“To the one who lacks understanding, [Wisdom] says, Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed! Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding.” (Prv 9:4-6)
In his excellent Catholic Dictionary, Father John Hardon defines wisdom as “knowledge that is so perfect that it directs the will to obey God’s commands”. Since wisdom is an act of the mind moving the will to obey, it is a knowledge which not only understands perfectly, but trusts perfectly. Wisdom is thus such a complete confidence in the truth of God that it can only lead to faithful action; not only in a general way, but in a way particular to each person. Without wisdom a person cannot discern the will of God. That the will of God is so rarely discerned is only proof that so many proceed without wisdom.
In order to gain the perfect knowledge of wisdom, one must pray. Wisdom is not just a group of catchy sayings and clever proverbs to speak or apply as the occasion arises. It has little to do with fortune cookies or Facebook. Instead, wisdom is attained by a daily intimacy with God, the source of all truth and knowledge. Wisdom is gained by knocking on the door of God (Lk 11:9-10).
For the Catholic, not only is wisdom a virtue, it is a person – that is, a Divine Person. In Sacred Scripture, the Book of Sirach opens with a personification of Wisdom (Sir 1:1-10). This might have always seemed nothing more than a poetic allegory had it not been for the Apostle John speaking of Jesus as the Divine Wisdom (Jn 1:1-5; 14; 18). St. John calls Jesus the “Logos” (the Word) or Wisdom through which the Father creates all things. This wisdom was never meant to reside solely on a stone tablet, but to be released though the Spirit as teacher, advocate, and Redeemer.
As our quote above (taken from today’s first reading) suggests, it is folly for man to not advance in wisdom. In consideration of this, we place on our bulletin cover for this 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, a work by the late medieval Florentine master Giotto, entitled Foolishness or Stupidita (1306). This work painted as a fresco in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy is part of a series on the Seven Virtues and Vices.
On the bottom tier of one side of the long chapel wall, the vice of foolishness is painted in a niche set opposite the virtue of prudence or practical wisdom. Giotto paints the allegory of foolishness in bird costume – a long-tailed and pinioned Roman tunic with matching feathered head piece. The body of this person is somewhat misshapen to emphasize how unsuited man is to flying. “Folly” (we might call this character) is depicted as a lunatic, or perhaps a medieval Icarus who in his hubris (pride) flew too close to the sun and crashed. In fact in many of the other images in this series, God appears painted in one of the upper corners so that the allegorical figure can reach out to the divine. Here however, Folly waves a club as if to try to force a way into heaven. Now that would be true foolishness; for to discern wisdom once must be docile and humble of heart.
–Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services