A Meditation on Wisdom
Br. Reginald talks about how Wisdom calls us to an active stillness to grow in hope and Charity.
Reading: Wisdom 7:22-8:1
The following homily was preached to the student brothers during compline. You can listen here or read below:
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, oh Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.”
When I was young and still in school, my mom would often reference the story of Solomon being given the opportunity to ask for one thing and him asking wisdom. And she would say that I should, in my prayer, always ask for wisdom above all things. It just so happened that my mum, thought of wisdom as that gift by which I could do well in my exams. But I do think that there’s something of a truth that she’s received in faith. That understanding is the work of the Spirit in us. In today’s reading, we hear of wisdom, “a pure emanation of the glory of God”, “a reflection of eternal life”, “a spotless mirror of the workings of God.” We can think perhaps of wisdom, as that eternal Gaze of God, looking at himself. And in God, wisdom is receptive. It is still and yet always active. We can think perhaps, of an image of flowing water, a stream which is always there, and yet always new. Perhaps we can think of fire, this dynamic image, or perhaps of light, literally moving all the time at the speed of light and somehow still, always present. Now, even in God, according to pseudo-Dionysius, Wisdom brings forth a yearning, a love, a coming out. Indeed, we just heard, “wisdom is more mobile than any motion.” “Although she is one she can do all things. And while remaining in herself, she renews all things.”
Now, I think that in us, wisdom expresses itself in the obedience of faith. St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans talks about the grace and apostleship received for the obedience of faith. This obedience of faith, (depending on how you view the translation) is modelled by the faith of Christ, in Romans chapter three. And this faith of Christ, which is the result of our having fallen short, and so we have this example of the righteousness of God. So taking this Pauline image of faith and the obedience of faith, and that this faith for us is the beginning of wisdom, because it teaches us fear of the Lord. Wisdom then justifies the soul, and it orders it, and teaches us the wisdom that we need to grow in virtue. “In every generation,” we hear, “she passes into holy souls, and makes them friends of God and prophets”, we see her both in justification, being made friends of God, and being made prophets, the gifts that we need in service of the Church.
In the previous chapter of the Book of Wisdom, we also hear that to desire wisdom, we must have a desire for instruction. Now we can interpret this from the New Testament, perhaps as a humility, and a poverty of spirit: that desire for instruction. “And concern for instruction is the beginning of love, for wisdom.” So the obedience of faith, the fear of God, that desire for instruction in humility, calls us to a certain kind of stillness. But it’s an active stillness, which penetrates us with a yearning, a love, and I want to propose that there are two ways that it proposes this yearning, one towards charity, and one towards hope.
I’ll start with charity.
According to St. Bernard, the love that we feel for God is God loving Himself in us. He justifies this by saying that this is more intimate than simply saying, we love God. God loving Himself in us. So already we’re part of that Gaze of God at himself in the eternal wisdom. When we live in accordance with the will of God, according to this obedience of faith, wisdom begins to purify us, we become a sacrifice. According to the writer of the letter of the Hebrews, “God is a consuming fire.” In a similar way, wisdom becomes in us a purifying, consuming fire. Now, just as wisdom is presented here, as a “spotless mirror,” wisdom becomes for us in the act of stillness of reflection, in the “cell of self-knowledge,” as St. Catherine would say, that reflection of ourselves. And this isn’t always very nice, because we see in the spotless mirror, our spotted-ness. Now St. Maximus the Confessor, says that the compassionate descent of wisdom corresponds to the willed growth of charity. So our growth in love, which comes about from this purification, from this cell of self-knowledge, is itself a descent of the divine Wisdom, that gaze that God has upon himself, we become part of that and that’s how we grow in charity. And so our examinations, whether it be a general examination of our state of life, whether it be to do with a particular vice, whether it’s inspecting our habits, our desires, all of these examinations in light of Christ, become for us the school of Wisdom, teaching us virtue in practice. This is a message of hope, because the desire to examine what is going wrong can itself be God’s love in us, inspiring in us that continuous love of Wisdom.
The growth of wisdom leads us does not seek the virtues as an end in themselves. But it seeks virtue, because it orders our soul towards a certain kind of health, a certain kind of excellence, so that we can orientate ourselves towards what is truly desired, which is that Wisdom itself, the Person, Wisdom Himself, “who is greater and more beautiful than the Sun,” we just heard in our reading. The very intentions and goals that we set out with in our Christian life, are also purified, we might start off in our prayer journey with imperfect motivations and desires, but in this act of stillness, they too are purified. The proper integration of all the goods in our life, results and us being truly free as human persons in the light of Wisdom. And so the Psalmist tells us that wisdom “is the fount of all life. In your light, we see light,” and this is the light which enables us to see God revealed and created things. In a certain way, wisdom growing in our soul, is the beginning of the reversal of the fall. Knowledge, the willingness to be like God cannot be given from anything created: it’s instilled in us by wisdom himself. St. Augustine, when he asks, the stars in the heavens, are you God? In wisdom, he is able to discern that they are not God, but that God is the one who made them. And that in Wisdom, God has made them more. And so Wisdom transforms our yearnings into a yearning for Wisdom, that Wisdom who dwells in inaccessible light and yet is our whole life. It becomes that treasure for which we sell everything that we have. And so pseudo Dionysius is able to say, “Thus it is that the teachers from whom we have learned to our knowledge of Divine Wisdom, die daily for the truth, bearing their natural witness in every word and deed to the single knowledge of the truth which Christians possess. For it is more simple and divine than all other kinds of knowledge, or rather that it is the only true and One simple knowledge of God.”
So how then can wisdom lead us to that deep learning of hope?
Well, wisdom teaches us about the eschatological. It leads to that yearning hope, which makes way for Charity in the beatific vision. Knowledge of our end becomes a weapon in our growth. Knowledge of our end becomes that inspiration for why we should keep our hearts pure. A couple of days ago, in the office of readings, I was quite struck in the story where these three men in the book of Daniel, were taken to the fire, and that the captors who take them there are consumed and burnt up by the fire. And the three men are unharmed. And I thought that perhaps this too, is an image of wisdom, the divine wisdom, that Gaze of God eternal, active, and still, is a fire which purifies away all of the idolatry in us. But when with pureness of heart, we enter into the fire, we are able there to walk in the light, and with the light of the Son of God. St. John of the Cross talks about three kinds of darkness in this life. There’s a darkness and leaving behind the things that we feel that we desire those things that senses crave. There’s a darkness because faith is dim in this life. And there’s a darkness because God seems so inaccessible. The closer we get to the light of God, the more we are blinded by it. But Wisdom, as hope, gives us that yearning, that hope, that one day we will walk in the fire with the sons of God, and with the Son of God. The darkness becomes comes light in accordance with our new nature, where we will be as he is. In the book of Revelation, Christ says, “See, I am making all things new.” Later on in that same chapter, and “the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it. For the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the lamb.”
As for now, I’m afraid our ascent in charity, our growth in hope, this yearning, and the descent of wisdom in us feels like a daily carrying of our cross. We often fall, we stumble. However, we pray in faith, hope and charity for perseverance. Our struggles become part of our worship of the Divine Wisdom, allowing Wisdom to purify us. And so we can pray with Solomon:
“Oh God and Lord have mercy. Who have made all things by your word, and by your wisdom have formed humankind. Grant us the wisdom that sits by your throne. Send her for from the holy heavens, then our works will be acceptable, and we shall be worthy of the throne of our Father.” Amen.