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Article Seven

Whether Fear is the Beginning of Wisdom

We proceed to the seventh article thus:

1. It seems that fear is not the beginning of wisdom. The beginning of a thing is a part of it. But fear is not a part of wisdom, since fear is in the appetitive power, whereas wisdom is in the intellectual power. Hence it seems that fear is not the beginning of wisdom.

2. Again, nothing is the beginning of itself. But it is said in Job 28:28: “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom.” Hence it seems that fear is not the beginning of wisdom.

3. Again, there is nothing prior to a beginning. But there is something prior to fear, since faith precedes fear. Hence it seems that fear is not the beginning of wisdom.

On the other hand: it is said in Ps. 111:10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

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I answer: there are two ways in which we may say that something is the beginning of wisdom. We may mean that it is the beginning of wisdom in regard to its essence, or that it is the beginning of it in regard to its effect. We may similarly say that the principles upon which an art proceeds are the beginning of an art in regard to its essence, or again, that the foundation is the beginning of the art of building, since a builder begins his work with the foundation.

Now although wisdom is the knowledge of divine things, as we shall affirm later, we think of the knowledge of God in a different way from the philosophers. For us, life is ordained to the enjoyment of God, and ordered thereto by means of a certain participation in the divine nature through grace. Hence we do not think of wisdom merely as the knowledge of God, as do the philosophers. We think of it as directive of human life, which is ordered not only by human reasons, but by divine reasons also, as Augustine explains in 12 De Trin. 14.

It is therefore the first principles of wisdom that are the beginning of it in regard to its essence, and these are the articles of faith. In this way, accordingly, faith is said to be the beginning of wisdom. But in regard to its effect, the beginning of wisdom is that wherein wisdom begins to operate. In this way, fear is the beginning of wisdom, although servile fear is the beginning of it in a different way from filial fear. Servile fear is like an external principle which disposes one to wisdom, in as much as one is prepared for the effect of wisdom by refraining from sin through fear of punishment. As it is said in Ecclesiasticus 1:21: “The fear of the Lord driveth out sin.” Chaste or filial fear, on the other hand, is the beginning of wisdom as the first effect of it. It pertains to wisdom to regulate human life according to divine reasons. Wisdom must therefore begin in this, that a man reverence God and submit himself to God. He will then be ruled by God in all things.

On the first point: this argument shows that fear is not the beginning of wisdom in regard to its essence.

On the second point: the fear of God is related to the whole of a human life which is ruled by God’s wisdom, as is its root to a tree. Hence it is said in Ecclesiasticus 1:20: “The root of wisdom is to fear the Lord; for the branches thereof are longlived.”

On the third point: as we have said above, faith is the beginning of wisdom in one way, and fear in another. Hence it is said in Ecclesiasticus 25:12: “The fear of God is the beginning of love; but the beginning of faith must be joined fast to it.”

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