Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world…
I. TRUE PHILOSOPHY IS NOT CONDEMNED BY ST. PAUL. We cannot under stand this concerning any branch or the whole body, lest God be called into judgment. For philosophy is the offspring of right reason; and this light of reason is infused into the mind by God. We, therefore, judge not the discipline of the Platenists, etc., to be true philosophy, but the principles of every one which agree with truth and morals. The errors of theologians do not pertain to theology, nor do those of philosophers and philosophy. These we are free to condemn, but not truth discovered by natural reason.
II. WHAT KIND OF PHILOSOPHY IS EXCLUDED BY THE APOSTLE. That which is vain and deceitful, viz., the product of reason carried beyond its bounds. Philosophy is to be listened to when it pronounces about things subject to itself, but when it would determine concerning the worship of God and salvation, etc., which are beyond the grasp of reason and depend wholly on revelation, it brings nothing solid or true. St. Paul alleges the cause of this in 1 Corinthians 2:14. As animals can judge very well concerning things which relate to sense, yet cannot judge of human affairs, neither can men pronounce by natural light respecting heavenly doctrine, although they may determine by it what is good and right in human concerns. This was the error of the false teachers who, in speculating about the method of approach to God and of redemption, went beyond the declarations which God had made on these matters.
III. THE ABUSE AND USE OF PHILOSOPHY.
1. Its abuse.
(1) When it attempts to deduce the fundamentals of religion from its own principles. These principles may be true, but there cannot be elicited from them what is to be determined respecting the Trinity, e.g., which is to be deduced from higher principles, viz., the will of God revealed in His Word.
(2) When it opposes its own principles which are true in the order of nature to theological principles which are above the order of nature. Thus it is true that out of nothing, nothing can be made; but philosophers err when they think they can hence conclude against creation which the Scriptures teach as done not by virtue of natural causes, but by the power of God.
(3) When it obtrudes for legitimate conclusions its errors drawn sometimes by false consequences from true premises.
2. Its uses.
(1) For the clear understanding of many passages of Scripture. Although the principles of our religion are derived from God, yet there are many examples and illustrations which cannot be understood without the aid of human literature. Its references to the heavenly bodies require the knowledge of astronomy; to animals, of natural history, etc.
(2) For discriminating between and treating religious controversies; for appreciating the coherence and mutual establishment of heavenly doctrine, and for determining what is consistent and inconsistent with them. Our faith ascends above reason, but not irrationally. I believe the resurrection, because reason proves the doctrine to be delivered in the Bible. I do not believe in purgatory because reason can collect it from no part of Scripture according to the rules of sound logic. This use of reason in sacred things God approves and requires (Ephesians 5:17; Ephesians 4:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; Acts 17:11).
(3) For the instruction of those who have not yet embraced Christ, and for resistance if they should oppose religion. He who has lived in darkness is not to be drawn directly into the sunlight lest he should be overpowered rather than enlightened; so they, who have been educated in paganism are first to be awakened by reasons drawn from natural light (Acts 17:24). And then it is to be employed as a rampart and weapon against opponents. Julian the apostate said "We are caught by our own wings" when he saw the philosophers routed by the Christians through the advantages of philosophy.
(4) For Christian education, since the mind is prepared and rendered more acute by philosophical studies, and our discourses on sacred things are much enriched by the good sayings of philosophers.
(5) For the delight of hearers. As Clemens says, "The truth which is sought from Scripture is as necessary to the life as bread; but that which is sought from other instruction is as sauce And sweetmeats."
Parallel VersesKJV: Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.