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From the September/October, 1998 issue of Touchstone


Practicing Wisdom by Thomas S. Buchanan

Practicing Wisdom

But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained thenselves to distinguish good from evil.
—Hebrews 5:14

“Wisdom, let us attend!” shouts the Orthodox priest at each service before the reading of Holy Scripture. This ancient call is a wonderful phrase because it implies that the mere reading of the Scriptures can impart not just knowledge, but wisdom to the one who listens attentively.

The practice (or constant use) of wisdom is at the core of our growing towards maturity. Sadly, imparting wisdom has little place in our nation’s current educational goals. This is because wisdom begins with the ability to discern good from evil, whereas our “value-neutral” educational system asserts that such things should not be “imposed” on pupils. For this reason, it is all the more important to impart wisdom in our homes and in our churches.

Solomon wrote, “Even if one is perfect among the sons of men, yet without the wisdom that comes from thee he shall be regarded as nothing” (Wisdom 9:6). In his Treatise Against Celsus, Origen quoted from Solomon and then continued:

We maintain indeed that human wisdom is an exercise for the soul, but that divine wisdom is the end, being also termed the “strong meat of the soul” by him who has said that “strong meat belongeth to them that are perfect, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” . . . Divine wisdom, accordingly, being different from faith, is the first charismata of God; and the second after it—in the estimation of those who know how to distinguish such things accurately—is what is called knowledge; and the third—seeing that even the more simple class of men who adhere to the service of God, so far as they can, must be saved—is faith. Therefore St. Paul says: “To one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:8–9)

We have to be trained to discern good from evil. Only then, we read in Hebrews, are we ready for solid food. In an upside-down culture where the tolerance of sin is considered a cardinal virtue, it is not hard to see why so few people have advanced beyond pabulum.

The way to teach people how to discern good from evil is to begin by saying such things as “this is good” and “no, that is evil.” This is a simple concept that most children learn at an early age: saying please and thank you is good, pulling the dog’s tail is bad, etc. And although we may do fine with young children, where questions of good and evil are often rather basic, with older children and adults in our communities, we are not faring as well.

If they haven’t fallen into heresy, most churches today sheepishly encourage “old-fashioned” notions of good and evil while the rest of society rather boldly proclaims different values. Is it any wonder our churches are in such bad shape? We need to be proud and forceful in teaching the foundations of holy wisdom. Of course, exhorting people to this type of maturity is not just an academic exercise, for holy wisdom must be acquired through practice, through constant use. We have an obligation to make sure that our children and our brothers and our sisters advance to solid food. Only then will we have churches full of mature Christian men and women.

Thomas S. Buchanan is a member of the Orthodox Church and lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania, with his wife and three children. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.

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