The ultimate gift of the Holy Spirit is “Wisdom.” It is the ultimate gift because one cannot receive the gift of Wisdom without having at least a “beginner’s level” of the other six gifts of the Holy Spirit: Fear of the Lord, Piety, Knowledge, Fortitude, Counsel and Understanding. I use the term “beginner’s level” to remind you that one does not have to have perfect grasp of every gift all at once and that would be an impossible goal because spiritual learning, like secular learning, takes place throughout life. In learning mathematics, for example, one first learns how to count, how to perform the arithmetic operations, then to understand fractions and formulas, how to solve for unknowns, and then to learn advanced branches of mathematics, such as algebra, geometry and calculus. So the progress of receiving each of the six gifts that we have already discussed is, spiritually, just like the analogy of learning mathematics in steps and pieces throughout one’s educational life. Bible study, which is part of the gift of Knowledge, is an easy to understand example of these steps in the progress of learning. A child will learn certain facts from the Bible, and as he or she ages, they not only comprehend more complex spiritual lessons but they also relate to the circumstances of those who lived in Biblical times, as the child grows and encounters the challenges of life. Therefore one’s Knowledge grows both as the amount that one learns, spiritually, increases over time and study, but also how one interprets and applies the Knowledge in the worship of and service to God over time and in different phases of one’s life.
The gift of Wisdom is like the other six gifts in one respect, and totally different from them in another important respect. Wisdom is like the other gifts in that it too is gained in steps and phases, throughout one’s life. Where the gift of Wisdom differs is that it is not a “standalone” gift like the other six gifts; it exists only as a synthesis of all the previous gifts that then gives birth, so to speak, to a new entity. Thus to compare, one can have “Fear of the Lord” as a gift, and nothing else. However, one cannot have “Wisdom” without having received all of the previous gifts, in some degree, the gifts having interacted with each other, and a new fruit being born of that interaction. To express it like a formula, using our mathematical analogy, one can only say that L+P+K+F+C+U=[W], where W cannot exist of its own unless one has some quantity of L, P, K, F, C, and U, and add them together. Further, W is not simply the sum total of its parts, but a new entity, a new type of gift that has come into being, thus it is [W] and not W. It is like baking bread or cake, where the result is different than just a bowl containing all of the raw ingredients.
This is why the gift of Wisdom is difficult to describe and comprehend, and sometimes is very difficult to authentically recognize. Many modern people hasten to call themselves or each other “wise,” yet rarer are they accurate. Often people equate being “wise” to being inventive, smart, clever, ingenious, or possessing ‘secret’ or ‘arcane’ ‘knowledge.’ Other people think that wise people possess large amounts of facts and trivia. Yet other people think that those who “chill out” and are “detached” and “easy going” are therefore “wise,” because they think these people are “above” and “superior to” the problems and issues of everyday life. All of these definitions are wrong, both when discussing genuine secular wisdom, and most certainly when trying to comprehend the gift from the Holy Spirit of Wisdom.
In its simplest form, sometimes Wisdom is not even obviously detectable in the “average person” who possesses Wisdom. Their own family, friends and acquaintances may not even realize that this person has the gifts of the Holy Spirit, culminating in Wisdom. This is because the gifts of the Holy Spirit are first and foremost about one’s relationship with God, and with one’s self, and that is often a beautiful quality that is totally internal, and not easily visible to secular eyes. Most wise people through the ages were not even recognized as being in the continual state of “wisdom,” as if it were their job, or their demeanor. The Bible has many examples of people who lead ordinary lives, but then step forward in a time of crisis to speak in wisdom and guidance one time and one time only, and then they return to their ordinary lives. Wisdom is like that in its simplest and most common form. That type of person has “Wisdom” as an invisible crown of their ongoing relationship with God, and with their own internal goodness and authenticity, and perhaps only once or twice does that crown of Wisdom glitter in public for others to see (and people are often surprised when it does).
You used to see that quite a bit with traditional good grandparents. Their children and their grandchildren may think that they are good and loving people, but products of an unsophisticated and simpler time. Then suddenly there is a family crisis, and who says the most amazing and supportive, wise thing? Grandmother or grandfather is the one. The very people who are assumed not to understand some modern complex dilemma suddenly show comprehension, perspective, compassion and wisdom, and their family is amazed. In Biblical times that was expected; it is only in modern times that interior and quiet genuine Wisdom remains so unrecognized and thus a surprise when it manifests. Part of the reason that genuine Wisdom has become so unidentified and misunderstood in modern times is that education and/or the alternative “street smarts” are viewed as the ways of becoming wise. However, remember that for most of human history schools for the general populace did not exist, and many did not even know how to read or write, and they certainly did not go looking for “the school of hard knocks” or “street credibility.” Yet there were many people with the genuine gift of Wisdom throughout history, received as a result of their relationship with God, and not due to either their education or their variety of behavioral experiences.
Biblically one looks to King Solomon as the role model of having the gift of Wisdom, since it is not something that he achieved for himself, but that he openly received from God. Much of the verbal and written manifestations of his gift of Wisdom are preserved in the scripture. But King Solomon is important to understand in order to also remember that the gift of Wisdom is not the conferring of perfection on a human, which is, of course, impossible. This is why the complete story of King Solomon is preserved in the scripture, and not just the flaw free summary of his life. Despite having so much God given Wisdom, King Solomon committed an egregious and stupid error toward the end of his life, where he allowed his lust for many wives to lead him into idolatry. King Solomon turned from the very God who gave him everything, and built places of worship for the false gods of his pagan wives. This does not mean that King Solomon did not have an unprecedented and unmatched amount of Wisdom after all. What it demonstrates is that even with Wisdom, humans remain humans, with flaws and potential for great falls. Having received large quantities of the gift of the Holy Spirit of Wisdom, one must guard against believing either consciously or unconsciously that one actually now possesses the qualities and content of divine Wisdom itself. No one was wiser than King Solomon, but no one demonstrates more clearly how far one can fall when one confuses that one receives the gift of Wisdom, one does not manufacture the gift of Wisdom one’s self.
I must address one serious New Age pagan belief that is another example of great error in comprehending genuine Wisdom. Many pagans and New Ager’s say that they believe and even “access” some imaginary repository of “books” and “wisdom” in heaven. They actually claim that divine Wisdom is kept in a format that they can psychically access. That is ridiculous, to put it mildly. The Wisdom of the Holy Spirit is not a quantity of substance that resides in one place to tap. As I have explained above, Wisdom is the sum total of the receipt and use of the other gifts of the Holy Spirit, which then interact in real life circumstances in order to produce a unique gift of Wisdom, like a date on a palm tree that grows and is eaten just one time. In order to eat a date, one must plant a real seed in a place in real earth, water and protect the tree, wait for it to grow to maturity, wait for the first crop of dates, pluck one date and eat it. One does not reach into some imaginary place in heaven where all the dates are “stored” and thus have “access” via “shortcut” to Wisdom. The Holy Spirit is Wisdom; the Holy Spirit is not the guardian of a place where Wisdom is “stored.”
How, then, can one recognize a person with the genuine gift of the Holy Spirit of Wisdom? Look again for a moment at the analogy of the wise person who desires to eat a date, and so he or she knows the steps it takes over the years to grow the tree that will produce the date. Just because that person is wise in the way it takes to grow a date over the year, that same person may not be as successful in being wise in the way of, let’s say, raising a sheep. Most people demonstrate and utilize the gift of Wisdom in one or a few parts of their life, one could say that each person who receives Wisdom tends to “specialize” in how they receive and use the gift of Wisdom. This is easy to understand when one remembers that every person is unique and has their own path toward God. Thus, each person receives and uses and in a sense translates the previous six gifts of the Holy Spirit in different ways in their lives.
For example, I explained in that post that Knowledge is comprised of the facts that one needs to worship and to serve God. If you look at any two pious people, you will see that each is unique in receipt of the gift of Knowledge. Some feel a calling toward worship, having rich prayer lives, and that is how they use the gift of Knowledge. Others have a great call to service, and they use the gift of Knowledge in support of that relationship to God, through charity and love of neighbor. It is like a great tree limb called Knowledge has many branches, and each person follows the branch that reflects their unique and individual relationship to God. You can see that in the Catholic faith by looking at a religious, let’s say a member of a contemplative order, who uses what they have learned about the Catholic faith to devote him or her self to a life of prayer to God on behalf of the world. Another Catholic learns the exact same faith, attends the same liturgy and Mass, and lives in the secular world, and participates in “hands on” charitable endeavors. Both have received the gift of Knowledge of the Holy Spirit, and both accepted the gift of Knowledge and internalized it, making it real in their very different lives, but in service to the same God.
Years later one can see that if all progresses well in their lives, they have crowned the prior gifts of the Holy Spirit with receiving the gift of Wisdom. But you understand that the gift of Wisdom is unique to the religious who belongs to the contemplative order and unique to the secular world Catholic who is devoted to charitable causes. Each has born a fruit as a result of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and so one’s Wisdom may be like the date, while the other person’s might be like the sheep. The religious may have become very wise in how to develop and maintain the faithful flock, not only among one’s fellow religious, but on behalf of the exterior world. A journalist who interviews each might find the contemplative religious to be ignorant of or “naïve” (and thus not “wise”) about current events in the world. Yet an offhand remark by the journalist, perhaps on the subject of loss of faith, on his or her way out the door might elicit a response from the religious that stops the journalist in his or her tracks, as the religious now reveals their Wisdom. Likewise that journalist may interview the secular world living Catholic and see that him or her kind of bumbles through explaining their own faith, causing the journalist to think, “Typical Christian, they believe only because they are simple and easily led.” Yet then the journalist says something that stirs the secular world living Catholic and he or she answers with something that is so wise about understanding human nature. It is like he or she produces one of the dates from a tree he or she has grown over twenty years. Thus you can see that our two example Catholics have developed the gift of Wisdom as fruit that grew on the differing branches of their unique lives, or as a lamb that has become the patriarch of a growing flock.
This is why the gift of Wisdom can be understood as a lifelong process, but one must not assume that only the older and more experienced have wisdom. Young people who cultivate their relationship with God often receive a gift of Wisdom at an early age. Notice that I say “a” gift of Wisdom. In other words, one is continually offered individual infusions of the grace of Wisdom, and one does not have to be old or experienced to accept one or more of the infusions of Wisdom. The obvious examples of this are the child saints throughout history, those who not only believed (Fear of the Lord, Piety, and Knowledge) but whom then cultivated and accepted Fortitude, Counsel and Understanding while young in their years, and thus receive a crown of Wisdom. Many saints entered holy orders as young teenagers, and had amazing capacity for the gift of Wisdom by their twenties and their thirties. I’m not saying that one must enter holy orders or be a saint to receive Wisdom; far from it, as my purpose in this series is to explain how everyone is continually offered the gifts of the Holy Spirit, including Wisdom. I mention the young saints only to remind people that there are factual role models for you to observe and understand that the gift of the Holy Spirit of Wisdom is, unlike secular “being wise,” is not as dependent on “age and experience” and, instead, often flows very pure and quickly to the young.
Another common misunderstanding about the gift of the Holy Spirit of Wisdom is to think that it is revealed by winning a round of “dueling scripture quoting.” We all know that many people think that their faith and their “wisdom” is defined by not only how much they can quote scripture, but if they can use scripture to “defeat” someone of another denomination, especially if he or she disagrees with him or her. Those people come away from a session of “dueling scripture quoting” feeling that they are “wiser” than the other person. The media, and special interest groups, have glommed onto that assumption, both to support those who define their faith by “dueling scripture quoting,” and, contrarily, to attempt to defeat the scripture quoters in turn by challenging on a secular basis the validity of what is in scripture (gay marriage advocates, for example, even the not so wise Jack Black has donned a Jesus costume and gotten in on that game). So let’s look at this problem one step at a time.
First of all, reading and quoting the scripture is not a gift of Wisdom: it is the gift of Knowledge. Knowledge includes the facts of one’s worship of and service to God, and thus reading the scripture and memorizing parts that resonate for you are examples of the gift of Knowledge. Specifically, bible reading and quoting are not the gift of the Holy Spirit of Knowledge so much as the desire to do so it the actual gift. The Holy Spirit is not putting into your mind what you are reading; the Holy Spirit is guiding you to acquiring the Knowledge that best serves you in believing. Thus, some people are best served by reading the Bible, while others are best served by listening to a sermon. That is another example of how the gift of the Holy Spirit of Knowledge varies from person to person according to that person’s unique path toward God. So it is an uncharitable error to assume that because you rejoice in reading and quoting scripture that someone who finds their faith in attending the Liturgy of the Mass (and hearing three Bible readings a day there) is in receipt of less Knowledge (and certainly not Wisdom) than you.
Second, the example of reading and quoting scripture actually encompasses three gifts of the Holy Spirit in progression: first Knowledge, then Understanding, and finally Wisdom. First one desires to know the word of God, and to repeat it to others. Second one gains depth of understanding of what that word of God means, particularly in application to one’s life. Third one gains Wisdom from knowledge of and quoting of the scripture, but do not jump to a conclusion about how that Wisdom appears. For example, suppose that you are counseling someone with a particular problem. You may feel “moved” to quote scripture to them. However, there are times that a quote of scripture is not what the counseled person needs for their particular problem. Wisdom means discerning what is the truth and how to best live within it and respond to it. To be blunt, let us look at the example of the gay marriage controversy. I am not saying that you should not express your faith through scripture quoting, but you must always recall charity and the context within which you are having a dialogue with someone of differing opinion. A person with true Wisdom will recognize the times that the gay marriage advocate is not helped in their understanding through scripture quoting, especially if you are in a counseling context. A person with true Wisdom will have alternative offerings that are authentic to their beliefs, but more helpful to the person with whom one is dialoguing. The classic example is being “a good listener.” There are times it is better to hold one’s peace and demonstrate charity, rather than scripture quoting. Remember that God and the Savior Jesus Christ draw people gently to them, not through the club of dueling scripture quoting.
If I may mention someone who I believe demonstrates his knowledge and love of scripture in a way of Knowledge, Understanding and Wisdom, it is the Reverend Billy Graham. I am referring to his daily advice column “My Answer,” the link to which I have on this blog. Most of the Reverend Graham’s columns contain scripture quotes, but they support and encourage the compassionate and wise advice that he gives. He uses the scripture quotations as the well placed and essential seasoning of salt, not to bonk the person on the head with a boulder made of salt. The Reverend Billy Graham is a careful listener and thinker, and he responds with scripture where and when he feels it aids in the purpose of the dialogue, not to demonstrate his prowess. I have not met him in person, so I can only guess here, but I would suspect that if you asked him about what I have just said, he will tell you that he learned and improved over the years of his ministry in this Wisdom of discerning what a particular soul needs to hear from him in a given time and place. This is why I’ve always been an unabashed fan of his even though I’m one of those Papists, ha.
It is Wisdom that has kept me silent sometimes when others have tried to draw me out in games such as dueling scripture quoting. This is because I discerned that there was hidden agenda afoot, and to participate would not be beneficial to the soul of the instigator. Remember, there were times when Jesus himself remained silent. If Jesus did not feel the need to demonstrate being “smarter” or more “versed” than others, why should I, or anyone else? In fact, Jesus repeatedly warned against the hypocrisy of those who glory in their own “wisdom” and “piety.” Jesus knew with perfection, as only the Savior could, when the people needed to hear quotation from Torah or the prophets, when they would most benefit from a parable, and when they needed a pointblank miracle or cure, or when they needed homespun advice. (As a Bible exercise, think about that when you next read the Bible, and notice when Jesus uses those different modes of dialogue).
Wisdom as a gift of the Holy Spirit, thus, is best defined and understood as the recognition and utilization of truth and faith. Wisdom means that the one who has received this gift discerns the essential truth of matters, and the most appropriate application of faith, for not only themselves but others. This understanding sheds further light on the gift of Counsel. When one receives the gift of Counsel, one is receiving counsel from God, through the Holy Spirit. When one receives the gift of Wisdom, one is able to be a wise counselor to others. In other words, receiving the gift of the Holy Sprit of Counsel does not make YOU a counselor in turn. The gift of Counsel means that you are being counseled and consoled through the Holy Spirit. The gift of Wisdom does not mean that you now possess God’s Wisdom but you have received the ability to be the wise and faithful counselor to fellow humans, using the synthesis of the Counsel and other gifts that you yourself have received. When you receive the gift of Counsel, it is then that you are receiving the benefit of God’s wisdom. When you receive the gift of Wisdom, you are not receiving “a piece of God’s wisdom.” When you receive the gift of Wisdom you are developing your own fruit of Wisdom as a result of all of the previous gifts, and thus you can be a wise counselor to others.
As I pointed out, those who truly have the gift of Wisdom do not become professional or amateur “wise people.” In fact, in most people, as I explained before, Wisdom, like the other gifts, develop and flourish internally, often totally hidden from view. The point of the crown of Wisdom is not to be a visible smarty pants, but to receive the fruits of one’s own continual cultivation of one’s experience and relationship with God. Having thus cultivated and received those fruits one who truly has the gift of the Holy Spirit of Wisdom can give visible counsel to others with confidence of both the truth and the charity of one’s perception.
Do not forget that even the most impressive and formidable gift of Wisdom to an individual human is only the tiniest of a strand of the immeasurable and all-knowing wisdom of God himself. One cannot comprehend, to say nothing of possess, even the tiniest amount of the wisdom of God if one cannot, for example, comprehend God’s realm where time, matter and energy do not exist. All of human talents and abilities are confined by their existing within time, matter and energy, and thus one cannot have the context for God’s wisdom at all. God helps humans to cultivate their own wisdom, since the wisdom of God cannot be transferred to the human mind and its frame of context. If you think about it, all of the gifts of the Holy Spirit are, like all true gifts, “one way.” God gives each of these gifts to humans and gets, strictly speaking, “nothing in return.” That is because they are genuine gifts meant for one’s well being and joy as one lives a corporeal and limited life in the universe of time, matter and energy. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are given to humans so that they, humans, can live better, love deeper, endure the sadness and limitations of life, understand more clearly, and come to know God.
There is nothing that you can give to God in return for these gifts, except for two things. One is to return in kind to God the love that God has given you. The second is to do only goodness for others, your “neighbors,” as by that you are helping and loving fellow children of God, and that pleases him deeply. Remember, though, that what you do for others must be properly discerned so as not to lead them away from God. Giving someone luxuries as a way to only tie them more to love of material goods rather than to God is not genuine charity. For example, one may think that one is helping an impoverished family by providing a job pleases God, but if the cost of that job is that the family is broken up over long distances and time and exposed to temptation, that is not use of Wisdom or charity. By this I mean, you can look at the problem of immigrants who leave their families behind in impoverished countries in order to seek work. I know many think that they are providing a charity to those individuals when they give them a job, so they can send funds home. However, when one has Wisdom, one can discern all of the implications, including that of families who have children who grow up without their fathers and their mothers, often for years. When one has Wisdom one is truly able to discern the best forms of charity that are both best for the person and that also pleases God by supporting, rather than challenging, the virtue of the people you are trying to help. When one has genuine Wisdom one can discern what is good for a person’s soul in addition to what is good for their body.
That is what I mean when I say that Wisdom is recognition of the truth. The truth is different from being a collection of avowedly accurate facts. Truth is a realistic appraisal of not only how things actually are, but what the vast potentialities of future actions are and should be. Poverty and the amount of a paycheck are facts, for example, but they are not complete understandings of the truth. If a young boy desperately needs his father, because he is growing up among gangs, the fact of his income and that you have given the father a high paying job one thousand miles away is not expression of the truth. Someone with that particular form of Wisdom can discern when providing a lesser income to the poor and keeping the family intact is better than providing a higher income but breaking up the family. This is another example of how I explained that facts are a part of the gift of Knowledge, but one must then receive the gift of Understanding of the facts, and then the gift of Wisdom, which is to discern the truth of things.
This is what Jesus meant when he said that he is “The Way, the Truth and the Life.” When Jesus states that he is the Truth, he did not mean that his is “the facts.” Truth means that Jesus is perfect Knowledge, Understanding and Wisdom. There is a popular modern expression that “Jesus would know what to do,” and that expression is correct, Jesus does know what to do. By being overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, Jesus contained within himself perfect and complete graces of all of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In other words, Jesus was born already containing the fullness of all possible Fear of the Lord, Piety, Knowledge, Fortitude, Counsel, Understanding and Wisdom. When the scripture notes that Jesus “grew in wisdom” those who made that observation meant secular wisdom, the wisdom they could see. Jesus himself, however, while he lived within the natural boundaries and growth of a human body and mind, he also simultaneously already was in possession of, internally, the complete gifts of the Holy Spirit. Unlike all other humans, Jesus did not iteratively receive, cultivate and develop over time the gifts of the Holy Spirit; he at the moment of conception had them all in their fullness and completion. As Son of Man Jesus could learn how to read and write, like other little boys and girls of his age. As Son of God through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, Jesus was born knowing why and how reading and writing as abilities even exist, and how those talents fit into God’s eternal plan, just to give you an example to which you can more easily understand and relate. So on the one hand, Jesus could learn as a child how to read and write, while on the other hand, if someone had ever thought to ask him, “Jesus, why do the abilities to read and write even exist?” Jesus could answer him their role in God’s plan. As another example, as a human, Jesus could both not know until he is told that his friend Lazarus has died, but also be born fully knowing how death is part of what God’s plan is, and what heaven looks like since he, of course, was there before he was conceived and born into the tabernacle of Mary’s body.
Thus, as great and praiseworthy as the achievement of receiving and cultivating the gifts of the Holy Spirit by any human may be and is, you can now better understand what great gifts and what small “implementations” they are for any one human, no matter how great is he or she. No one but Jesus has ever had, or will have, full infusions (in his case from the moment of conception) of the perfection of the graces of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Now, I am not saying this to discourage anyone but instead to point out several beneficial truths. One is that one never fails by looking to Jesus as he really was (and not how modern agendas dictate) as the perfect role model for the perfection of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. When one remains focused on Jesus, one is less likely to go astray in cultivating a particular gift of the Holy Spirit. For example, one can, if one is working on improving one’s use of the gift of Piety, look to the actual examples of Jesus and receive some assistance. Second, I am trying to bolster and add to one’s motivation and vigor to convert, renew and cultivate one’s faith and understanding of God, by showing you the wonder and joy that the gifts of the Holy Spirit offer.
I hope that you have found this helpful.