There abides in the human heart a desire for deep and expansive vision. This is proven by the yearning we have for building skyscrapers that provide stunning views of a city’s downtown or skywalks like the one overlooking the Grand Canyon. The reason for this is simple: we are rational beings who desire to know. Like other animals we desire to look at many things, but our enjoyment of grand-scaled vantage points of our world show that we take pleasure in knowing the intricacies of complexities behind the structure of reality. In looking upon a city, we can begin to see why the city planners arranged it in that certain layout and why that arrangement would become more advantageous to the city’s inhabitants. Likewise, in the Grand Canyon we are blown away by the river’s winding path through the soft limestone and by the story that these rocks tell of nature’s power. This exercise of seeking out the structures of reasoning and causes behind the marvels of the world is something that can be easily translated to other parts of life and reality.
It is primarily through the faculty of vision that we obtain knowledge of the physical world, and this gives us a platform for understanding the spiritual side of things. Being made in the image of God, we have a sort of spiritual vision by which we obtain knowledge and understanding of things. This is the highest part of ourselves, and we desire to exercise it to the full because it is the thing that will perfect us and make us most happy. This exercise is simply the act of gaining wisdom. The wise man, as described by Fr. James Brent, O.P., is the one who has “a glimpse of the first principle of all things, and an all-embracing understanding of Reality as a whole in light of the first principle, especially in light of the goal or purpose of it all.” This is what it means to know things from God’s perspective, who has ordered all things in his infinite wisdom.
God offers us the gift of wisdom at three different levels. The first gift is that of natural wisdom, which is knowledge of the highest causes of things by our natural human powers. We come to this knowledge mostly in philosophical speculation. The second is theological wisdom, wisdom gained by the knowledge given to us in revelation. We can arrive at this wisdom by the contemplation of scripture and practice of theology. The last is mystical wisdom, an experiential knowledge of God by grace. This is the knowledge of God that comes by intimate friendship with him. Wisdom begins in this life, is perfected by grace as we continue through the spiritual life, and it is consummated in the beatific vision.
Now, wisdom isn’t simply about knowing things well and thoroughly. It is about knowing them as God knows them because the way God knows created things is by way of knowing himself. Therefore, to be wise is to be someone who gains more interior knowledge about God. It is in this way, in the pursuit of wisdom, that we come to “obtain friendship with God” (Wis 7:14). As we gain wisdom and become better friends with God, which St. Thomas says is simply what charity is (ST II-II, q. 23, a. 1), we come to see more of his providential workings in the world and in our lives. From this we are then able to trust him more deeply. Our friendship with him grows, and we are able to share this friendship with others. Let us then implore our most merciful God for wisdom, saying along with the holy author of Wisdom:
Send her forth from the holy heavens, and from the throne of your glory send her, that she may be with me and toil, 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 (Wis 9:10-11).
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Dominicana, the Dominican student blog of the Province of St. Joseph, and is reprinted here with kind permission.