Tuesday, December 16, 2008


We are happy to feature Sister Phyllis Hunhoff's reflection on wisdom in Scripture and Tradition as our first personal blog entry. We invite others who wish to share their thoughts on Benedictine spirituality to post as well. Please contact Hastings Oblate Daniel Deffenbaugh if this is of interest to you. Also, we invite you to offer your comments after each posted reflection.

Wisdom in Scripture and Tradition

In the last month or so I seem to have been coming across various readings on Wisdom. Now I see that our Chapter meeting is just a few days before December 17 when we have the first of the “O” Antiphons, which is Wisdom. So for this inaugural blog reflection I would like to talk about Wisdom.

Wisdom in the Scriptures

First, we look at the Old Testament, as there is a rich tradition of wisdom literature that we find here. What it says is that there is a thirst, a desire in every person to make sense of the various experiences of daily existence and to direct one's life in the most profitable and worthwhile way. This search for wisdom is centered on faith in the Lord, the God of the Exodus, and is due to the conviction in the history of the chosen people that only in God is perfect Wisdom to be found.

After the exile there was a clearer understanding that human wisdom is a reflection of the divine Wisdom which God "has poured forth upon all his works, upon every living thing according to his bounty" (Sir 1:9-10). Wisdom appears as God's mysterious design which is at the origin of creation and of salvation. Wisdom is the light which illumines all, the word which reveals, and the power of love which joins God with creation and with his people.

In the light of this wisdom tradition we have a better understanding of the mystery of Jesus the Messiah. A prophetic text of Isaiah speaks of the Spirit of the Lord which shall rest on the King-Messiah and it describes this Spirit especially as "the spirit of wisdom and understanding," and finally as the "spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord" (Is 11:2).

Various texts of the New Testament present Jesus as full of divine Wisdom. St Luke's infancy gospel suggests the important significance of Jesus' presence among the doctors in the temple, where "all who heard him were amazed at his understanding" (Lk 2:47), and Luke summarizes the hidden life at Nazareth in the words, "and Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man" (Lk 2:52). During the years of Jesus' ministry his teaching occasioned surprise and amazement, "And many who heard him were astonished, saying, 'Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom given to him?'" (Mk 6:2).

St. Paul says: "I do proclaim a message of wisdom to those who are spiritually mature. But it is not the wisdom that belongs to this world or to the powers that rule this world. …The wisdom I proclaim is God’s secret wisdom, which is hidden from mankind, but which he had already chosen for our glory even before the world was made (I Cor. 2:6-7).

When we look at our own spiritual lives we can say that wisdom is loving knowledge. It is a kind of knowledge which comes from our personal relationship with God. It is coming to know God as much as is humanly possible in this life. It is the experience of love where we come to know the greatness of God. This experience of God remains a mystery and it comes through faith. We do not get it through any process such as reasoning or analyzing. We receive wisdom through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Generally our minds are very cluttered, but through our grace from God we receive wisdom, although it may be subtle and elusive. We can come to realize we have received wisdom and comprehend some aspect of it after some particular event. As we have seen in lectio, divine wisdom comes from listening to God; the more loving the listening, the purer the wisdom. Then when our inner disposition is ready, the Holy Spirit grants us some particular insight or knowledge.

Wisdom in St. Benedict's Rule

When we look at the Wisdom of St. Benedict, we find him as a great teacher handing on to us, selectively, from the Rule of the Master. We see now that he chose traditional monastic wisdom that he had received from others. In those days it was important to cherish the insights of the past. The whole body of early monastic literature resembles the body of literature in the Old Testament. It is intended to be a guide to wise living in all the practical situations of our lives.

In the 1980 anniversary issue of the Rule of St. Benedict, it says that in order to gain spiritual wisdom it takes practice. It says that in order to gain, for instance, the wisdom of silence, obedience and humility, these need to be practiced. Having mentors is also helpful. The Benedictine tradition is counter-cultural.

Monasticism that is authentic must offer a way of life that provides an alternative to the values of contemporary society. Our great challenge today is to show that the wisdom of a monastic life of renunciation and self-discipline does help us to achieve spiritual peace and simplicity of heart in the midst of an increasingly complex world.

What Benedict wants to bring about is not simply knowledge but a total personal conversion; not intellectual wisdom but sapientiae doctrina et vitae meritum or “goodness of life and wisdom in teaching” (RB 64:2). Benedict’s school for the Lord’s service directs us to cultivate daily habits and wisdom. Scripture in the Rule and tradition are made vital through the living presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst. A wide open heart is our goal, for the more we can receive from God, the more we can experience the fullness of life for which we are made.


Benedict of Nursia, RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict (Collegeville, MN: Litrugical Press, 1981).

Pope John Paul II, Jesus Christ: Messiah and Divine Wisdom.

Francis Kelly Nemeck and Marie Theresa Coombs, The Way of Spiritual Direction (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1993).


John said...

This blog was interesting to read and very helpful.

In my own life, my understanding of the more spiritual life has been helped by silence, lectio divina, and praying the divine office.

Anonymous said...

Sister Phyllis,

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on Wisdom, which is such an overlooked aspect of the Hebrew Scriptures. While I want to affirm that wisdom (hochma in Hebrew; sophia in Greek -- both feminine terms) became perfectly manifest in the person of Christ, I would also like to observe that our singular emphasis on Jesus as the Word of God (logos in Greek, a masculine term) historically has overshadowed what scripture tells us about God's wisdom being present and evident in creation.

I agree with John, in the previous comment, that silence, lectio, and praying the Divine Office are essential to a centered spiritual life in the Benedictine tradition. I would add, however, that we might also develop a sense of reading and meditating on the "book of nature."

What might lectio look like in the context of creation? I think it is an important question to ask today, especially given the neglect -- dare I say abuse -- that our ecological home has experienced over the centuries.

Thank you once again for sharing your insights with all of the Nebraska Oblates. And thank you to John, from Florida, for joining our discussion!

Dan D.

Jackie Lueders said...

I to find silence and prayer to be very helpful for the spritual life. Silence is a great help,and it brings me closer to to understanding the rule of St.Benedict. There is great wisdom in the bible and so much to learn.

Anonymous said...

Sister Phyllis's comment on Benedictine spirituality having a counter-cultural element struck me. At first, I the phrase reminds me of the history of the protests of the 1960s, but the more I think about it, it seems as if the counter-culture of aspiring Benedictine Oblates is rooted not so much in turning 180 degrees from daily life, in denying the elements of our culture, but in asking, "How can this be seen anew in light of God's wisdom? How can this part of my life be placed in service to God?" It's more like sending life off at an angle to the dominant path.

I was just reading about how Oblates can adapt the notion of the vow of poverty and embrace a commitment to simplicity. This does not mean giving up the fruits of our culture's labors, but it does mean seeking a balance, a purpose, an intention for each of those fruits.

The gift of wisdom--Wisdom, really--is to turn each of those fruits, each of our thoughts, every one of our actions, to focus on God. This is the ultimate counter-culture.

Thanks, Sister Phyllis, for your thoughts.