Why We Need the Gift of Wisdom

Commentary: Part 2 of a Register series on the gifts of Holy Spirit.

Icon of 'Sophia' (Wisdom) from St. George Church in Vologda, Russia
Icon of 'Sophia' (Wisdom) from St. George Church in Vologda, Russia (photo: Wikipedia)

Isaiah says of the Anointed One, “the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD” (Isaiah 11:2-3).

Wisdom is the first and greatest gift of the Holy Spirit in confirmation, because it perfects faith by bringing it to fruition in concrete acts of love. Wisdom, of course, is highly valued throughout the Old Testament. Indeed, there is an entire genre of literature in the Old Testament known as “Wisdom literature,” which includes such books as Proverbs, the Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes and (surprise!) Wisdom.

The Old Testament is chockablock with exhortations to “‘Get Wisdom, get understanding!’ … Do not forsake her, and she will keep you, love her, and she will guard you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight” (Proverbs 4:5-7). This exhortation, enshrined at the core of Jewish culture for millennia, has served the Jewish people well and resulted in a people whose impact on Western civilization has immensely outstripped their numbers because education has always been at the very heart of this People of the Book.

The great Old Testament model of Wisdom was Solomon who was offered his choice of anything in the world by God and chose Wisdom. God’s reply is as true for us as it was for him:

“Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked possessions, wealth, honor, or the life of those who hate you, and have not even asked long life, but have asked wisdom and knowledge for yourself that you may rule my people over whom I have made you king, wisdom and knowledge are granted to you. I will also give you riches, possessions, and honor, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like” (2 Chronicles 1:11-12).

If that sounds suspiciously like Jesus’ saying, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and everything else will be added as well” that’s because exactly the same principle lies at the heart of both. Wisdom values properly those things we believe through faith. It puts first things first (the love of God) and second things second (the love of neighbor and the goods of this world).

It is interesting that the picture of Solomon’s wisdom is not merely of a man sitting in a room pondering abstract philosophical ideas or theological concepts. Solomon comes off looking like an early Ben Franklin/Thomas Jefferson/James Audubon, curious about the natural world and trying to figure out how birds and bugs work, as well as how to govern well and live the Law of Moses. This points to something very significant in the Jewish, Greek, and Christian traditions concerning Wisdom: namely, that it is both heavenly minded and practical, like a woman in charge of running a busy household.


Indeed, in all three of these traditions, Wisdom is identified with the feminine. Sophia is the Greek word for wisdom and the Greek deity identified with wisdom was the feminine Athena, not the masculine Zeus. Meanwhile, in the Jewish tradition, Proverbs pictures Wisdom as a woman, working alongside God and crafting the universe like a skilled artisan (Proverbs 8). And in the Christian tradition, the Blessed Virgin Mary, by her “Yes” to the Spirit of Wisdom gives her very flesh and blood so that Christ, “the wisdom of God” (1 Cor inthians, 1:24) can be enfleshed in a human body.

That’s why we need the gift of Wisdom: because we are sacramental beings who are called to turn our faith into concrete works of love the way the Holy Spirit of Wisdom fashioned the world in love and Jesus, the Wisdom of God, was made flesh.

Mark Shea is a Register columnist and blogger. Part 1 of his series on the gifts of the Holy Spirit can be found here.