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Advent 2013: 'O Sapientia'

Tuesday, December 17, 2013
At times life can seem so bewildering and mysterious that it feels as if we are lacking a vital piece of knowledge, something that would ‘unlock’ the secrets of the world around us and bring its mysteries into the clear light of day. Indeed, many of us will have experienced the wonderful gift of a sagacious friend, someone who sees a problem from a new and insightful perspective, and—looking at things in a new way—offers shrewd advice in times of trial and indecision. Many modern approaches to wisdom, perhaps influenced by Freudian psychology, share a common supposition: wisdom is found by uncovering the power of our untapped inner resources that lie in our subconscious, by looking inwards to the mystery of ourselves.

The Christian understanding of wisdom, exemplified by St Thomas Aquinas OP, treats wisdom as part of God’s gift of the virtue of charity (which Thomas understands as friendship with God). For Thomas, wisdom is the very opposite of introspection: it comes by God’s drawing us out of ourselves, into life-giving communion with him and our brothers and sisters. As a virtue, wisdom is not simply a fact, but a habit and disposition: the wise woman knows wisdom in the way that an honest man knows honesty, by being made in someway alike to it. As wisdom is most properly found in God himself, it is by being made alike to God—by being sanctified by the action of his grace—that we are made truly wise. Christ, as God made man, is Wisdom Himself. Building on the gifts of knowledge and understanding, this authentic wisdom allows us to contemplate the world by reference to its first cause in God, to see how the edifice of creation hangs together, by gaining a glimpse of the divine plan. 

As a fruit of the incarnation, true wisdom is always a Trinitarian gift: it is a consequence of our being drawn into the inner life of the Blessed Trinity, of participation—by the Holy Spirit—in the Son’s knowledge of the Father, and the Father’s knowledge of the Son. God’s gift of wisdom admits us to a partial and fragmentary participation in a God’s-eye view of the world, contemplating the mystery of ourselves and human history from the eternal perspective of God the Father. But whilst wisdom is given to particular people in abundance, it is nonetheless part of the normal life of the baptised, albeit one that is often pushed out by sin and restored by the Sacrament of Reconciliation: it is the gift of wisdom that allows us to penetrate the inner logic of the list of names that make up the genealogy of Jesus in today’s Gospel, to see how they cohere to form part of God’s saving will toward humanity and to recognise its implications for our own lives. Wisdom is not only speculative, but always practical and moral: its fruits are peace—‘the tranquility of order’ found paradigmatically in the Trinity—an end perceived and contemplated by wisdom. 

As we move into these final days of Advent, then, we might contemplate ourselves as modern-day Magi, journeying toward the birth of the Christ at Christmas, seeking to gather around the person who offers us the key to understanding ourselves and the world in which we live. The litany of things that trouble our hearts, compete for our affections and draw us away from Christ can be placed, by the gift of wisdom, in Trinitarian perspective: how will my fears and anxieties look sub specie aeternitatis, from the perspective of the eternal life in the Trinity, promised to us by the babe of Bethlehem?

Oliver James Keenan OP


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