Originally published on Aleteia, republished with their permission
One of the basic requirements in developing a relationship with God is to acquire knowledge about God. As the old saying goes, you can’t love what you don’t know.
However, when pursuing knowledge of God, there is a spiritual danger that can lead to our ruin, instead of salvation.
Italian priest Fr. Lorenzo Scupoli explained this pitfall in his spiritual classic The Spiritual Combat, published in 1589. He wrote, “Be sober and humble even in the desire to understand heavenly things, wishing to know nothing but Christ crucified, His life, His death, and what He requires of thee.”
By following these instructions you will avoid many dangers; for when the wily serpent sees the will of those who are aiming at the spiritual life to be strong and resolute, he attacks their understanding, that so he may master both the one and the other.
The devil recognizes our desire for knowledge, which is a good desire, but then tries to pervert it. Instead of allowing us to pursue knowledge of God in order to love God more closely, he tempts us to use that knowledge in a prideful, self-seeking way.
[The devil] often, therefore, infuses lofty and curious speculations into their minds, especially if they be of an acute and intellectual order, and easily inflated with pride; and he does this in order that they may busy themselves in the enjoyment and discussion of such subjects, wherein, as they falsely persuade themselves, they enjoy God, and meanwhile neglect to purify their hearts … So, falling into the snare of pride, they make an idol of their own understanding.
What happens next is that we perceive ourselves as great possessors of truth and refuse to take the advice of others, even when it is good and holy.
Scupoli warns about the perils of this path, writing, “how, or by whom, can he be cured, who obstinately believes his own opinion to be worth more than that of others? How shall he submit to other men’s judgment, which he accounts to be far inferior to his own!”
The best disposition to have is the one St. Thomas Aquinas had during his life. Aquinas was undoubtedly one of the greatest minds in the whole history of Christianity and knew far more than most about the nature of God.
Yet, towards the end of his life Aquinas had a spiritual vision that led him to declare, “Everything that I have written seems like straw to me compared to those things that I have seen and have been revealed to me.”
Aquinas realized that even though he wrote the truth, he was not the source of truth. He had a holy humility that kept him recognizing his place in the universe and his utter dependence on God.
When pursuing knowledge of God, try recognizing this fundamental truth and avoid the pitfall of pride. We may possess a good deal of knowledge, but in the end, it’s as “straw” compared to the source of all truth.