Mary, Seat of Wisdom and Philosopher Extraordinaire
BOOK PICK: ‘The Greatest Philosopher Who Ever Lived’
THE GREATEST PHILOSOPHER WHO EVER LIVED
By Peter Kreeft
Ignatius Press, 2021
285 pages, $18.95
To order: ignatius.com or (800) 651-1831 (web purchases discounted)
Peter Kreeft, a full professor in philosophy at Boston College, loves philosophy in its radical root as “the love of wisdom.” So it’s no wonder that his book about the “greatest philosopher who ever lived” is a rich tome about … the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Yes, Mary lacks a doctoral degree and is a bit short on publications, her longest lecture (the Magnificat) not filling a full page. That said, Kreeft still considers her the preeminent philosopher.
Philosophy means “love of wisdom.” Jesus is Wisdom Incarnate. And the Blessed Mother loved him more than any other human being.
“Mary was the greatest philosopher (wisdom-lover) who ever lived. For she had the greatest love for the greatest wisdom,” as Kreeft explains in the “Introductions” section.
“Mary is such an archetype of wisdom that the Church applies to Mary the attributes of wisdom itself …” he adds.
Mary’s philosophy is eminently practical, meant to apply to real living — and offers profound, beautiful insights.
“I write this book, not as an academic philosopher, but as a child who thinks he sees something profound and beautiful in Mary’s largely silent wisdom and who wants to call out to others: ‘Oh, look!’ — like a child seeing a rainbow or a cathedral for the first time.”
Throughout, Kreeft examines Mary from the perspective of the many branches of philosophy. Her metaphysics is most interesting. Metaphysics deals with being, and Kreeft makes an illuminating argument that (which he admits comes from Gabriel Marcel) that sanctity is really the fullness of being.
“‘[T]he study of sanctity … is the true ontology [metaphysics].’ This startling conclusion follows from two premises: that saints are the standard for personhood, because they actualize and thus reveal the meaning of human personhood better than any others, and that personhood is the standard for being. …. I predict that future theistic philosophers will be more surprised that no one before Marcel articulated this principle than they will be surprised by the principle itself” (p. 134).
This book performs a twofold task: It provides a thorough overview of basic principles of Christian philosophy while using the Blessed Virgin Mary as the best illustration of those principles. Consider, for example, the problem of suffering, a classical problem in philosophy. Mary suffered. Kreeft argues that, in fact, the more morally pure one is, the more intense is joy … and suffering (and Mary was Immaculate). But suffering is not an excuse for her to blame God or even deny his existence, but to recognize that everything comes from his good and providential will, everything to which she assented in her fiat. That “let it be” is not just the metaphysical starting point of a new creation (in which Mary is the new Eve) nor an assent to whatever God willed, but also a philosophy of history: The instrumental cause for all human history begins there.
“Because history is His story, because only He is its lord, and not any Caesar, any warlord, or any other military, political, philosophical, scientific, or even religious revolutionary, therefore no mere man or woman who has ever lived has ever performed a more revolutionary work than Mary. No one has ever changed human history more than she. No one has ever more crucially changed the life of every person who has ever lived, both in this world and in the next, than Mary” (p. 250).
The sheer breadth of issues Kreeft covers by reflecting on Mary and her life surveys not just the issues of our time but the issues of every time, wherever thinking men and women (which is what philosophers are) have reflected on the meaning of life. What makes Kreeft doubly rewarding are his erudition and brilliant turns of phrase: A man who can combine great thinkers and literature with pop music (“c’mon and dance with me”) is worth the read.
Far from being marginal to our lives, a saint on a pedestal, Mary is very much the answer to the problems of our day and all days.
As ancient Israel believed, to live as God wills is wisdom — not to is folly.
Mary, the Seat of Wisdom, is the practical philosopher teaching us true wisdom.
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