The Two Parts of Wisdom

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A Facebook comment led me to recall the words of a 16th century theologian most people today regard as an old fuddy-duddy. First the old fuddy-duddy:

Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other.

CalvinInstitutio

John Calvin (1504-1564) was no more a Calvinist than Jesus was a Christian. You can’t follow yourself. He didn’t. He sought wisdom. Many times his search led him to disconcerting conclusions, and actions that trouble me. But the quotation from the very first paragraph of the first page of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion is pure gold. It’s stayed with me as priceless. They could have come from Carl Jung!

Prodigal Son Rembrandt drawing

The return of the prodigal son – Rembrandt drawing

Recognition of the inseparable connection between the knowledge of self and the knowledge of God is as old as philosophy and theology themselves. Augustine of Hippo wrote about coming to the knowledge of God through the knowledge of himself. “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee,” wrote St. Augustine after leading an unsavory life like the one portrayed in Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son. Only by delving into the self that was deeper than his squandering was Augustine able to write his Confessions and The City of God. The search for knowledge of himself and for the knowledge of God were of one piece.

Anticipating the FBI’s expanded background check of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, I began to wonder what we’re seeing and how we’re seeing it in light of the two kinds of knowledge that give birth to “the true and solid Wisdom.” Then, almost by accident, I stumbled across a remarkable personal reflection on sexual abuse and sexuality on Facebook. I’d never heard of the writer until this morning. But I do know his mother, a ministerial colleague, who appears to have raised him to search for two parts of wisdom.

With the writer’s permission, we share here the LINK to the personal reflection on Facebook. It’s long, but well worth the read.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 1, 2018.