On Sunday, June 4, we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was given to the Church through the holy Apostles. The apolytikion hymn of the feast proclaims, “Blessed are You, O Christ our God, Who have shown forth the fishermen as supremely wise by sending down upon them the Holy Spirit.” Throughout the hymnography of the feast we hear about the wisdom of the Apostles.
What is wisdom? Even in our common lexicon, wisdom is a great virtue which everyone desires. It is greater than the sum of knowledge, expertise, and experience—all of which are contained within wisdom. We grapple for words to describe this great virtue, yet we intuitive know when we encounter it in others.
King Solomon was famous for his wisdom. Job esteemed wisdom above all else, saying, “[Wisdom] cannot be purchased for gold, nor can silver be weighed for its price. … For the price of wisdom is above rubies. The topaz of Ethiopia cannot equal it, nor can it be valued in pure gold.” (Job 28:15-19) Two books of the Old Testament are named for wisdom: The Wisdom of Solomon and The Wisdom of Sirach.
So what is wisdom? First and foremost, it is a gift from God and a characteristic of God. The famous church in Constantinople, dedicated to Christ, is called “Holy Wisdom,” Agia Sophia. Christ is the Wisdom of God, and this wisdom is given as a gift of the Holy Spirit—as the apolytikion of Pentecost reveals.
The wisdom of God is a storehouse of virtue, as St. James says: “The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.” (James 3:17)
Secondly, wisdom is humble. The wise possess humility, and where humility is absent, there can be no wisdom. This is why wisdom is so difficult to acquire! Wisdom does not assert itself or boast. It is not the loudest voice or the one who proclaims knowledge. It does not coerce. Wisdom speaks gently and is willing to yield.
However there is another wisdom which we have also experienced. In Biblical language, it is “the wisdom of this world,” and it is the diametrical opposite of godly wisdom. Where godly wisdom possesses humility, worldly wisdom is full of pride. In his letter to the church in Corinth, St. Paul speaks about these two wisdoms:
“We speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (1 Cor 2:6-8)
Lastly, wisdom is a paradox. Because of the fallen state of the world, there are these two opposing wisdoms. The one is wise in the world, but foolish before God. The other is foolish to the world but wise before God. Thus there is a paradox: To become wise (before God), one must become foolish (before worldly men). This is at the heart of what it means to be a fool for Christ—one who is forsaken by the world but filled with the wisdom and grace of God. St. Paul, again speaking to the Corinthians, teaches us this great paradox.
“If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” (1 Cor 3:18-19)
And again, “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. … Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. … Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men.” (1 Cor 1:18-26)
May we pursue the wisdom of God, in humility, in the foolishness of the world’s eyes, receiving the grace of God through the Holy Spirit.