Wisdom is a virtue that gives us knowledge of the most exalted things through the most excellent principles so that we may act accordingly.
Wisdom differs from Prudence, for the latter merely presupposes a praiseworthy end, whatever it may be, whereas Wisdom directly considers its object and does so not only as good and praiseworthy but also as very great and important.
It can even happen that one of these two virtues may be present while the other is not. Let us give an example in general terms. We wish to have the last sacraments administered to someone suffering from a malady said to be serious and life threatening. This is obviously an act of Wisdom, but is it always an act of prudence also? No, doubtless; for we need to be morally sure or to have at least a reasonable suspicion that the illness is real and dangerous. In such a case, it is possible to be mistaken and to fail against Prudence if, to inform ourselves about the facts, we fail to fulfill the dictates of Prudence, namely, by not carefully examining the circumstances, by judging them too hastily, and, in consequence, by acting in a manner lacking in consideration.
Let us take another example referring to the subject we are presently discussing. A teacher wishes to give his students a lesson on the subject he teaches themlet us say, catechism. This is obviously an act of Wisdom by which he seeks to fulfill his duty. But if he speaks to the children in too high-flown a manner, so that they do not grasp what he tells them, or if he makes use of vulgar expressions, which are inappropriate for dealing with the dignity of the truths he must teach them, he certainly sins against Prudence. There is, then, an essential difference between the two virtues that we are here considering.
In what, then, does the Wisdom of a good teacher consist? It consists in making him know, love, and fulfill the exalted and infinitely precious object for which he is responsible; from this it follows that a good teacher should begin by imitating the example of Solomon, who spoke humbly to the Author of all good, the God of Knowledge, the Father of Lights: "Give me," said this prince, "the Wisdom that sits by your throne, and do not reject me from among your servants . . . Send her forth from the holy heavens, and from the throne of your glory send her, that she may labor at my side and that I may learn what is pleasing to you. For she knows and understands all things, and she will guide me wisely in my actions and guard me with her glory. Then my works will be acceptable." (Wisdom 9:4, 1012)
However, it is not enough for a good teacher to pray; he would act imprudently if while teaching the students, he did not seek to instruct himself concerning what he wishes to teach them. Thus he will apply himself to study, as we mentioned in speaking of Prudence, but Wisdom will also show him and make him deeply cognizant not only of the truths he is obliged to teach but of the principles of these subjects. Otherwise he would be a reciter of formulas, and the students would only learn names that they would promptly forget.
Moreover, while imparting to them what he knows, he must take great care in particular not to tell them anything offensive or disdainful or that might lead them to become ill disposed toward himself or the school. He should never be led by hazardous opinions or by false prejudices but always by Christian principles, by divine and human laws, and also by those of his nation.
To instruct children with greater benefit, Wisdom requires that the teacher practice the virtues that he should cultivate in them. "If you show yourself firmly convinced of what you teach," says Saint Bernard, "you will give to your voice the voice of power; the voice of action is much more impressive than that of words; act as you speak" (On the Song of Songs, sermon 59). Thus he will teach his students how to direct their actions in conformity with the true rules of behavior; to moderate and correct their passions; to become truly and genuinely happy. He will, therefore, make sure to give them the example of what he wishes to teach them; he will strive, for his own sake and for the sake of instructing them, to distinguish what is truly good from what is such only in appearance; he will lead them to choose rightly and to persevere in every enlightened choice; to arrange all things with order and measure; in a word, to fulfill exactly their duties toward God, toward themselves, and toward others.
In this way he will acquire this sublime Wisdom that includes the most excellent science of all and without which all others are nothing in comparison: the science of salvation, which makes the soul relish the things of heaven because it shows to us all the sweetness and suavity of these things. It teaches us to follow what religion urges us to do; for example, to find our wealth in poverty, joy in suffering, true elevation in Gods eyes in lowly occupations and in those that people hold in slight esteem; to make good use of the blessings and the ills of this life; not to take any resolution except with upright and worthy views; not to pursue our aims except by legitimate means; to unite, in dealing with children, a just firmness with a praiseworthy mildness; example with practice; always to seek the spiritual advantages that enrich us for eternity rather than the temporal benefits that are only fleeting, being firmly persuaded that it is of no use for a person to gain the entire world if he then loses his soul; that earth and all its goods will pass away but that whoever does the will of God will abide forever. Such, in fact, is true Wisdom, which Saint James (1:5) exhorts us to beg of God and which, above all, will be the glory and crown of a good teacher.
The defects contrary to this kind of admirable Wisdom are:
1) To prefer a merely human
satisfaction to an act of supernatural virtue and to the perfect accomplishment of
Gods will; for instance, to show ourselves more eager to acquire external talents
and profane science than the necessary knowledge of religion;
2) To apply ourselves more willingly to teaching what flatters our self-love rather than what can form Jesus Christ in the hearts of the students, to seek their friendship rather than to correct them of their defects, and so forth.
There is another kind of wisdom, which does not come down from on high but on the contrary is "earthly, unspiritual, devilish," as Saint James says (3:15). This is a false wisdom blinded by passion: it follows only the suggestions of the malignant spirit; it adopts exclusively the maxims of the world while rejecting those of the Gospel. It takes more pains about acquiring the virtues that may be agreeable to men rather than those that can please God. It acts only according to interested motives, seeking only what can be of benefit to itself. Moreover, in order to deceive and lead others astray more easily, it strives to disguise itself by appearing affable, mild, friendly, and polite; but it does not hesitate to make use of intrigue, ruse, fraud, artifice, subtility, and trickery to achieve its ends. This is, therefore, nothing but true folly, as its unfortunate consequencescontention and jealousyonly too clearly show.
Wisdom is radiant and unfading, and
she is easily discerned by those who love her and is found by those who seek her (Wisdom
For it is an unfailing treasure for mortals; those who get it obtain friendship with God, commended for the gifts that come from instruction (Wisdom 7:14).
For wisdom opened the mouths of those who were mute and made the tongues of infants speak clearly (Wisdom 10:21).