First Things has posted an address, “Wisdom, Christian Witness, and the Year of Faith”, given yesterday by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput at the National Shrine, Washington, D.C., as part of the National Shrine’s Year of Faith lecture series. It begins with a reflection on the 1800-year-old diary of a Roman emperor:
Marcus Aurelius held absolute power in a corrupt age. Yet despite that, he chose to seek what is true and right and lasting; and he disciplined his own life accordingly. In the context of his time, he was a just man and a moral ruler. He achieved that dignity of character by giving his heart first to the pursuit of wisdom, and only then to Rome. He had a brilliant mind, but he had no love of intellect purely for the sake of intellect. Rather, he had a special disgust for intelligence without moral purpose.
Abp. Chaput then goes on to make “three simple points:
Here’s my first point: The more secular we become, the less we care about the true, the right and the lasting. And here’s the reason: We don’t really believe they exist. Or we simply don’t care.
The word “philosophy” comes from the Greek words philia, which means love, and sophia, which means wisdom. In an earlier age, philosophy fed man’s nobility; it involved the love and pursuit of wisdom. Academic philosophy today is a shadow of its historic dignity in the Western tradition. It’s an ailing discipline because it has collapsed into either postmodern skepticism or materialistic scientism, and neither has any place for wisdom or love. The postmodern cynic rejects the search for higher, permanent truths about the human person as a kind of ideological power grab. And the materialist philosopher rejects the search because it demands going beyond what we can confirm in a laboratory.
As a result, our idea of “wisdom” has shriveled down to mean, at best, a kind of common sense based on experience; and at worst, a cheap and clever irony.
Real wisdom grows from the moral memory of a culture. The more we debunk and reinterpret the past according to some political or social scientific agenda, the less coherent our memory becomes, and the more irrelevant wisdom like the Bible seems. This results in a kind of rootlessness, a self-imposed amnesia, and it undermines our whole moral vocabulary. It also leads us to see and judge everything in terms of its utility, right here and right now. What’s useful and productive is judged good. What isn’t is judged bad.
Read the entire lecture at the First Things “On the Square” blog.