The Pursuit of Wisdom

Today is the memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas, a Doctor of the Church, and medieval scholastic philosopher and theologian. His best-known works are the Disputed Questions on Truth, the Summa contra Gentiles, and the unfinished but influential Summa Theologiae. The first reading for the memorial is from the Book of Wisdom. There are commentaries a plenty on the whole of the book and I would not attempt such a effort, but I would note that, (a) besides being a great source of a reading to honor St. Thomas, (b) it has importance for our times.

The Book of Wisdom (also known as the Wisdom of Solomon), authored in Greek and compiled sometime in the years 200-50 BC, The writing and content reveal the author’s good education. He is aware of Greek lifestyle, art, literature, and philosophy. He either quotes or paraphrases the great writings of the Greeks and uses technical terms. He then weds his Greek education to his Hebrew heritage. He knew the Bible thoroughly and dealt with it as educated rabbis did, following similar lines of thought. The Hebrew flavor of the book comes through in the author’s use of Hebrew ideas, e.g. “heart” for the seat of thinking rather than “mind,” as the Greeks insisted.

“Love justice, you who judge the earth; think of the LORD in goodness, and seek him in integrity of heart.” (Wisdom 1;1)

Thomas Aquinas was well versed in the writings of the major secular philosophers from Aristotle, Boethius, and the contemporaries of the the Scholastic Age.  While he admired their works he noted that they were ever falling short of the true and proper wisdom to be found in Christian revelation. Like the author of the Book of Wisdom, Thomas was aware of the ways in which the secular philosophers could open pathways to the deeper truth of the Christian tradition. It required sifting and sorting, but in the mind and hands of Aquinas it proved invaluable.

Such is out path in the modern world. There is wisdom in the world that can be used to enlighten our understanding of our Christian revelation. It takes some sifting and sorting, but if we are people who are ever seeking and loving justice, we will find the goodness of the Lord.

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