Colossians 2:8

See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.


There is a sort of Christian who fears what he calls "head knowledge" and insists that authentic spirituality is a sort of instinctive gut instinct by which you just close your eyes and lunge.  This verse is one of his favorites.  He can, with justice, point to any number of pointy-headed intellectuals who believe things so absurd that only another pointy-headed intellectual could believe them. But he does wrong to assume that Paul is thereby an ally in condemning any and all ideas held by non-Christians.  After all, non-Christians invented agriculture, poetry, law, science and pretty much everything else human.  That's because, fallen though they are, they are human beings in the image of God.  What Paul warns against is not philosophy per se, but "philosophy and empty deceit".  He might just as well warn against law and empty deceit, science and empty deceit, poetry and empty deceit or sports and empty deceit.  The point is all human things can (and will, apart from Christ's spirit) be the means by which Satan deceives us.  Indeed, even the trappings of Christianity and empty deceit can do that–better than philosophy.  But, as St. Thomas demonstrated, pagan philosophy in the service of Christ and docile to his teaching can be a great good, as can science, law, poetry or any other human good.

Mark Shea


Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog and regularly blogs for National Catholic Register. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.

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