Who is the greatest philosopher of all time? This is the kind of question that rouses fiery debate in universities, online message boards, and even (some) bars. Who among all humanity is the wisest, smartest, most brilliant of the bunch?
“It must be Socrates,” some would propose. “His logical ‘method’ is still taught in classes across the world, and much of Western philosophy is built on his shoulders.”
“Ah, but he’s no Aristotle,” others would respond. “Aristotle’s brilliance extends across all of the arts and sciences, from poetry and rhetoric to metaphysics and biology. Even more, today’s legal system rests on his morality and ethics.”
Now, the Christian of the bunch might then assert, “I can’t believe none of you mentioned Augustine or Aquinas. These two philosopher-saints molded the theology of the world’s largest religion. And their philosophy wasn’t just concerned with earthly things: it also ascended to the divine world.”
This debate could go on endlessly—and sometimes does. A case could be made for many more candidates, for history has no short supply of brilliant sages.
But anytime this discussion takes place, one name rarely gets mentioned. Yet it’s the one that should be ranked the highest: Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
Why would anyone choose Mary as history’s greatest philosopher? At its fundamental level, a philosopher is simply “a lover of wisdom,” which is what you get when you break apart its Greek roots: “philo” meaning lover and “sophia” meaning wisdom.
As Christians, we stand with St. Paul in proclaiming Jesus as the Wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:30.) And at the beginning of his Gospel, St. John describes Jesus as “the Logos,” a Greek term meaning the Word, the Wisdom, the Divine Mind. Jesus is the pure embodiment of wisdom: he doesn’t just have wisdom, he is Wisdom; his words don’t just communicate truth, they are Truth.
Because all this is true, we must then ask the next logical question: who loves Jesus, the Divine Wisdom, more than his own mother? Many saints have picked up on this. For example, in the eleventh century, Saint Peter Damian began referring to Mary as the “Throne of Wisdom,” for it was on her lap that the Divine Mind sat as a child.
So what does this mean for us? Why does it matter that Mary is the greatest philosopher? First, it means that when we pray the Rosary—that rich Marian devotion—we’re linking our mind and prayers with those of the Greatest Lover of Wisdom. It means that one “Hail Mary” makes us wiser than a hundred philosophical treatises.
It means we become sages, as Mary discovered, not merely through textbooks and universities but through the schools of humility, devotion, and prayer. This can be demonstrated by example. Down through the centuries, the wisest men have not been those who know the most facts but those who are the most contemplative.
Second, it means that wisdom and religion are not enemies but friends. Catholicism is not a pie-in-the-sky fairy tale created for the ignorant. It’s smart, rich, and densely textured. Most of the wisest, brilliant sages in history have been Catholic, and we have a category just for them– the saints.
Finally, it means that the answer to the world’s greatest philosophical question—what is the meaning of life?—is found not in a book but through a person. Mary learned through her Son that we were created to love and be loved by God. We must learn this same secret from that same source. And Mary, that great philosopher, shows us the way.