Wisdom and history

What is the relation between wisdom and history? No simple answer can be given, of course, to such a maddeningly simplistic question. The question is forced upon us, though, by the fact that the progress of history has brought about an eclipse of spiritual wisdom in our contemporary western world. Father Bede repeatedly drew a thick dividing line between, on the one hand, the ages in which the ‘universal wisdom’ or ‘perennial philosophy’ prevailed among the various peoples of the world and, on the other hand, the modern age which he saw beginning in the West with the Renaissance. Modern western civilization had, he felt, uniquely among the cultures of the world, abandoned the way of wisdom to embark upon a new way of scientific reason. He saw the domination of this critical scientific reason as destroying the unified threefold universe of antiquity – at once spirit, soul and matter – by reducing it to the one-dimensional world of materialism. Perhaps there is something in Christianity itself that has contributed to this strange phenomenon. The Christianity of the New Testament is both sapiential and historical, contemplative and dynamic. The dynamic historical quality diminished as the church set into fixed institutional forms, as theology adopted philosophical structures. Then, from about the thirteenth century, the Christian wisdom theology of the early centuries and of medieval monasticism gave way to a more purely rational – and still more unhistorical – mode of thought from which developed the scientific mentality which has come to dominate the modern West. And it is science, and the technology which it generated, that has largely driven the historical progress of the modern West.

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What is wisdom?

Wisdom is a way — the way we take to escape from folly — and folly is our ordinary way of life, the way of suffering. Thus wisdom is our Way Out.

Folly, however, is the way we know best, our everyday way, our erroneous pursuit of all that brings us grief and misery, conditions we’re inclined to find quite naturally. Our egotism takes us there, as does our anger, our unkindness, our lusts, our ignorance, and our ineptitude. All our vices lead to folly and hence suffering.

Wisdom, being rarely traveled, is a lofty way not easily traced or kept to, a way of blissful discipline. Bliss is the goal; discipline is the means to arrive there. The quest of the errant knight, the progress of the wayward pilgrim, the journey of the would-be hero-all these are allegories of our trek toward wisdom, toward a transcendent condition beyond our human achievement, yet not beyond our aspiration.

We are human. Error is our natural course, and Folly is our natural destination. Only by acting supernaturally, transcendentally, may we wing our way to Wisdom.

Obstacles to wisdom

As we mentioned in the earlier chapters, everyone has the opportunity to be wise and make use of the good things wisdom provides. To achieve this, he has to see the greatness of Allah and live his life in this world as His proper servant. One who comprehends this is following the most righteous path. Because the only guide that truly guides and shows the believer the right way is the Qur’an. Allah reveals all the things that block the mind and ways to overcome these in the Qur’an.

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