Intelligence is a wonderful gift, designed by God to allow man to understand the truths of salvation and to appreciate the gifts God has given him. But mere intelligence means nothing to a man’s salvation. Indeed, intelligence can be and often is a hindrance to the salvation of those who pervert it to suit their own ends.
Knowledge without the love of God, is worthless. St. Paul eloquently explains the emptiness of those who possess knowledge and do not love God: “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1 Cor 13:2)
For intelligence was created by God to help man to better know and love Him. Intelligence divorced from that purpose is useless – and can even become a snare to salvation. The man who relies solely on his intelligence is tempted to be unduly arrogant, and to be scornful of the spiritual realm which cannot be fathomed by the limited intellects of humans.
Despite this fact, many men and women rely on their own intelligence, seeking to fathom the mysteries of the cosmos with their limited understandings. Others use their intellects in an amoral search to gain power, fame, and influence. In a search for the goods of the material realm, smart people often ignore greater spiritual goods.
The list of intelligent people who caused chaos by misusing their brilliance is long. Genghis Khan, Lenin, Hitler, Mao, and Napoleon were all brilliant men who used their intelligence to attempt to make themselves rulers on earth. Brilliant heretics such as Arius and Calvin misused their intelligence to deceive others into leaving the One True Faith.
People unskilled in intellect can still lead others to Christ. Saints such as John Vianney and Joseph of Cupertino were considered dunces – yet they managed to bring God’s light to many people, through their holy way of life.
This is not to say that Christians should cultivate ignorance and embrace stupidity. God gave men the gift of intellect to be used. But intellect is a gift, not the sum of existence. We are not to misuse intellect for our own ends. Instead, we must use our intellects to suit God’s purposes.
St. Paul tells us: “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.” (1 Cor 1:27) To be truly wise, we must look to our Creator, who understands all things and fathoms all mysteries.