Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Wisdom and Knowledge Are Not the Same

Dr. Robert Royal at The Catholic Thing web site wrote a very good article, "The 'Unexamined' Life," which I would like to recommend. Here is the first paragraph:

Some years ago, a Catholic Great Books school asked me to speak to the faculty. The lecture room had Socrates’ saying over the door: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I expected this sort of thing, and had prepared a talk for those very fine people instead about why the unexamined life, in a certain sense, is most definitely worth living. Catholics particularly need to be clear about this.

Now is perhaps a good time to mention a concern I have about our contemporary American culture: we tend more and more to place the attainment of a high level of education on the tallest pedestal. Now, we should respect education. But we should also have respect--even greater--for wisdom and holiness.

This is a key point that we should be careful not to forget: being a wise person and being knowledgeable about a particular subject are not the same thing. And further, holiness is different from either of these.

Wisdom pertains to what one needs in order to live life well in the particular context in which one lives; knowledge gives a person a deep understanding about a certain subject(s); holiness makes one ever more like Christ. Ideally, all three will be present in us to a high degree; such would best manifest the human person "fully alive." (Saints such as Thomas Aquinas, Dominic, Bonaventure, and Francis de Sales, among others, are good examples.)

It is by no means automatic that acquiring a great deal of knowledge will also make one wise. For instance, if I were to go to law school and become expert in constitutional law, I could still be a very unwise person in how I live my life. Similarly, if I were to go to medical school and eventually become a cardiologist, my expertise in the physical heart would not make me holy.

We expect something quite unreasonable when we assume that the knowledge acquired by a college education will also make a person good at living life (i.e. wise). And we Christians make a mistake if we presume that a college that is Christian in name will necessarily help a young person come closer to Jesus.

We should strive for the highest cultivation of our minds that is possible given our ability and circumstances. But let us not forget that wisdom and holiness should never be neglected in favor of knowledge alone. No matter the level of education a person has--even very basic--high degrees of wisdom and holiness are always possible with the help of God and others. The Christian saint in training strives to live in such a way that knowledge, wisdom, and holiness are smoothly integrated and mutually supportive of each other.

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