Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Wisdom is a Gift


I've gotten into some pretty rough conversations over the past week. What often happens is that I'll receive comments from people who like my articles. They'll say things like "this is nice" or 'well put' and so on. I agree and disagree with my personal friends on a number of things and we still have many-houred conversations which remain amiable—so don't be afraid to talk with me or disagree with me. It's actually much more pleasant to speak with others on topics where we act as friends as opposed to rivals.

Now, I won't complain about these others who disagree with me. That's the acquired taste of the philosopher, namely being told you're wrong. In another sense, that's the acquired joy of a Catholic and all Christians. Scripture seems to indicate this as well:

"The man of intelligence fixes his gaze on wisdom, but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth" (Prv 17:24).

Now to the average ignorant Christian or the average ignorant non-Christian this may seem like a 'pay attention to God and those who don't are just fools.'
Only a foolish fool foolishly fools himself into thinking he understands Scripture by reading it once. (And seeing as I love the Phoenix Wright universe be prepared to see more of these from time to time)

Well, in one sense, maybe it is so. Don't be a fool, then, and follow with me here: perhaps we need to see that wisdom is a gift. In Scriptures it is not often the powerful or the strong who are wise, rather it is the poor and the humble. So how could the simple-minded be wise and thus 'intelligent'?

Simply this: that the wise realize that wisdom is a gift, which is to say that we're given wisdom. Aquinas likened wisdom to a hill upon which a man can see all that happens below. I might add that wisdom is thanking God for the gift of hills that afford us such a sight--if you're still following me.

So what are the ends of the earth that make us fools sometimes? I find that Chesterton put it well: “There is nothing which is so weak for working purposes as this enormous importance attached to immediate victory. There is nothing that fails like success” (GK Chesterton, Heretics). It may also be said that “lust indulged starves the soul, but fools hate to turn from evil” (Prv 13:19) means that when we desire something very temporary and hollow (such as a victory) we starve our souls and do not feed it with what is a most beautiful nourishment—reason. Yet we, like fools, when confronted or attacked feel that crushing our opponent will result in some sort of nourishment, but it's hardly the case.
Technically this meme is still popular but past its peak, so I'm still behind the times.

Perhaps this is why Augustine said “hate the sin but not the sinner.” In many ways we must conquer ignorance, ignorance to sin, and sin for they are 'lackings' as it were in an otherwise good person.

Now, does this mean that we should shrink from the truth when we've found it? Or even run from difficulty when confronted? No, the former becomes timidity and the latter cowardice. Conviction is not arrogance, but they are cousins. I recall reading in √Čtienne Gilson saying, though I can't find where exactly, that 'When we are confronted with the truth we are also confronted with a moral problem, that is whether or not I will accept and incorporate this truth.' Naturally, a great number of us don't agree on what 'truth is' and thus we hand the reins to the men who are philosophers--who are seemingly madmen.The problem sometimes is that many people think they're philosophers.

I have to laugh, though, when I'm confronted by those who say things like “Ah yes.... I would like to spar with you if I might.” Or “Let us see if Christianity is true” when their intentions are at times an attempt to strip credibility from anyone who could possible believe in Catholicism or Christianity. (We can see this in the recent conversion of Leah Libresco (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked/, see comments).

But I do not fault them for doing this because this is how I am many times and certainly how I was when I was younger. I can attest first-hand the great power that perfectionism held over me and the years upon years it burrowed under my skin. I didn't have any major breakdowns, but I was prone to stress because I was also someone who wanted to do 25 different things—but perfectly. When you lust after perfection in whatever it is you want you're often left the fool. Luckily, and by His grace, people came into my life and were more patient with me than I ever could have been (we find that our weaknesses can be grounds for us to be both broken down, but rebuilt as compassionate to these same weaknesses we find in others).

Similarly, I do not fault them because often times these are well-meaning, well-educated individuals worth talking with and taking seriously. It forces me to stretch my intellectual muscles and consider propositions that aren't  necessarily problems (or hang-ups) for me but are for others. Not only is this attitude necessary for apologetics, it's necessary for Christians. Or did Christ not feel the full weight, death, and terror of suffering, sin, and death because he loved us? So too, we should take on the apprehensions, anxieties, and difficulties of our fair interlocutors out of love for them.
Aquinas contemplating the greatest gift and receiving the greatest wisdom, that is the say the Logos.

That's what I try to do. Sadly I can't say I always succeed, but young men like myself are moved by passion when attacked. Passion is in no way bad but it's a tool that must be used properly.

We all perhaps need to reflect on the matter that philosophy is properly called a love of wisdom because wisdom is something worth loving and not always something we really deserve, but get anyway.

Truly wisdom literature is a gift that keeps giving. I let this last quote be my prayer and my conclusion:

Wisdom 8:17-21

Thinking thus within myself, and reflecting in my heart That there is immortality in kinship with Wisdom, and good pleasure in her friendship, and unfailing riches in the works of her hands, And that in frequenting her society there is prudence, and fair renown in sharing her discourses, I went about seeking to take her for my own. Now, I was a well-favored child, and I came by a noble nature; or rather, being noble, I attained an unsullied body. And knowing that I could not otherwise possess her except God gave it-- and this, too, was prudence, to know whose is the gift-- I went to the LORD and besought him ...