Book one, chapter one, of Aquinas’s Summa Contra Gentiles, concerning wisdom, begins by citing Proverbs: “My mouth shall meditate truth, and my lips shall hate iniquity” (8:7). Aquinas finds two sides to this statement. The first is “to meditate and speak forth of the divine truth which is truth in person”; the second, “to refute the opposing error or impiety.” Impiety is “falsehood against the divine truth.” The divine truth is the Word.
Meanwhile, in Leo Strauss’s 1964 book, The City and Man, we find a related passage: “In the words of Thomas Aquinas, reason informed by faith, not natural reason simply, to say nothing of corrupted reason, teaches that God is to be loved and worshiped. Natural reason cannot decide which of the various forms of the divine worship is the true one, although it is able to show the falsity of those which are plainly immoral” (34). Behind Strauss’s comment is the notion that the God of Aristotle had no personal relation with human beings in the world.
But which form of worship is the “true one”? Reason can at least indicate what forms are immoral. Reason should “refute the opposing error.” It takes reason informed by faith, however, to tell us how God is to be worshiped and loved; reason alone cannot do this. If God has indicated how He is to be worshiped, our reason can tell us that it is not contradictory to participate in it. In doing so, it becomes more “reason.”
Pope Benedict XVI touched on this point in Deus Caritas Est. For the Christian, God chooses whether and what He creates. He “loves man.” In contrast, “the divine power that Aristotle…sought to grasp through reflection is indeed for every being an object of desire and of love—and as the object of love this divinity moves the world—but in itself it lacks nothing and does not love: it is solely the object of love.” Thus, man does worship and love God, but God first loves man. Within the Godhead exists an inner Trinitarian life. The world need not exist. If the world does exist, God can explain the world to us, including how we are to worship.
Aquinas begins the Summa Contra Gentiles by telling us that the philosopher is to “name” things. The wise man is the one who sees “the order of things” and rules accordingly. We know the order from its end. The “absolutely wise man” looks to the “end of the universe.” He is concerned with its “highest causes.”
Aquinas next says that “the first author and mover of the universe is intellect.” He adds that “the ultimate end of the universe must, therefore, be the good of the intellect.” And the good of the intellect is “truth.” Thus, “truth must be the ultimate end of the whole universe.” These are remarkable sentences.
Aquinas continues: “Wisdom testifies that He has assumed flesh and came into the world in order to make this truth known.” Aquinas understands that Aristotle does not know of this Incarnation. Yet Aquinas says, nonetheless, “the Philosopher [Aristotle] himself establishes that first philosophy [metaphysics] is the science of truth, not of any truth, but of that truth which is the origin of all truth, namely, which belongs to the first principle whereby all things are.”
Knowledge of truth includes knowledge of what is not true. Aquinas uses the example of medicine, which “seeks to effect health and to eliminate illness.” The wise medical man teaches how to effect health in the patient; this is his end. To accomplish this he must know what sickness is. Consequently, the wise man has to show what is true and refute what is false.
It is the function of the wise man to order things. The ultimate order of things betrays intellect, to the very truth of which we are to order ourselves. Only in this way are we wise.