Wisdom: The First and Highest Gift of the Holy Spirit

Not Just Knowledge but the Perfection of Faith

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According to Catholic doctrine, wisdom is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are enumerated in Isaiah 11:2–3. These gifts are present in their fullness in Jesus Christ, Whom Isaiah foretold (Isaiah 11:1). From the Catholic perspective, the faithful receive the seven gifts from God—who is within each of us. They express that inward grace by outward expressions of the sacraments. These gifts are intended to convey the essence of God the Father's plan for salvation, or, as the current Catechism of the Catholic Church (para. 1831) puts it, "They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them."

Perfecting One's Faith

Wisdom, Catholics believe, is more than knowledge. It is the perfection of faith, the extension of the state of belief into the state of understanding that belief. As Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., notes in his "Modern Catholic Dictionary,"

"Where faith is a simple knowledge of the articles of Christian belief, wisdom goes on to a certain divine penetration of the truths themselves."

The better that Catholics understand those truths, the more they are able to value them properly. When people detach from the world, wisdom, the Catholic Encyclopedia notes, "makes us relish and love only the things of heaven." Wisdom allows us to judge the things of the world in light of the highest end of man—the contemplation of God.

Because this wisdom leads to an intimate understanding of God’s Word and His commandments, which in turn leads to a holy and righteous life, it is the first and highest of the gifts given by the Holy Spirit.

Applying Wisdom to the World

Such detachment, however, is not the same as the renunciation of the world—far from it. Rather, as Catholics believe, wisdom allows us to love the world properly, as the creation of God, rather than for its own sake. The material world, though fallen as a result of the sin of Adam and Eve, is still worthy of our love; we simply need to see it in the proper light, and wisdom allows us to do so.

Knowing the proper ordering of the material and spiritual worlds through wisdom, Catholics can more easily bear the burdens of this life and respond to their fellow humans with charity and patience.

Wisdom in Scripture

Several passages in the Scriptures deal with this concept of holy wisdom. For instance, Psalm 111:10 states that a life lived in wisdom is the ultimate praise given to God:

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!” 

Furthermore, wisdom is not an end but an enduring expression in our hearts and minds, a way of living joyfully, according to James 3:17:

"The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” 

Finally, the highest wisdom is found in the cross of Christ, which is:

“Folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).