On Christian Wisdom

Wisdom does not consist in the possession of a great store of knowledge, but rather in the reduction of one’s knowledge to a few underlying principles. Growth in knowledge, through the accumulation of facts, is not necessarily growth in wisdom, for advances in wisdom are made along the paths of simplicity, not of complexity. Those who know the most are not always the most wise. Many saints, especially those of recent times, were unlearned, but they possessed remarkable clarity of insight and simplicity of outlook, for they had been made wise with the wisdom of God. All Catholics, in the sacrament of Confirmation, receive from the Holy Ghost the gift of wisdom, by which they are enabled to judge all things according to a single principle — the First Principle, which is God. In virtue of the gift of wisdom, Catholics are capable of possessing great clarity of vision, for they are able to see things in the same light in which God sees them. They have no reason to become confused, for they can see everything in the light of faith and are able to judge accordingly which things are of God and which are not. As Catholics progress in holiness, as they advance towards God who is Eternal Wisdom, they grow in simplicity, for they are approaching Him who is Simplicity itself. Those who, on the other hand, are falling into perplexity and confusion regarding issues that have a bearing on the Faith, have lost the simplicity of outlook which the Faith imparts. Their failure to make judgments and evaluations in the light of the Faith is a sign that their own faith is weakening. Those who are losing their clear Catholic insights and becoming hesitant, those who are becoming more complex instead of more simple, are not advancing towards God. They are falling away from Him.

The loss of Christian wisdom is particularly manifest among Catholics today, especially in intellectual circles where learned but unwise Catholics have permitted their minds to become adulterated with outlooks and ideas which are incompatible with the Faith. Not only are these liberals losing the Faith for themselves, but also for others, inasmuch as their unorthodox views have permeated through all the ranks of the faithful. So accustomed have Catholics become to the liberalism in which they live and breathe that they are astonished upon hearing the clear and uncompromising doctrines of the Church, so little does the traditional teaching coincide with the liberal interpretations of it. Even though many Catholics are not to be held responsible for the unorthodox views they have imbibed, the fact remains that liberalism is weakening their faith and thus holding them back from God. The evil of liberalism does not stop with the adulteration of the faith of Catholics. It is also preventing non-Catholics from entering the Church. These potential Catholics who are suffering in the hell of unbelief are scandalized to see compromise and hesitancy in the place where they hoped and expected to find unequivocal truth and the certainty that should accompany it. Weak Catholics are a stumbling-block to those outside the Faith. Recent converts have told us so.

Some may say that if liberalism is endangering the Catholic Faith the Church would speak out against it. The fact is that the Church has spoken out against it. Moreover the Church did not wait until liberalism was rampant to condemn it. She raised her voice when it was just beginning to spread. Sixty years ago, when materialism and irreligion were sweeping the world, when the secular state was beginning seriously to threaten the life of the Church, and when the age of Catholic liberalism was starting to set in, Pope Leo XIII, then gloriously reigning, raised his voice in stern language against the evils of his day. Deploring the neglect of the principles of Christian wisdom, he reminded Catholics of their solemn duties not only as citizens of the state, but also as citizens of the Kingdom of God. He laid great stress on the fact, which liberal Catholics forget, that loyalty to God comes before loyalty to men. Since absolute and unreserved loyalty to Jesus Christ and His Church necessarily results in a desire to bring all men to Him, the Holy Father emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to be militant. The words, which Pope Leo XIII spoke in the year 1890, in his encyclical Sapentiae Christianae, are even more important today than when he first uttered them, for the question of absolute loyalty to Jesus Christ is now preeminent. There is no room for compromise. Our own Holy Father, Pope Pius XII, has clearly stated the issue: “To be with Christ or against Christ, that is everything.”

The truth of the words of Pope Leo XIII will bear its own testimony. After depicting the great and widespread warfare that is being waged against the Church throughout the world, he states:

“Under such evil circumstances therefore each one is bound in conscience to watch over himself, taking all means possible to preserve the faith inviolate in the depths of his soul, avoiding all risks, and arming himself on all occasions, especially against the various specious sophisms rife among non-believers. In order to safeguard this virtue of faith in its integrity, We declare it to be very profitable and consistent with the requirements of the time, that each one, according to the measure of his capacity and intelligence, should make a deep study of Christian doctrine, and imbue his mind with as perfect a knowledge as may be of those matters that are interwoven with religion and lie within the range of reason. And as it is necessary that faith should not only abide untarnished in the soul, but should grow with ever-painstaking increase, the suppliant and humble entreaty of the apostles ought constantly to be addressed to God: Increase our faith.

“But in this same manner, touching Christian faith, there are other duties whose exact and religious observance, necessary at all times in the interests of eternal salvation, become more especially so in these our days. Amid such reckless and widespread folly of opinion, it is as We have said, the office of the Church to undertake the defense of truth and uproot errors from the mind, and this charge has to be at all times sacredly observed by her, seeing that the honor of God and the salvation of men are confided to her keeping. But when necessity compels, not those only who are invested with power of rule are bound to safeguard the integrity of faith, but, as St. Thomas maintains, ‘Each one is under obligation to show forth his faith, or to repel the attacks of unbelievers.’ To recoil before an enemy, or to keep silence when from all sides such clamors are raised against truth, is the part of a man either devoid of character or who entertains doubt as to the truth of what he professes to believe. In both cases such mode of behaving is base and is insulting to God, and both are incompatible with the salvation of mankind. This kind of conduct is profitable only to the enemies of the Faith, for nothing emboldens the wicked so greatly as the lack of courage on the part of the good. Moreover, want of vigor on the part of Christians is so much the more blameworthy, as not seldom little would be needed on their part to bring to naught false charges and refute erroneous opinions; and by always exerting themselves more strenuously they might reckon upon being successful. After all, no one can be prevented from putting forth that strength of soul, which is the characteristic of true Christians; and very frequently by such display of courage our enemies lose heart and their designs are thwarted. Christians are, moreover, born for combat, whereof the greater the vehemence, the more assured, God willing, the triumph: Have confidence; I have overcome the world. Nor is there any ground for alleging that Jesus Christ, the guardian and Champion of the Church, needs not in any manner the help of men. Power certainly is not wanting to Him, but in His loving kindness He would assign to us a share in obtaining and applying the fruits of salvation procured through His grace.

“The chief elements of this duty consist in professing openly and unflinchingly the Catholic doctrine, and in propagating it to the utmost of our power. For, as it is often said, with the greatest truth, there is nothing so hurtful to Christian wisdom as that it should not be known, since it possesses, when loyally received, inherent power to drive away error. So soon as Catholic truth is apprehended by a simple and unprejudiced soul, reason yields assent. Now faith, as a virtue, is a great boon of divine grace and goodness; nevertheless, the objects themselves to which faith is to be applied are scarcely known in any other way than through the hearing. How shall they believe Him of Whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? Faith then cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. Since, then, faith is necessary for salvation, it follows that the word of Christ must be preached. The office indeed of preaching, that is, of teaching, lies by divine right in the province of the pastors, namely of the bishops whom the Holy Ghost has placed to rule the Church of God. It belongs above all to the Roman pontiff, vicar of Jesus Christ, established as head of the universal Church, teacher of all that pertains to morals and faith.

“No one, however, must entertain the notion that private individuals are prevented from taking some active part in this duty of teaching, especially those on whom God has bestowed gifts of mind with the strong wish of rendering themselves useful. These, so often as circumstances demand, may take upon themselves, not indeed the office of the pastor, but the task of communicating to others what they have themselves received, becoming, as it were, living echoes of their masters in the Faith. Such co-operation on the part of the laity has seemed to the Fathers of the Vatican Council so opportune and fruitful of good that they thought well to invite it. ‘All faithful Christians, but those chiefly who are in a prominent position, or engaged in teaching, we entreat, by the compassion of Jesus Christ, and enjoin by the authority of the same God and Saviour, that they bring aid to ward off and eliminate these errors from Holy Church, and contribute their zealous help in spreading abroad the light of undefiled faith.’ Let each one therefore bear in mind that he both can and should, so far as may be, preach the Catholic Faith by the authority of his example, and by open and constant profession of the obligations it imposes. In respect consequently to the duties that bind us to God and the Church, it should be borne earnestly in mind that in propagating Christian truth and warding off errors, the zeal of the laity should, as far as possible, be brought actively into play.”

Union of minds and uniformity of action are necessary for the members of the Church Militant:

“The organization and constitution of Christian society can in no wise be changed, neither can any one of its members live as he may choose, nor elect that mode of fighting which best pleases him. For in effect he scatters and gathers not, who gathers not with the Church and with Jesus Christ, and all who fight not jointly with him and with the Church are in very truth contending against God.

“Union of minds, therefore, requires, together with a perfect accord in the one faith, complete submission and obedience of will to the Church and to the Roman Pontiff, as to God Himself. This obedience should, however, be perfect, because it is enjoined by faith itself, and has this in common with faith, that it cannot be given in shreds; — nay, were it not absolute and perfect in every particular, it might wear the name of obedience, but its essence would disappear. Christian usage attaches such value to this perfection of obedience that it has been, and will ever be, accounted the distinguishing mark by which we are able to recognize Catholics. Admirably does the following passage from St. Thomas of Aquin set before us the right view: ‘The formal object of faith is primary truth, as it is shown forth in the Holy Scriptures, and in the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the fountainhead of truth. It follows, therefore, that he who does not adhere, as to an infallible divine rule, to the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the primary truth manifested in the Holy Scriptures, possesses not the habit of faith; but matters of faith he holds otherwise than the true faith. Now it is evident that he who clings to the doctrines of the Church as to an infallible rule yields his assent to everything the Church teaches; but otherwise, if with reference to what the Church teaches he holds what he likes, but does not hold what he does not like, he adheres not to the teaching of the Church as to an infallible rule, but to his own rule . . .

“As to those who mean to take part in public affairs they should avoid with the very utmost care two criminal excesses: so-called prudence and false courage. Some there are, indeed, who maintain that it is not opportune boldly to attack evil-doing in its might and when in the ascendant, lest, as they say, opposition should exasperate minds already hostile. These make it a matter of guesswork as to whether they are for the Church or against her; since on the one hand they give themselves out as professing the Catholic Faith, and yet wish that the Church should allow certain opinions, at variance with her teaching, to be spread abroad with impunity.

“The prudence of men of this cast is of that kind which is termed by the Apostle Paul wisdom of the flesh and death of the soul, because it is not subject to the law of God, neither can it be. Nothing is less calculated to amend such ills than prudence of this kind. For the enemies of the Church have for their object — and they hesitate not to proclaim it, and many among them boast of it — to destroy outright if possible, the Catholic religion, which is alone the true religion. With such a purpose in hand they shrink from nothing; for they are fully conscious that the more faint-hearted those who withstand them become, the more easy will it be to work out their wicked will. Therefore they who cherish the prudence of the flesh and who pretend to be unaware that every Christian ought to be a valiant soldier of Christ; they who would fain obtain the rewards owing to conquerors, while they are leading the lives of cowards, untouched in the fight, are so far from thwarting the onward march of the evil-disposed that, on the contrary, they even help it forward.

“On the other hand, not a few, impelled by a false zeal, or -what is more blameworthy still — affecting sentiments which their conduct belies, take upon themselves to act a part which does not belong to them. They would fain see the Church’s mode of action influenced by their ideas and their judgment to such an extent that everything done otherwise they take ill or accept with repugnance. Some, yet again, expend their energies in fruitless contention, being worthy to blame equally with the former. To act in such a manner is not to follow lawful authority but to forestall it, and, unauthorized, assume the duties of the spiritual rulers, to the great detriment of the order which God established in His Church to be observed forever, and which He does not permit to be violated with impunity by anyone, whoever he may be.”

True, Catholics, according to Pope Leo XIII, are militant Catholics, those who fight for the Faith courageously but not rashly, and “who maintain without wavering the love of obedience, nor are they wont to undertake anything upon their own authority.” First and foremost, they live their faith, and then they spread it to others. The main virtue necessary to live such a Catholic life is charity, love of God, and love of men who bear His image. [Since the love of God and of neighbor are inseparable, it is indeed the love of God that inspires militancy. Catholics fight their battles for the Faith in charity, being inspired by loyalty to God and the desire to make the true Faith known to others.]image

Catholics have a duty to be militant, but it is a duty that “cannot be troublesome or onerous, for the yoke of Jesus Christ is sweet, and His burden light.” After giving this reminder, the Holy Father ends his encyclical, with the solemn warning that “matters of the highest moment and worthy of all honor are at stake, for the safeguarding of which every most toilsome effort should be readily endured. . . .”  He reminds Catholics that “a sublime reward is in store for the labors of a Christian life. On the other hand, to refrain from doing battle for Jesus Christ, amounts to fighting against Him; He Himself assures us He will deny before His Father in Heaven, those who shall have refused to confess Him on earth.”

This, in the words of Pope Leo XIII, is the challenge which our Holy Mother the Church gives to her children. All Catholics are bound to give absolute loyalty to Jesus Christ, and to Mary His Mother, for the two are inseparable. We are bound to be their apostles and to fight for their cause. We are obliged to engage in a holy warfare for Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and we will be successful only under the leadership of her who is “fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in array” (Cant. 6.9). Only through her intercession can we obtain the graces we need. And in this day of liberalism, when so many are weakening in the Faith and losing the vision which it imparts, our first prayers ought to be for an increase in faith and the grace to regain and perfect in its clear simplicity our gift of wisdom. In order to fight for God, it is necessary to see all things in His light, so that we can tell who even His subtlest enemies are. Only then can we act effectively and with success.

Seat of Wisdom, pray for us!

Theodora Gammans

If he’s sincere
My dear,
He’ll do.
Let no one judge
Or budge
His point of view
If he’s sincere.

So though
We know
Our Faith is right
The Incarnation, now,
Must bow,
Till he gets sight,
For he’s sincere.

For Faith’s a gift,
A sudden lift;
It’s not
His fault that he
Cannot see
Why many died and fought.
He’s still sincere.

He sees not the signs,
The lines
And lines of saints,
For they
He’ll say
Need just a taint
Of chance, if he’s to see, yet stay sincere.

Let no one try
To pry
Him from his sheer
My dear,
For he’s sincere.

(This article was originally published in From the Housetops, Volume III, No.1, September, 1948.)