Get Wisdom

John Sehorn
September 5, 2022

“The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight” (Prov. 4:7, RSV-CE). According to the Wise Man of Proverbs, the very intention to “get wisdom,” to orient one’s desires and activities to its pursuit, constitutes the beginning of its acquisition. Those who have committed themselves to a course of theological study have, it would seem, declared just such an intention. For St Thomas Aquinas tells us that the study of theology is a pursuit of wisdom, indeed, of the divine wisdom (ST I.1.6). To study theology is to aspire to become wise. But in what, exactly, does this wisdom consist?

For Aquinas, the task of the wise is twofold, and it is specified by Proverbs 8:7 (Vg): “My mouth shall meditate truth, and my lips shall hate wickedness” (Douay-Rheims). This is the proper aim of those who wish to be wise: to meditate on divine truth and speak it to others, and to oppose every error that ranges itself against the truth (ScG 1.1).

Now, the divine truth on which the wise meditate is known to us through God’s revelation as it has been “handed on and interpreted in the Church under the authority of the Magisterium, and received by faith” (Donum Veritatis 12). The student of theology must therefore make his or her own the words of St Maximus the Confessor during his first trial at Constantinople in 654: “I have no dogma of my own, just the common dogma of the Catholic Church.” [1] The student hereby imitates not only St Maximus but St Maximus’s supreme Teacher, whose teaching was not his own but his who sent him (see John 7:16;Matthew 23:8).

Because faith responds to God’s love and is ordered to love, which “is ever desirous of a better knowledge of the beloved” (Donum Veritatis 7; cf. Dei Verbum 1–2), the wise wish to understand what God has revealed—that is, to meditate on the revealed divine truth that we have received. This means, in the first place, learning to discern the integrity and coherence of “the common dogma of the Catholic Church,” the ordered interrelationships and mutual illumination of revealed doctrines, and how they disclose divine wisdom and conform our minds to it (see Romans 12:2; 1 Corinthians 2:6–16). Because this process of discernment involves rigorous reasoning from principles—that is, the revealed articles of faith—to conclusions, theological wisdom is a “science” in the classical sense, and the work proper to the theologian is rightly called a kind of scientific research (see ST I-II.57.2 ad 1; Donum Veritatis 8).

St Irenaeus of Lyons, recently designated a Doctor of the Church, teaches that the Catholic faith is a “gift of God [that] has been entrusted to the Church, as breath was to the first created man, for this purpose, that all the members receiving it may be vivified” (adv. haer. 3.24.1). Indeed, Irenaeus insists that the faith has been deposited in the catholic and apostolic Church “so that everyman”—including those not yet joined to her—“whosoever will, can draw from her the water of life” (adv. haer. 3.4.1). The office of the wise therefore is not only to meditate on divine truth but to communicate it effectively to others, and so the aim of the theologian must include both the evangelization of unbelievers and the edification of the faithful. Because unbelievers raise objections to the reasonableness of divine truth, and because doubts and difficulties often confront inquirers and believers alike, the work of evangelization and edification that is proper to theology also requires the wise to answer objections and to expose errors by way of appropriate, reasoned argumentation (see ST 1.1.8). The theologian can thus aid all the faithful to “be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15, RSV-2CE).

It should be noted that the oft-omitted first part of the verse just quoted issues the command, “in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord.” The interior life of prayer and worship is not accidental to the task of theology. As Evagrius of Pontus memorably taught, “If you are a theologian, you will pray truly; and if you pray truly, you will be a theologian.” [2]The Church has thus urged that “the theologian is called to deepen his own life of faith and continuously unite his scientific research with prayer,” and that“[t]he commitment to theology requires a spiritual effort to grow in virtue and holiness” (Donum Veritatis 8). By its very nature, theological wisdom cannot be merely held at arm’s length as an object of dispassionate inquiry. Rather, it demands the conversion and transformation of the whole human person, for the truth it seeks to attain and to hand on is nothing less than the Tri-Personal God who is Truth itself.

In his 2013 encyclical Lumen fidei, Pope Francis reminds us that theology is “a participation in God’s own knowledge of himself. It is not just our discourse about God, but first and foremost the acceptance and pursuit of a deeper understanding of the word which God speaks to us, the word which God speaks about himself, for he is an eternal dialogue of communion, and he allows us to enter into this dialogue.” [3]The divine truth that God has revealed and which students of theology seek to meditate is nothing less than the self-disclosure of the eternal life of the Blessed Trinity, and an invitation to enter by faith into that very life. This is the ultimate purpose of every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

Thus, the Wise Man of Proverbs tells us that, if we are attentive to his words and keep them in our hearts, they will bring us life and healing, and our hearts will themselves become sources of “the springs of life” (Prov. 4:20–23). The Wise Man’s promise is superabundantly fulfilled by Incarnate Wisdom, the Word eternally spoken by the Father. As our great patron, St Augustine, whom we honor today, put it so beautifully: because in our weakness we are incapable of reaching divine Wisdom on our own, eternal Wisdom, who is our home, has in the Incarnation also become our way home. [4] His words “are spirit and life” (John 6:63) and from his pierced heart “rivers of living water” (John 7:38; cf. 19:34) flow into our own, “welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).

The supreme model of loving reception of Christ’s living water, and of every word of divine Wisdom, is the Immaculate Heart of our Blessed Mother, to whom we have just entrusted the common endeavors of our Institute. It seems appropriate, then, to conclude with St John Paul II’s prayer for Our Lady to aid us all as we respond to the call to “get wisdom”:

May Mary, Seat of Wisdom, be a sure haven for all who devote their lives to the search for wisdom. May their journey into wisdom, sure and final goal of all true knowing, be freed of every hindrance by the intercession of the one who, in giving birth to the Truth and treasuring it in her heart, has shared it forever with all the world (Fides et ratio 108)


[1] Trans. Berthold, Classics of WesternSpirituality, p. 22.

[2] Chapters on Prayer 60;trans. Sinkewicz, p. 199.

[3] Lumen fidei 36, citingSt Bonaventure, Breviloquium, prol.

[4]Cf. doct. chr. 1.11.11.


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