Thomas Aquinas

About the Gift of wisdom and spiritual foolishness

Experiencing sexual sensual values may enhance the Gift of wisdom,
but it may lead to spiritual foolishness.
Passages from Summa of Theology IIa-IIae q. 45-46

It is not easy to get „meat” from the Theological Summa of St. Thomas, which would be fresh and would nourish our desire for truth in our daily existence. The main difficulty is its scholastic form and references to Aristotelian schemes. We have to emphasise that inside those schemes there is a vivid knowledge of Tradition on the mysticism or rather mystagogy of the Christian life, received from the Fathers, specifically from Augustine of Hippo (+430), and in this passage also from Gregory the Great (+604) and Isidore of Sevilla (+636). I have prepared the following passage in the way that the content, after removing bones of mediaeval protocol of the school theology, may come to the fore to lead the reader into the mystery of the Divine life – a life which is an intimate union through faith and charity with the Wisdom, one of seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. The text is divided into two parts: first part showing a positive aspect, what wisdom is. The second one points out to negative aspect, what causes menace to wisdom and leads to spiritual folly or foolishness (in the translation I changed word folly to foolishness, as the latter word seems to me closer to people's everyday experience). As St. Thomas says, the greatest obstacle to wisdom leading to foolishness and resentment towards God is lust. Yes, Thomas sees the evil of lust, and indeed all sorts of fornication, in that it has destructive effect on wisdom. Those who engage in lust and its acts have found their end in earthly things. In that way, often not consciously, they are enclosed in the horizontal dimension of their life.

If we acknowledge that every use of sexuality for the sake of sexuality, to satisfy lust is exactly what we mean by finding an end of one's life in earthly, or rather bodily, goods – obvious conclusions will come up. One of the alarming conclusions will be that pornography carries in itself that spiritual foolishness, which intensifies its influence the more men and women indulge themselves into that „entertainment”. Also married couples are exposed to that foolishness in their being together. Marriage sexual acts lived in a wrong way may expose them to the threat of spiritual foolishness as much as they do to single people, addicted to pornography. This may happen, when their marriage sexual union will serve achieving the temporary end, e.g. satisfying lust, looking for joys of sexual pleasure – instead of serving the essential ends of marriage, i.e. having children, to grant them eternal life through the baptism, and mutual, spiritual union of persons, through a generous gift of self. The difficulty is that, in order not to follow that route, spouses need wisdom. But wisdom may be lacking exactly because of indulging into lust, without reflection, naively, encouraged by contemporary consumerist life style. Looking for pleasure coming from lust is today – if only today? – „en vogue”. It is fashionable also among the Catholics. People are lead so early, often in their youth, to acts which deprave them of wisdom, charity and the Gift of the Holy Spirit... Another conclusion is that it is worth to consider reading the following text to the young people in their preparation to the Sacrament of Confirmation... Surely, even more, to those who prepare for marriage...

The wisdom which is a gift of the Holy Spirit, as stated above (a1), enables us to judge aright of Divine things, or of other things according to Divine rules, by reason of a certain connaturalness or union with Divine things, which is the effect of charity, as stated above (a2; q23, a5). Hence the wisdom of which we are speaking presupposes charity. Now charity is incompatible with mortal sin, as shown above (q24, a12). Therefore it follows that the wisdom of which we are speaking cannot be together with mortal sin.1). ...Now whoever turns away from his due end, must needs fix on some undue end, since every agent acts for an end. Wherefore, if he fixes his end in external earthly things, his "wisdom" is called "earthly," if in the goods of the body, it is called "sensual wisdom," if in some excellence, it is called "devilish wisdom" because it imitates the devil's pride, of which it is written (Job 41:25 Vulgate): "He is king over all the children of pride."2)

According to Augustine (De Trin. xii, 14) "wisdom is the knowledge of Divine things." Now that knowledge of Divine things which man can acquire by his natural endowments, belongs to the wisdom which is an intellectual virtue, while the supernatural knowledge of Divine things belongs to faith which is a theological virtue, as explained above (q4, a5; FS, q62, a3).3). The wisdom which is called a gift of the Holy Spirit, differs from that which is an acquired intellectual virtue, for the latter is attained by human effort, whereas the latter is "descending from above" (James 3:15). In like manner it differs from faith, since faith assents to the Divine truth in itself, whereas it belongs to the gift of wisdom to judge according to the Divine truth. Hence the gift of wisdom presupposes faith, because "a man judges well what he knows" (Ethic. i, 3).4)

Just as piety which pertains to the worship of God is a manifestation of faith, in so far as we make profession of faith by worshipping God, so too, piety manifests wisdom. For this reason piety is stated to be wisdom, and so is fear, for the same reason, because if a man fear and worship God, this shows that he has a right judgment about Divine things.5)

The seventh beatitude is fittingly ascribed to the gift of wisdom, both as to the merit and as to the reward. The merit is denoted in the words, "Blessed are the peacemakers." Now a peacemaker is one who makes peace, either in himself, or in others: and in both cases this is the result of setting in due order those things in which peace is established, for "peace is the tranquillity of order," according to Augustine (De Civ. Dei xix, 13). Now it belongs to wisdom to set things in order, as the Philosopher declares (Metaph. i, 2), wherefore peaceableness is fittingly ascribed to wisdom. The reward is expressed in the words, "they shall be called the children of God." Now men are called the children of God in so far as they participate in the likeness of the only-begotten and natural Son of God, according to Rom. 8:29, "Whom He foreknew . . . to be made conformable to the image of His Son," Who is Wisdom Begotten. Hence by participating in the gift of wisdom, man attains to the sonship of God.6)

About spiritual foolishness

We must now consider foolishness which is opposed to wisdom; and under this head there are three points of inquiry: (1) Whether foolishness is contrary to wisdom? (2) Whether foolishness is a sin? (3) To which capital sin is it reducible?

1. Stultitia [foolishness] seems to take its name from "stupor"; wherefore Isidore says (Etym. x, under the letter of S): "A fool is one who through dullness [stuporem] remains unmoved." And foolishness differs from fatuity, according to the same authority (Etym. x), in that foolishness implies apathy in the heart and dullness in the senses, while fatuity denotes entire privation of the spiritual sense. Therefore foolishness is fittingly opposed to wisdom. For "sapiens" [wise] as Isidore says (Etym. x) "is so named from sapor [savor], because just as the taste is quick to distinguish between savors of meats, so is a wise man in discerning things and causes." Wherefore it is manifest that "foolishness" is opposed to "wisdom" as its contrary, while "fatuity" is opposed to it as a pure negation: since the fatuous man lacks the sense of judgment, while the fool has the sense, though dulled, whereas the wise man has the sense acute and penetrating.7)

2. Foolishness, as stated above (a1), denotes dullness of sense in judging, and chiefly as regards the highest cause, which is the last end and the sovereign good. Now a man may in this respect contract dullness in judgment in two ways. First, from a natural indisposition, as in the case of mentally ill, and such like foolishness is no sin. Secondly, by plunging his sense into earthly things, whereby his sense is rendered incapable of perceiving Divine things, according to 1 Cor. 2:14, "The sensual man does not perceive these things that are of the Spirit of God," even as sweet things have no savor for a man whose taste is infected with an evil humor: and such like foolishness is a sin. Though no man wishes to be a fool, yet he wishes those things of which foolishness is a consequence, viz. to withdraw his sense from spiritual things and to plunge it into earthly things. The same thing happens in regard to other sins; for the lustful man desires pleasure, without which there is no sin, although he does not desire sin simply, for he would wish to enjoy the pleasure without sin.8)

3. Foolishness, in so far as it is a sin, is caused by the spiritual sense being dulled, so as to be incapable of judging spiritual things. Now man's sense is plunged into earthly things chiefly by lust, which is about the greatest of pleasures; and these absorb the mind more than any others. Therefore the foolishness which is a sin, arises chiefly from lust.9).

It is part of foolishness that a man should have a distaste for God and His gifts. Hence Gregory mentions two daughters of lust, pertaining to foolishness, namely, "hatred of God" and "despair of the life to come"; thus he divides foolishness into two parts as it were.10)

The Apostle says (1 Cor. 3:19): "The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God." Now, according to Gregory (Moral. x, 29) "the wisdom of this world consists in covering the heart with crafty devices;" and this savors of duplicity.11) These words of the Apostle are to be understood, not causally but essentially, because, to wit, worldly wisdom itself is foolishness with God.12)

Anger by reason of its keenness, as stated above (FS, q48, aa2,3,4), produces a great change in the nature of the body, wherefore it conduces very much to the foolishness which results from a bodily impediment. On the other hand the foolishness which is caused by a spiritual impediment, viz. by the mind being plunged into earthly things, arises chiefly from lust, as stated above.13).

Text: 1917 translation by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province


Sapientia quae est donum spiritus sancti, sicut dictum est, facit rectitudinem iudicii circa res divinas, vel per regulas divinas de aliis, ex quadam connaturalitate sive unione ad divina. Quae quidem est per caritatem, ut dictum est. Et ideo sapientia de qua loquimur praesupponit caritatem. Caritas autem non potest esse cum peccato mortali, ut ex supradictis patet. Unde relinquitur quod sapientia de qua loquimur non potest esse cum peccato mortali. ...Si /homo/ praestituat sibi finem in bonis exterioribus terrenis, vocatur sapientia terrena; si autem in bonis corporalibus, vocatur sapientia animalis; si autem in aliqua excellentia, vocatur sapientia diabolica, propter imitationem superbiae Diaboli, de quo dicitur Iob XLI, ipse est rex super universos filios superbiae.

Augustinus dicit, XIV de Trin., sapientia est divinarum rerum cognitio. Sed cognitio divinarum rerum quam homo potest per sua naturalia habere, pertinet ad sapientiam quae est virtus intellectualis, cognitio autem divinorum supernaturalis pertinet ad fidem quae est virtus theologica, ut ex supradictis patet. Sapientia quae ponitur donum differt ab ea quae ponitur virtus intellectualis acquisita. Nam illa acquiritur studio humano, haec autem est de sursum descendens, ut dicitur Iac. III. Similiter et differt a fide. Nam fides assentit veritati divinae secundum seipsam, sed iudicium quod est secundum veritatem divinam pertinet ad donum sapientiae. Et ideo donum sapientiae praesupponit fidem, quia unusquisque bene iudicat quae cognoscit, ut dicitur in I Ethic.

Sicut pietas, quae pertinet ad cultum Dei, est manifestativa fidei, inquantum per cultum Dei protestamur fidem; ita etiam pietas manifestat sapientiam. Et propter hoc dicitur quod pietas est sapientia. Et eadem ratione timor. Per hoc enim ostenditur quod homo rectum habet iudicium de divinis, quod Deum timet et colit.

Septima beatitudo congrue adaptatur dono sapientiae et quantum ad meritum et quantum ad praemium. Ad meritum quidem pertinet quod dicitur, beati pacifici. Pacifici autem dicuntur quasi pacem facientes vel in seipsis vel etiam in aliis. Quorum utrumque contingit per hoc quod ea in quibus pax constituitur ad debitum ordinem rediguntur, nam pax est tranquillitas ordinis, ut Augustinus dicit, XIX de Civ. Dei. Ordinare autem pertinet ad sapientiam; ut patet per philosophum, in principio Metaphys. Et ideo esse pacificum convenienter attribuitur sapientiae. Ad praemium autem pertinet quod dicitur, filii Dei vocabuntur. Dicuntur autem aliqui filii Dei inquantum participant similitudinem filii unigeniti et naturalis, secundum illud Rom. VIII, quos praescivit conformes fieri imaginis filii sui, qui quidem est sapientia genita. Et ideo percipiendo donum sapientiae, ad Dei filiationem homo pertingit.

De stutlitia spirituali

Deinde considerandum est de stultitia, quae opponitur sapientiae. Et circa hoc quaeruntur tria. Primo, utrum stultitia opponatur sapientiae. Secundo, utrum stultitia sit peccatum. Tertio, ad quod vitium capitale reducatur.

Nomen stultitiae a stupore videtur esse sumptum, unde Isidorus dicit, in libro Etymol., stultus est qui propter stuporem non movetur. Et differt stultitia a fatuitate, sicut ibidem dicitur, quia stultitia importat hebetudinem cordis et obtusionem sensuum; fatuitas autem importat totaliter spiritualis sensus privationem. Et ideo convenienter stultitia sapientiae opponitur. Sapiens enim, ut ibidem Isidorus dicit, dictus est a sapore, quia sicut gustus est aptus ad discretionem saporis ciborum, sic sapiens ad dignoscentiam rerum atque causarum. Unde patet quod stultitia opponitur sapientiae sicut contrarium; fatuitas autem sicut pura negatio. Nam fatuus caret sensu iudicandi; stultus autem habet, sed hebetatum; sapiens autem subtilem ac perspicacem.

Stultitia, sicut dictum est, importat quendam stuporem sensus in iudicando, et praecipue circa altissimam causam, quae est finis ultimus et summum bonum. Circa quod aliquis potest pati stuporem in iudicando dupliciter. Uno modo, ex indispositione naturali, sicut patet in amentibus. Et talis stultitia non est peccatum. Alio modo, inquantum immergit homo sensum suum rebus terrenis, ex quo redditur eius sensus ineptus ad percipiendum divina, secundum illud I ad Cor. II, animalis homo non percipit ea quae sunt spiritus Dei, sicut etiam homini habenti gustum infectum malo humore non sapiunt dulcia. Et talis stultitia est peccatum. (ad2) Quamvis stultitiam nullus velit, vult tamen ea ad quae consequitur esse stultum, scilicet abstrahere sensum suum a spiritualibus et immergere terrenis. Et idem etiam contingit in aliis peccatis. Nam luxuriosus vult delectationem sine qua non est peccatum, quamvis non simpliciter velit peccatum, vellet enim frui delectatione sine peccato.

Stultitia, secundum quod est peccatum, provenit ex hoc quod sensus spiritualis hebetatus est, ut non sit aptus ad spiritualia diiudicanda. Maxime autem sensus hominis immergitur ad terrena per luxuriam, quae est circa maximas delectationes, quibus anima maxime absorbetur. Et ideo stultitia quae est peccatum maxime nascitur ex luxuria.

Ad stultitiam pertinet quod homo habeat fastidium de Deo et de donis ipsius. Unde Gregorius duo numerat inter filias luxuriae quae pertinent ad stultitiam, scilicet odium Dei et desperationem futuri saeculi, quasi dividens stultitiam in duas partes.

Apostolus dicit, I ad Cor. III, sapientia huius mundi stultitia est apud Deum. Sed sicut Gregorius dicit, (X Moral.), sapientia mundi est cor machinationibus tegere, quod pertinet ad duplicitatem. Verbum illud apostoli non est intelligendum causaliter, sed essentialiter, quia scilicet ipsa sapientia mundi est stultitia apud Deum.

Ira, ut supra dictum est (STh I-II, q. 48, a 2-4), sua acuitate maxime immutat corporis naturam. Unde maxime causat stultitiam quae provenit ex impedimento corporali. Sed stultitia quae provenit ex impedimento spirituali, scilicet ex immersione mentis ad terrena, maxime provenit ex luxuria, ut dictum est.

Textus: Fundación Tomás de Aquino 2015, (


1) q24 a12
2) q45 a4 co
3) q45 a1 rad1
4) q45 a1 ad2
5) q45 a1 rad3
6) q45 a6 co
7) q46 a1 co
8) q46 a2 co and rad2
9) q46 a3 co
10) q46 a3 rad1
11) q46 a3 ad2
12) q46 a3 rad2
13) q46 a3 rad3

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