Print Edition: Feb. 22, 2015
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The Wisdom of the Mind
BY DONALD DEMARCO
According to Plato, wisdom is the communion of the soul with
reality. By this he meant that wisdom gives us both a broad and reliable
understanding of reality.
the opposite end of the spectrum for ancient Greek thinkers is Narcissus who
saw nothing more than his own image as it was reflected in a mountain pool.
perspective of Narcissus was so narrow that he had no other knowledge by which
he could realistically evaluate this image. He mistakenly believed it belonged
was wise, Narcissus was foolish.
dramatic contrast between the breadth of wisdom and the narrowness of foolishness
has been strikingly exemplified in today’s society by two events that took
place over the course of the first three months of 2008. The first involves the
67 academics who protested the visit that Pope Benedict XVI was scheduled to
make at their school, one founded in 1303 by Pope Boniface VIII and known to
the world, ironically, as La
Latin word for “wisdom”).
reason for the protest reflected the narrow belief expressed by the protesters
that science does not need nor has ever had any need for religion.
second involves the 2008 recipient of the prestigious Templeton Prize, Father
Michael Heller, who is a world-class scientist and a Catholic priest. His
curriculum vitae includes being a visiting professor at the Institute of Astrophysics
and Geophysics at the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, and researcher
at the Institute of Astrophysics at Oxford University, and at the Physics and
Astronomy Department of Leicester University in Britain. According to the
reverend doctor, the expression, “theology of science” is perfectly defensible.
passage in the Book of Wisdom (7:15-21) offers a frame of mind that is most
conducive to the development of science:
God grant me to speak as he would wish and express thoughts worthy of his
gifts, since he himself is the guide of Wisdom, since he directs the sages. We
are indeed in his hand, we ourselves and our words, with all our understanding,
too, and technical knowledge. It was he who gave me true knowledge of all that
is, who taught me the structure of the world and the properties of the
elements, the beginning, end and middle of the times, the alternation of the
solstices and the succession of the seasons, the revolution of the year and the
positions of the stars, the natures of animals and the instincts of wild
beasts, the powers of spirits and the mental processes of men, the varieties of
plants and the medical properties of roots. All that is hidden, all that is
plain, I have come to know, instructed by Wisdom who designed them all.”
passage represents the synthesis between science and theology, knowledge of
creation and recognition of the Creator. It also carries the implication that
it belongs to wisdom to perceive the realism of this synthesis. The ancient
Greeks held that the microcosm (mind of man) was the tablet upon which the
macrocosm (universe) registered its intelligible imprint.
fact that the human mind is designed to know reality (the way a radio is
designed to receive particular radio frequencies) is addressed by St. Thomas
Aquinas. The Angelic Doctor explains that reality is situated between two
intellects (Res ergo
naturalis inter duos intellectus constituta), God’s and man’s. The
natural law, from the human point of view, is simply a reflection of the eternal
law, from God’s point of view.
removing God from the equation, there can be no satisfactory explanation as to
how the human mind had come to be attuned to reality so that it can mirror its
order and intelligibility.
remarkable correspondence could not happen by chance. Albert Einstein once
commented that for him, the most incomprehensible thing of all is that the
universe is comprehensible.
implication of his remark should be evident. How did it happen that the mind of
man and the intelligibility of the universe became matched up with each other?
Does it not seem that this matching was orchestrated, perhaps even
pre-established by God?
hinted at the answer to this question when commented, and rather famously, that
God does not play dice with the world (Gott würfelt nicht).
well-known cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead had a surprising and yet
illuminating experience when she was studying the life and habits of Canadian
Eskimos in the far north.
happened to bring with her two copies of one of her books. The Eskimos were
utterly flabbergasted when they encountered for the first time in their lives,
two things that were absolutely identical.
the Eskimos, no two faces, personalities, sunsets or ice floes were ever the
same. Being human, and therefore philosophically curious, they knew that there
must be a third thing that explained how two separate objects could be utterly
identical in appearance, page for page, word for word, letter for letter. Not
having ever seen a printing press, they could only wonder what that third thing
might be. But they knew, instinctively, that there must be a third thing.
allows us to grasp that third factor. It offers a breadth of knowledge that
science alone cannot provide. Moreover, as Plato indicated, our soul is made
and agnosticism cannot bring joy or fulfillment to the human soul. In the
address that La Sapienza did not allow Pope Benedict to deliver, the Holy
Father made an allusion to St. Augustine who observed that knowledge alone (scientia) inevitably
led to sadness (tristitia).
university, Benedict reasoned, should be open not only to knowledge of the
truth, but also to the good that truth contains. In other words, had La
Sapienza allowed him to speak, they would have heard him urge them to be wise.
Galileo declared that the “book of nature” is written in the language of
mathematics, he was implying that someone (God) must have written the book in
the first place. His colleague, Johannes Kepler, who formulated the three great
laws of astronomy, was exemplifying the same wisdom of the mind when he
proclaimed, “My thoughts are following thy thoughts.”
addition Norbert Wiener, the Father of Cybernetics, echoed the same wisdom in
reminding his fellow scientists that the laws of induction in logic cannot be
established inductively, and advised them to take seriously the notion that
“science is a way of life that can flourish only when men are free to have
William Henry Bragg, together with his son, William Lawrence Bragg, won the
Nobel Prize for physics in 1915. Sir William was displaying considerable wisdom
when he once remarked that “religion and science are indeed opposed to each
other, but as the thumb and forefinger are opposed, so together they can
The Old and New Testaments, in a variety of ways,
provide man with a basis and an encouragement to cultivate wisdom of the mind.
The notion that God’s creation is ordered means that the physical universe is
organized in a rational manner that is consistent, unified and free of
notion that man is created in God’s image gives him the confidence that he is
capable of discovering the orderly pattern of nature.
every thing that God created is good, it is worthwhile to uncover and utilize
the good wherever man finds it.
Commandment to love is a powerful incentive to utilize what one has discovered
and developed for the practical benefit of others.
notion of the Incarnation means that the Word becomes flesh, the eternal dwells
in the temporal, the divine is wedded to the human.
is needed in order to grasp these various syntheses. Wisdom is the communion of
the soul with reality, recognizing how the supernatural interpenetrates the
DeMarco is adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary
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