1) I too am a mortal, the same as all the
and a descendant of the first one formed of
And in my mother’s womb I was molded into
COMMENTARY: The Book of Wisdom follows a
popular convention of the time for collections of advice, of pretending to be
from the viewpoint of Solomon: the archetype of all wise men. The writer intended no deceit by this, but
rather the humility of anonymity.
“First one” refers to
Adam. Throughout this work the author
avoids naming any names, using allusions instead. The message here is that everybody, whether
peasant or king, wise man or fool, begins in the same humble way.
a ten-month period—body and blood,
from the seed of a man, and the pleasure that
COMMENTARY: Ten because the Jewish
calendar goes by lunar months rather than the longer solar ones. “Seed”
represents the masculine contribution to birth, and “pleasure” (edna in Hebrew)
the feminine, as the word for sexual pleasure also meant menstruation, and thus
by implication womanhood. Although this
is a Hebrew word, the Alexandrians would still have the association passed on,
though they spoke mostly Greek.
I too, when born, inhaled the common air,
and fell upon the kindred earth;
wailing, I uttered that first sound common to
COMMENTARY: Women in Biblical times gave
birth squatting, and the baby fell to the ground—a much more natural position
which allows gravity to help. The
innovation of giving birth lying on one’s back came in the court of Louis the
XIVth. This king had his physician convince all of the women of court that this
was a healthier, less primitive way of doing it, so that Louis could watch the
birth process from a slit in a curtain.
It fascinated him. And since all
the high folk of the most fashionable court in the western world did thus (fashionable
because Louis set the social standard of ever-changing attire, so that his
nobles would have to borrow money from him to keep up and he could thus control
them) the notion soon spread everywhere.
It’s not healthy. Not only does it put
extra work on the woman, it compresses a major blood vessel to make birth even
harder. Yet to this day friends of mine
have had to fight hospital staff for the right to give birth upright.
swaddling clothes and with constant care I was nurtured.
COMMENTARY: Swaddling clothes basically
mummified a baby, often with salt in between the layers to help keep the baby
dry. But the humbling idea is the same—even
the most exalted of human beings began life needing frequent diaper changes.
no king has any different origin or birth;
COMMENTARY: Even Jesus Christ began His
incarnation this way. We emphasize the
sacrifice of His death, but we seldom contemplate the voluntary surrender to
the everyday indignities of mortal life.
is the entry into life for all,
and in one same way they leave it.
COMMENTARY: All mortals, by definition,
die, even Jesus when incarnate. He just
didn’t stay that way.
I prayed, and prudence was given me;
I pleaded and the spirit of Wisdom came to me.
COMMENTARY: St. Paul urged everyone to
pray for wisdom. Many approve of this,
but few actually do it. They might pray
for guidance for a special situation, but praying for wisdom in general can
have a frighteningly powerful effect, and a deep bereavement for the loss of
comfortable old prejudices, pleasurable hatreds and resentments, and especially
the loss of a self-satisfying sense of superiority. Wisdom demands room only for herself, and
will crush or drive out anything in her way.
That’s the dark side that people don’t talk about, and the reason most
who start on the path of wisdom don’t want to continue very far.
Is it still worth praying for?
Absolutely! You will get more
than double the value of anything you lose.
But nothing comes without a price.
preferred her to scepter and throne,
And deemed riches nothing in comparison with
COMMENTARY: Many start out wanting
wisdom in order to feel superior, but the whole concept of superiority is the first
thing to fall, which therefore becomes the first barrier to frighten people
away. You see your own shortcomings more
clearly than you ever wanted to, and understand the reasons behind the
shortcomings of those you previously looked down on. You learn that much of what people admire
comes at least as much from luck or privilege (the examples given above being
inheritable) as from effort while the less-admired often exert still more
effort with little result. So you have
to love wisdom more than feeling lordly over others.
did I liken any priceless gem to her;
Because all gold, in view of her, is a bit of
and before her, silver is to be accounted
COMMENTARY: These precious materials
largely have value only when wisdom transforms them. They’re beautiful, but with wisdom you can
make beauty from sand (glass) and mire (clay) as readily as rare minerals. Nuggets of gold and silver are nice, but it
takes wisdom to shape them into lovely jewelry.
Gemstones are just colored rocks until wisdom teaches us how to polish
health and beauty I loved her,
And I chose to have her rather than the light,
because her radiance never ceases.
COMMENTARY: Health and beauty fade over
time, and without wisdom they fade much, much faster. Light we explore a bit more later.
all good things together came to me with her,
and countless riches at her hands;
COMMENTARY: When you let go of your unwise
expectations of what the good life means, you get the real thing. Wisdom shows you the best ways to get
authentic authority and well-earned esteem instead of posturing and fickle
fame, genuine prosperity instead of status symbols, the artistry that comes
from effort and patient learning, the radiant beauty that can shine from a face
of any configuration, and the health that comes from prudent habits. Not that you won’t suffer unavoidable setbacks
like anyone else, but at least you won’t be utterly helpless before them.
rejoiced in them all, because Wisdom is their leader,
though I had not known that she is their
COMMENTARY: To seek out good things with
an exploitive, selfish heart drives them far away, or else burdens one with
fakeries. But to love the mother of good
things with an earnest heart, draws them to you as courting a beautiful widow
draws to you her children.
The Catholic theologians commenting on this verse take care to point out that
Wisdom comes from God; therefore all that comes from Wisdom comes from
God. Since the Jews of this chastened
time were extra careful to avoid anything smacking of Paganism, after the hard
experiences that they’d had under various conquerors, one can conclude that if
it is not automatically Pagan to call Wisdom the Mother of good things, it is
similarly not automatically Pagan to love Mother Earth. One can know her as God’s creation, and still
love her as a matriarch.
I learned about her, and ungrudgingly do I share—
her riches I do not hide away;
she is an unfailing treasure;
those who gain this treasure win the
friendship of God,
being commended by the gifts that come from
COMMENTARY: One has no need to jealously
guard the gifts of wisdom as though one had a limited supply, because Wisdom
comes from God, who is infinite, and therefore won’t run out. Furthermore, this creates an feedback loop—the
more one seeks wisdom, the more one behaves in a way pleasing to God, the more
God rewards this with still more wisdom.
God grant I speak suitably
and value these endowments at their worth:
For he is the guide of Wisdom
and the director of the wise.
COMMENTARY: This is, essentially, a
prayer to the Holy Spirit.
both we and our words are in his hand,
as well as all prudence and knowledge of
COMMENTARY: One would think of words and
crafts as human inventions. Yet creativity
itself is a gift from the Creator, and humanity’s most distinguishing characteristic. Even among the bones of hominids predating
Homo Sapiens, paleontologists have found bone flutes, shell beads, and crayons
of ochre-clay. As JRR Tolkien said, we
are made in the image of a Maker.
For he gave me sound knowledge of what exists,
that I might know the structure of the
universe and the force of its elements,
COMMENTARY: God also blesses the
sciences, and Wisdom is mother to them, too.
Wisdom brings more than theology.
beginning and the end and the midpoint of times,
the changes in the sun’s course and the
variations of the seasons,
of years, positions of stars,
COMMENTARY: The understanding of time
itself was the most important technology of the ancient world, enabling farmers
to know when to plant, herders to know where to lead their animals, merchants
to know when it was safe to sail, and healers to know when to brace for
seasonal epidemics. Wives charted their
fertility by the moon, generals planned their campaigns, and priests kept their
rituals, all by this earliest of sciences, chronology.
of living things, tempers of beasts,
Powers of the winds and thoughts of human
uses of plants and virtues of roots—
COMMENTARY: Here we have biology,
zoology, meteorology, psychology, botany and medicine, all blessed by God.
is hidden or plain I learned,
COMMENTARY: This can’t mean knowing
everything in the universe, which is infinite and impossible for a single
mortal to encompass, but more likely whatever one needs to know, hidden or
Wisdom, the artisan of all, taught me.j
For in her is a spirit
intelligent, holy, unique,
Manifold, subtle, agile,
clear, unstained, certain,
Never harmful, loving the good, keen,
COMMENTARY: Let’s look at these
attributes one by one, here and in the next verse. I’ll try to compare true wisdom with false,
using each of these attributes as a test.
INTELLIGENCE: Intelligence shifts a lot more than
originally thought, back in the day when people believed that an IQ test
defined one’s capacity for thought for all time. I’ve known people certified as geniuses at an
early age, who lost it all, and people taken as sub-intelligent who developed
everything they had and achieved results that astonished those who had
intelligence on false information, chosen by whether it supports the premises
and prejudices of the pseudo-wise rather than accuracy. The fraud would rather be “right” than
truthful. Intelligence misdirected in
this way becomes worthless. Brilliant
chains of logic based on sought-out misinformation might as well be made of
tissue-paper, however carefully constructed.
The wise desire
truth. They nourish their minds on
careful research and exercise it on unflinchingly honest reasoning. They have the courage to face challenges to
their favorite prejudices and assumptions.
HOLY: There’s a pseudo-wisdom, often called “worldly-wise”,
that tries to dispense with holiness as something not immediately practical in
terms of supplying material necessities and luxuries. Holiness might even get in the way of
advancing oneself by unscrupulous means.
This attitude doesn't foresee the emptiness that this leads to, the
moment when one looks at all of one’s acquisitions and asks, “Is that all there
The wise know the importance of holiness in their lives, to believe in
something beyond oneself, and to desire a life continually refreshed by living it
in the holy context which this provides.
They realize that without this mere survival and self-indulgence is a
meaningless scrabble after what one will eventually lose anyway. Life passes too swiftly to live without purpose
and awe. And who better to teach that
purpose and inspire that awe, than God?
UNIQUE: Some think themselves wise because they can
spout the wisdom of others. They will
even attack anyone who has an original thought as not appreciating the
teachings of their forebears.
Yet true appreciation not
only learns the words, but the reasoning behind them. Anyone can memorize what others have said,
but one grows when one strives to think about why they said these things, and
what one can extrapolate from this, even to the point, if called for, of
questioning the original premise. True
wisdom thinks for herself.
too satisfied with their own opinions to seek wisdom will say, “It’s true
because that’s just the way it is,” or “It’s true because everybody knows that”. Such people don’t bother to reason out the “why”
of things, which leaves them vulnerable to gullibility.
Wisdom always sees or
seeks the reasons for everything. She wants
a clear, logical trail pointing to a conclusion. Her lessons are manifold not because
everybody says so, but because she has put in the discipline to examine the
facts and test her conclusions.
SUBTLE: False wisdom tries to oversimplify
everything, often exaggerating or suppressing facts to fit. Ever see one of those black and white
underground comix that distorts everything to grotesqueness? The unsubtle take on reality ultimately winds
up as just such a parody.
Wisdom doesn’t see the
world as black and white, but discerns the grays and the spectrum. Having a fuller picture, she navigates the
world more surely.
AGILE: False wisdom becomes rigid over time,
clinging to one’s opinions or the established line against all evidence and
alterations of circumstances, like the Victorians in the tropics who dutifully
donned their winter woolens on schedule with an English calendar, and nearly
died of the heat. In a sense, this
amounts to idolatry, investing blind faith in one’s own opinion and how one has
always done things.
True wisdom has the
ability to change her opinion as new information comes in or as circumstances
alter. She’s not afraid to admit that
she was wrong or that her former opinion no longer applies, because she loves
truth first and foremost. She knows that one can only advance by examining
mistakes, not by shying away from acknowledging them. She notices the flow of reality, that nothing
ever stays the same except for God; even the mountains shift with time.
CLEAR: Fraudulence masquerading as wisdom loves to
muddy the waters of understanding as much as possible, so as to appear to know
things that others cannot possibly comprehend.
More to the point, the fraud fears that if he speaks too clearly people
will see that he doesn’t actually know what he’s talking about.
Wisdom loves clarity. Without oversimplifying, Wisdom loves to
break things down so that others can follow her train of thought. She makes it seem easy.
UNSTAINED: In order to get ahead, the pseudo-wise will
alter their judgments by appeasing the wicked, persecuting the unpopular,
accepting bribes, and cowering from threats, till they have so little truth
left that it becomes a worthless rag.
True wisdom despises corruption and will not deal in it. Wisdom strives to judge fairly, regardless of
who this offends or favors, and regardless of the personal outcome. Wisdom has integrity.
CERTAIN: While the falsely wise will
claim certainty loudly, they build everything on shaky ground, because they
test nothing, and so they’re often wrong.
Yet the wise can be certain, because they have given each opinion
considerable thought, built it on accurate information, and tested it
NEVER HARMFUL, LOVING THE GOOD: To the
unwise, the end justifies the means.
They don’t care who they hurt so long as they get where they think they
ought to go. They convince themselves
that it will all work out in the long run.
The truly wise know that inflicting harm on the innocent “for the greater good”
brings nothing good at all, building as it does on a foundation of callousness
and injustice. Structures are only as
strong as their foundations.
KEEN: False wisdom often has a dry,
stuffy quality about it, like some desiccated zombie shuffling around, unaware
of having died. True wisdom has a keen
interest in everything, making her vividly alive.
Firm, secure, tranquil,
And pervading all spirits,
though they be intelligent, pure and very
COMMENTARY: And the list goes on!
UNHAMPERED: Those leading
lives of folly create one entanglement after another. They’re their own worst enemies. Not only do they make their own lives (and
often the lives of those associated with them) harder than necessary, the more
they try to cover up their errors, the more errors they make.
Wisdom cuts through entanglements. They admit when they’re wrong, stand up for what’s
right, and get on with their lives. They
see a clear way through life’s difficulties because they won’t let tortuous
knots of rationalizations get in the way of figuring out what’s actually going
on and what part they themselves play in this.
False wisdom thinks it practical to think only of one’s own benefit, but
in fact this leads to ruin. They can
only stay on top so long, and when they stumble nobody feels like catching
them. When they have needs others ask, “Where
were you when I needed you?”
True wisdom delights in benefiting others.
It gives her a deep pleasure enjoyable for its own sake. And when she stumbles many hands reach to
catch her before she falls. When she has
needs people rush to her aid. For they remember that she was there for them
when they needed her.
KINDLY: Fools think that cruelty shows
off their power over others, that this makes them great and influential. Yet bullies always come to a bad end. Nobody stays cowed forever; the bully must
kick them down again and again, and then do so to the allies of their victims,
and make the punishments harsher and harsher as their opponents grow in courage
and wrath. Each time the victims become
stronger and more numerous and the bully becomes weaker, wearier, and with
fewer and fewer allies, till he just can’t do it anymore. The enemies that he made for himself will
ultimately overwhelm him and rejoice in his destruction.
The wise extend kindness liberally wherever they can reasonably do so, for no
other reason than the fact that they can.
But without angling for advantage, everyone wants to freely give to
them, and defend their rights. Who wants
to cut down a flowering tree? The wise
never lack for allies and advocates.
FIRM: This might seem the opposite of
agile, but it in fact provides a natural complement and consequence to mental
agility. The difference between firmness
and rigidness is the degree of truth.
One becomes rigid from fearing to look at any truth that might reveal
exceptions to what one thinks one knows; one becomes firm by testing everything
fearlessly until one can confidently rely on whatever has survived the test.
Rigidity becomes brittle, expending all of its
energy to shoring up its image, as everything behind the facade secretly erodes
till the whole structure falls down. But
those grounded solidly in a love of facts can hold up under pressure.
Security grows naturally from the firmness of wisdom. Once you discern what you can rely on, you
can chart a course for your life that can brace you against the buffeting of
chance. While it doesn’t bring perfect
safety from all harm, it vastly reduces or mitigates harm, while increasing the
odds of prosperity. False wisdom, on the
other hand, always has to try and protect itself, having many fears and many
enemies to its clandestine agendas, and many different ways of
The pseudo-wise never know tranquility.
Every scheme that they thought so clever leads to complications which leads
to complications, and the more they try to fix these things with further
dishonesty the more tangled their situation becomes, till their entire life is
booby-trapped and they must take every step in a sweat of anxiety, wondering
what long-awaiting consequence they’re going to trip off next.
The wise, in contrast, can afford tranquility
because of the security that wise courses bring. By avoiding dishonesty and trickery, they
needn’t worry about anything catching up with them or dreadful secrets coming
to light. Additionally, they have
provided for all known contingencies and know how to adapt to unforeseeable
events as well.
Wisdom is all-powerful, rather than wise human-beings. Wisdom is an attribute of God and the method
by which God guides His power. And so
she can be said, in a sense, to be
his power. False-wisdom seeks power
through dishonest means, but true wisdom always surpasses and overpowers it.
ALL-SEEING: God sees all things, and this capacity to
observe the entire universe continually feeds His wisdom. Those who pursue fake wisdom, on the other
hand, think that they know more than they do, and make calculations with no
awareness of what data they’ve left out, leaving them frequently blindsided by
disaster. The truly wise know that God
knows more than they do, and pray for divine guidance to fill in for whatever
they might have missed.
“And pervading all spirits,
though they be intelligent, pure and very
The final part of this verse reflects Jewish thinking of the time that all
spirits emanate from God inseparably; the notion that angels could fall doesn’t
come up until the Books of Enoch, which are neither in the Protestant nor the
Catholic Bible, though they are in the Orthodox ones, because the Jews rejected
them—precisely on the grounds that these books said that angels could fall,
which to the Jew is heresy.
In any case, what this phrase says is that
even the most intelligent, pure and subtle angel or other spirit cannot stand
alone but must turn to God. And all of
us, everyone and every thing in which God has breathed spirit, has a spark of
something not-us, something pervading us directly from God, a guiding wisdom if
only we would listen to it.
Wisdom is mobile beyond all motion,
and she penetrates and pervades all things by
reason of her purity.
COMMENTARY: Wisdom is not some dead,
static object, but a living, moving force that flows from a living, moving God,
adapting to every circumstance, fitting every situation. Wisdom soaks in like pure, unclogged
water. One can always learn something new
about anything and in all circumstances.
For she is a breath of the might of God
and a pure emanation of the glory of the
therefore nothing defiled can enter into her.
COMMENTARY: The writer personifies but
does not deify Wisdom. Wisdom comes
purely from God and therefore can no more be defiled than God can be.
she is the reflection of eternal light,
the spotless mirror of the power of God,
the image of his goodness.
COMMENTARY: It stands to reason that if
God created all of reality, then knowledge and understanding of reality would
naturally reflect God and His goodness.
The modern view that science and scholarship are suspect, competition
with God and threats to religion, shows a colossal lack of faith.
she is one, she can do all things,
and she renews everything while herself
Passing into holy souls from age to age,
she produces friends of God and prophets.
COMMENTARY: All different kinds of
wisdom have one common root and that is the integration of all things into and
from the will of God. And since the will
of God, is immortal, so to is the quality of Wisdom. All who welcome true wisdom are, knowingly or
unknowingly, friends of God.
For God loves nothing so much as the one who
dwells with Wisdom.
COMMENTARY: Love is the root of all
virtue, Integrity is the matrix in which that root grows, but Wisdom cultivates
she is fairer than the sun
and surpasses every constellation of the
Compared to light, she is found more radiant;
COMMENTARY: Most cultures consider light
a symbol of wisdom, and call those who have it “enlightened”, because light
reveals whatever night has obscured.
night supplants light,
wickedness does not prevail over Wisdom.
Nevertheless, wisdom surpasses ordinary light, in that night doesn’t
fall on it. Once you know something, you
can’t unknow it. Granted, brain damage
can occur and your brain can forget things, but wisdom that reaches the soul
surpasses the knowledge that our brains encode.