The last—and greatest—of the sanctifying gifts is Wisdom. Wisdom can mean different things to different people. The Greeks often thought of wisdom in speculative and abstract terms. They loved logic puzzles and riddles like “Can you step in the same river twice?” or “Can God make a rock so big that He can’t lift it?”
For Old Testament Jews, “wisdom” is typically associated, not with the abstraction or remote speculation the Greeks loved, but with “practical wisdom”. Truth and wisdom is, for the Old Testament sage, that which holds water, that which is solid and reliable and not tricksy or delusional. The wise man both trusts God and keeps his powder dry. That’s why the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament, such as Proverbs, is chockablock both with spiritual counsel to remember that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but also with sensible advice on how to manage your money, conduct your business, and raise your kids. The Old Testament sage knows that God governs the universe—and that he himself is responsible to keep the bank book balanced and to treat his neighbor fair and square.
Yet for all these differences in outlook between Greeks and Jews, the curious thing about Wisdom is that it is, for both Jew and Greek, typically portrayed in feminine terms. A king or sage may have wisdom, but Wisdom herself is usually imaged as a woman. So, for instance, the Greek word for Wisdom is “Sophia’ and one who seeks wisdom is a “philosopher” or “friend of wisdom”.
Likewise, in the Jewish tradition, Wisdom is usually imaged as a woman.
Does not wisdom call?
Does not understanding raise her voice? (Proverbs 8:1)
Indeed, in the Jewish tradition—a tradition, mind you, of strict monotheism—Wisdom is even portrayed as a sort of quasi-divine figure, working at the side of God Almighty to craft the whole of creation:
When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master workman;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the sons of men. (Proverbs 8:27-31)
This connection of the feminine with the Wisdom of God comes to full fruition in the Catholic tradition in Mary, whom Catholic tradition honors with the title “Seat of Wisdom.” It is a curious title, but apt. Mary is the throne, but a throne only matters if there is a King to sit upon it. In contrast, Christ is not called the seat of wisdom by St. Paul. He’s called the “wisdom of God.” Through Mary’s “Yes” to God, the God of heaven and earth Himself came and dwelt among us who had no eyes to see Him. For the highest wisdom we could attain in the natural order was still not enough to save us from the blindness of sin without the help of grace. That is why Paul tells us:
For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:22-24)
The supernatural wisdom we receive from the Holy Spirit—the wisdom Mary received into her very womb—is Christ, the power and wisdom, not of man, but of God. The wisest man in the Old Testament, Solomon, was admired by everyone of his time, yet he ended as a fool who forgot God, worshiped idols and impoverished his people. We thought Jesus a fool and a scandal and put Him to death. But He was revealed as Wisdom itself and has poured Himself out on us ever since. May God give the whole world the wisdom He enthroned in the womb and heart of Mary.