The Virtue of Wisdom


Wisdom, Personified by a Female Figure (she, her) and Crowned with a Victory Laurel, Acquires knowledge through reading Scripture -
by SAMACCHINI, Orazio - from private collection

 

Wisdom is a Speculative Intellectual Virtue. An Intellectual Virtue may be defined as a Habit perfecting the Intellect to elicit-with-readiness, Acts that are Good in reference to their Proper Object, namely, Truth. Wisdom is the Knowledge-of-Conclusions through their Highest Causes. Thus Philosophy, and particularly Metaphysics, is properly designated as Wisdom, since it considers Truth of the Natural Order according to its Highest Principles. Science is the Knowledge-of-Conclusions Acquired by Demonstration through Causes or Principles which are Final in one Class or other. Thus there are different Sciences, Mathematics, Physics, etc., but only One (1) Wisdom, the Supreme Judge of all. (Catholic Encyclopedia)

 

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wisdom 6:12-16; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13

 

The Virtue of Wisdom

(Homily for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2005)

by Father Charles Irvin, M.Div, J.D.

Wisdom is one of those words rarely used these days and its meaning is being Lost. It is a word that often appears in the Bible, particularly in the Jewish Testament, what we call the Old Testament. It has a great deal of significance, so much so that we find it approximately Fifty (50) Times in the New Testament. Jesus spoke of it often.

Prudence is a word closely associated with it. Prudence flows from Wisdom; one Acts Prudently because one is Wise.

Wisdom moves beyond mere Data Processing, the Exchange of Information, or the Accumulation of Facts. Facts, Information, and Data are necessary for Wisdom, but Wisdom is something greater-than them all, even greater-than all of them put-together.

The Five (5) Wise Virgins, at the Right Hand of Jesus, are saved. The Five (5) Foolish Virgins, at Jesus' Left Hand, are Damned. Click to enlarge painting to see more detail. (By unknown Flemish Master - from Staatliche Museen, Berlin)

The Eighteenth Century American Essayist, Henry David Thoreau once said "ÖIt is a characteristic of Wisdom not to do Desperate things". Thatís a Good Description especially in the Light of what we heard Jesus saying in todayís Gospel Account. The Five (5) Foolish-Virgins were Desperate; they had not exercised Prudence and Foresight, and consequently they wanted the Five (5) Foolish-Virgins to do a Desperate thing. Being Wise, however, they did not. The Wise-Virgins did the Prudent thing.

We need to always remember that it is quite possible to Lose oneís Soul. Put another way, it is quite possible to Neglect our Relationship with God, and let that Relationship Die-out. Just as the Light in an Oil Lamp can Sputter and Die-out for Lack of Energy, so too can the Fire, the Warmth, and the Vibrancy of our Relationships, Sputter and Die-out because we fail to put Energy into them. This is particularly True in our Relationship with God. Wisdom, Prudence, and Foresight are needed to keep it going.

In another Parable, one that Iím sure you all remember, we find a Steward who was about to be fired, going to his Masterís Debtors and lowering their amounts of Indebtedness to his Master. Jesus didnít Commend this Cheating Steward for Tampering with his Masterís Accounts, but He did Commend this Unjust Steward for his Prudence, his Foresight, and his Wisdom. The Steward was looking-ahead to make sure that his future would be secure. He took Action, he pursued a Goal, he didnít just sit-back and let one of Lifeís Tragedies sweep-over him.

Wisdom is one of those Virtues that requires us to Act. Wisdom is not simply a Nice Reward for being Good. It isnít a Virtue that just Naturally comes to us. Itís an Acquired Virtue. We should pay attention to that because we are surrounded these days by Institutions and Structures that we think will automatically take care of us. We assume that all sorts of Fail-Safe Provisions are supposed to Protect us from our Goofs and Provide for us in our Need.

In so very many of our TV Shows and Movies something always comes to the Rescue of those who are Imprudent and Foolish. But Life, particularly our Spiritual Life and our Relational Life with others, and especially our Relational Life with God, requires that we take Responsibility for our Actions and then Act Wisely. There are no Fail-Safe devices in our personal Relationships with others, or in our Relationship with God.

Let me bring us back now to the first words in todayís Reading taken from the Old Testamentís Book of Wisdom. "Resplendent and unfading is Wisdom, and she is readily perceived by those who love her, and found by those who Seek her". True enough, God offers Wisdom to us, but God does not force her upon us. She is found and recognized only by those who are alert to the things of God and who actively Seek her out.

 

Wisdom ≠ Knowledge

School is back in session now. As we engage our Academic Pursuits, perhaps each all of us would do well to ponder a bit on the Pursuit of Wisdom as distinguished from the Pursuit of Knowledge. Knowledge is one thing, Wisdom is quite another. We may perhaps be Intellectually well-endowed with a great deal of Knowledge and possess a great Storehouse of Facts. We may be able to skillfully Process, Inter-Relate, and Analyze facts, but at the same time be Devoid of Wisdom with the result that our Spiritual Lamps would Sputter, Die-out, and Lose their Light. Having eyes we would then not see, and having ears we would then not hear. We would be Sighted in Intellect but Blind in Spirit. That is a very Real and Present Danger. The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins should make us sit-up and take-notice.

Where, then, is Wisdom to be sought? Along what paths should she be found?

Let me suggest that we really listen to and pay attention to what is in the Hearts and Souls of others around us. Their words are important, but what is in their Hearts and Souls is of the Greatest Importance.

Carry on conversations with those whom you perceive to be Wise. Donít just talk with them, Converse with them.

Read Great Literature, those sorts of books that open-up the Deep Thoughts with the Human Spirit.

Read the Bible, particularly those Accounts in which Jesus is Teaching.

Wisdom must be Pursued, it doesnít just automatically come to you. It is not a Fail-Safe device God will use to Rescue you. Wisdom must be Sought and Found in the Heart and in the Spirit of God, in His Christ. Itís a Virtue we must Acquire.