdom of the world which interprets it as mere folly and unintelligible rubbish. To be wise is to be a kind of fool; to love wisdom is to seek to be possessed by divine madness, to be no longer left to one's own poor clever devices, to long for the infusion of grace. The orientation of philosophy is thus fundamentally towards the supernatural. This is the meaning of the divine foolishness or madness praised by St. Paul and by Plato.


I am a recent graduate of Thomas Aquinas College (2017), where I studied philosophy, theology, and the liberal arts and sciences for four years, and received a Bachelor of Art's Degree in Liberal Arts. I wrote my Bachelor's thesis on the subject of liturgical symbolism, from the point of view of Neoplatonic and Thomistic philosophy. I am currently studying for a Master's degree in philosophy at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, in Belgium. My major is specifically in Ancient, Medieval, and Renaissance philosophy. I hope eventually to pursue a Ph.D. in philosophy (or theology?), settle down to teach at a university, do a considerable amount of research and publication, raise a Catholic family, and have a small farm. This blog is primarily intended to be a record of my intellectual pursuits and discoveries, but the hope is to also blog about the philosophic life: to make philosophy itself an organic expression of my life, and vice versa, and to write about it. As dialogue is an important part of the common pursuit of wisdom, intelligent commentary and criticism are welcome from all readers, so long as it is relevant and charitable. 

- Jonathan Michael Culbreath

1 comment:

  1. Good luck. If you have an interest in Neoplatonism and the Platonic tradition, I would encourage you to look up Pierre Grimes and the Noetic Society and their many videos and other material on