Christian Understandings of Wisdom/ Sharing Wisdom

On the Way to Wisdom. A Christian Approach

— Sources —

Gregor Buss, Elijah Summer School, 27.07.2017

Buss GregorIntroduction: The Gift of Wisdom

[1] Robert Nozick, “What is Wisdom and Why Do Philosophers Love it So?”,
in: The Examined Life, 1989, pp. 267–278, p. 269

Wisdom is not just one type of knowledge, but diverse. What a wise person needs to know and understand constitutes a varied list: the most important goals and values of life – the ultimate goal, if there is one; what means will reach these goals without too great a cost; what kinds of dangers threaten the achieving of these goals; how to recognize and avoid or minimize these dangers; what different types of human beings are like in their actions and motives (as this presents dangers or opportunities); what is not possible or feasible to achieve (or avoid); how to tell what is appropriate when; knowing when certain goals are sufficiently achieved; what limitations are unavoidable and how to accept them; how to improve oneself and one’s relationships with others or society; knowing what the true and unapparent value of various things is; when to take a long-term view; knowing the variety and obduracy of facts, institutions, and human nature; understanding what one’s real motives are; how to cope and deal with the major tragedies and dilemmas of life, and with the major good things too.

[2] Jürgen Moltmann, “Science and Wisdom”, in: Theology Today 58 (2), 2001, pp.
155-164, p. 158

In order to arrive at reflection about ourselves, about what we know, and about what we do and leave undone, a countervailing force is needed, through which we are brought back to ourselves. This cannot be a particular perception; it must transcend all possible perceptions, and hence the perceivable world as well. In the biblical traditions, the transcendence that brings a person back to oneself is called “the fear of the Lord.” This does not mean the awe and terror of the so-called “Wholly Other”; nor does it mean the mysterium tremendum of primordial religious experiences. It means the sublimity of God, the immeasurability of God’s wisdom and the fathomless complexity of God’s creative Spirit.

[3] Pope Francis, General Audience, 09.04.2014

The first gift of the Holy Spirit […] is therefore wisdom. But it is not simply human wisdom, which is the fruit of knowledge and experience. In the Bible we are told that Solomon, at the time of his coronation as King of Israel, had asked for the gift of wisdom (cf. 1 Kings 3:9).

And wisdom is precisely this: it is the grace of being able to see everything with the eyes of God. It is simply this: it is to see the world, to see situations, circumstances, problems, everything through God’s eyes. This is wisdom. Sometimes we see things according to our liking or according to the condition of our heart, with love or with hate, with envy…. No, this is not God’s perspective. Wisdom is what the Holy Spirit works in us so as to enable us to see things with the eyes of God. This is the gift of wisdom.

Step 1: Wisdom and Desire

[4] Wisdom 6:17,20

17 The beginning of wisdom is the most sincere desire for instruction, and concern for instruction is love of her . . .
20 so the desire for wisdom leads to a kingdom.

[5] Proverbs 8:10-11

10 Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold, 11 for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her.

[6] Proverbs 1:20-21

20 Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square; 21 on top of the wall she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech …

[7] David Ford, Christian Wisdom, 2007, p. 4f.

The more I have searched for Christian wisdom the more I have been struck by its core connection with cries: the cries for wisdom and the cries by the personified biblical wisdom; cries within and outside scripture that arise from the intensities of life – in joy, suffering, recognition, wonder, bewilderment, gratitude, expectation or acclamation; and cries of people for what they most desire – love, justice, truth, goodness, compassion, children, health, food and drink, education, security, and so on.

[8] Luke 1:41-42

41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!“

[9] Luke 18:7

And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?
Will he keep putting them off?

[10] Luke 23:46

Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.

[11] David Ford, Christian Wisdom, 2007, p. 5

The longing for God, and the passion for realizing the truth, love, justice and peace of God, are at the heart of the Christian desire for a wisdom that responds with discernment both to the cries of God and to the cries of the world.

Step 2: Wisdom and Jesus

[12] Luke 4:15

He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

[13] Luke 7:40

Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said.

[14] Luke 11:31

… now something greater than Solomon is here.

[15] Luke 4:18-19, 21

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” … 21 … “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

[16] 1 Corinthians 1:18 – 2:16 (NIV)

1:18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.
22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom,
23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,
24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.
27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.
28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are,
29 so that no one may boast before him.
30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.
31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

2:1 And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.
2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
3 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling.
4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power,
5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.
6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.
7 No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.
8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
9 However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love him—
10 these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.
11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.
12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.
13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.
14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.
15 The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments,
16 for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Step 3: Wisdom and Theology

[17] 1 Peter 3:15

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

[18] Colossians 2:8

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.

[19] Tertullian (ca. 150-230), Apology 46:18

Where then is the resemblance between the philosopher and the Christian, between the disciple of Greece and of Heaven, between the bargainer for fame and for salvation, between the creator of words and of deeds, between the builder and destroyer of things, between the falsifier of error and the restorer of truth, between truth’s despoiler and its guardian?

[20] Augustine, De Praedestinatione Sanctorum, 2,5

To believe is nothing other than to think with assent… Believers are also thinkers: in believing, they think and in thinking, they believe… If faith does not think, it is nothing.

[21] Anselm of Canterbury, Proslogion (1077/78), Chapter 1

Lord, I do not attempt to gain access to Your loftiness, because I do not at all consider my intellect to be equal to this [task]. But I yearn to understand some measure of Your truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand in order to believe, but I believe in order to understand. For I believe even this: that unless I believe, I shall not understand.

[22] Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio (1998), no. 73

[…] The relationship between theology and philosophy is best construed as a circle. Theology’s source and starting-point must always be the word of God revealed in history, while its final goal will be an understanding of that word which increases with each passing generation. Yet, since God’s word is Truth (cf. Jn 17:17), the human search for truth—philosophy, pursued in keeping with its own rules—can only help to understand God’s word better. […]

Step 4: Wisdom and Community

[23] Ephesians 4:1-6

1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

[24] Psalm 133:1

How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity.

[25] Luke 7:35

[…] Wisdom is proved right by all her children.

[26] Luke 1:41-47

41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover.
42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom.
43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it.
44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends.
45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him.
46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.
47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.

Step 5: Wisdom and Action

[27] Wisdom 10:1–11:1

10:1 Wisdom protected the first-formed father of the world, when he alone had been created; she delivered him from his transgression . . .
10:4–5 4 When the earth was flooded because of him, wisdom again saved it, steering the righteous man by a paltry piece of wood. 5 Wisdom also, when the nations in wicked agreement had been put to confusion, recognized the righteous man and preserved him blameless before God, and kept him strong in the face of his compassion for his child . . .
10:10 When a righteous man fled from his brother’s wrath, she guided him on straight paths; she showed him the kingdom of God, and gave him knowledge of holy things; she prospered him in his labours, and increased the fruit of his toil . . .
10:13–21 13 When a righteous man was sold, wisdom did not desert him, but delivered him from sin. She descended with him into the dungeon, 14 and when he was in prison she did not leave him, until she brought him the sceptre of a kingdom and authority over his masters. Those who accused him she showed to be false, and she gave him everlasting honour. 15 A holy people and blameless race wisdom delivered from a nation of oppressors. 16 She entered the soul of a servant of the Lord, and withstood dread kings with wonders and signs. 17 She gave to holy people the reward of their labours; she guided them along a marvellous way, and became a shelter to them by day, and a starry flame through the night. 18 She brought them over the Red Sea, and led them through deep waters; 19 but she drowned their enemies, and cast them up from the depth of the sea. 20 Therefore the righteous plundered the ungodly; they sang hymns, O Lord, to your holy name, and praised with one accord your defending hand; 21 for wisdom opened the mouths of those who were mute, and made the tongues of infants speak clearly.
11:1 Wisdom prospered their works by the hand of a holy prophet . . .

[28] Luke 9:23-25

23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?

[29] Luke 12:29-31

29 Don’t spend time thinking about what you will eat or drink. Don’t worry about it.
30 People who are ungodly run after all of those things. Your Father knows that you need them. 31 But put God’s kingdom first. Then those other things will also be given to you.

[30] David Ford, Christian Wisdom, 2007, p. 5

Doing justice to diverse cries is at the heart of this theological wisdom. The insistence of the cries lends urgency to the search for wisdom. The persistence of the cries, together with the diversity and, often, novelty of their challenges, constantly expands the search and refuses to allow it to rest in any closure.

Summary: Wisdom on the Way

[31] Luke 24:13-35 (NIV)

13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.
14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened.
15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them;
16 but they were kept from recognizing him.
17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast.
18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
19 “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.
20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him;
21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place.
22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning
23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive.
24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken!
26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”
27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther.
29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.
31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.
32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together
34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.”
35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

Thank you!
gregor.buss@mail.huji.ac.il