Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge, Prudence, Intelligence and Spirituality.
Wisdom is Insight. The ability to see into the underlying nature of a thing and to discern it’s true essence. To see something for what it really is. To look past appearance into substance. To read between the lines. To know the truth of a matter.
Intelligence is how well one thinks, which is dependent on how much one knows. The more wisdom, understanding and knowledge you have, the more intelligent you are. True Intelligence is not just academic, factual, worldly or social intelligence alone. True intelligence is encompassing of all intelligences.
Understanding is knowing the meaning or reason of a thing. It is about knowing why something is, and how it is so.
Prudence is foresight. The ability to see into the future of thing and to know the possible outcomes and its effect. It enables you to make decisions ahead of time that will lead things in the direction you want them to go.
Knowledge is the substance that wisdom, intelligence, understanding and prudence operate with. It isn’t just the amount you know. How a specific knowledge works with everything else you know determines whether it strengthens or weakens your wisdom, understanding and prudence.
All wisdom, understanding, knowledge and prudence increases your ability to know what is going on.
The more you can stay aware of how your mind creates your reality and environment, the more CONSCIOUS and AWARE you can become. Which will in turn lets you take back control over yourself and every area of your life.
Spirituality is about beingness. It is about the essence of who you are within. When you operate from a position of beingness, you are not playing by anyone’s rules or reasons but your own. You are real and authentic.
Wisdom and Understanding
Pr 4:7 Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.
Pr 14:6 A scorner seeketh wisdom, and findeth it not: but knowledge is easy unto him that understandeth.
Pr 14:8 The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way: but the folly of fools is deceit.
Pr 14:33 Wisdom resteth in the heart of him that hath understanding: but that which is in the midst of fools is made known.
Pr 17:24 Wisdom is before him that hath understanding; but the eyes of a fool are in the ends of the earth.
Pr 19:8 He that getteth wisdom loveth his own soul: he that keepeth understanding shall find good.
Pr 12:8 A man shall be commended according to his wisdom: but he that is of a perverse heart shall be despised.
Pr 15:14 The heart of him that hath understanding seeketh knowledge: but the mouth of fools feedeth on foolishness.
Proverbs 18:15 The heart of the prudent getteth knowledge; and the ear of the wise seeketh knowledge.
Proverbs 24:5 A wise man is strong; yea, a man of knowledge increaseth strength.
Isa 5:13 My people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge.
Ho 4:6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee.
Isa 33:6 Wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times, and strength of salvation.
Ro 15:14 And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.
Ecclesiastes 8:1 A man’s wisdom maketh his face to shine, and the boldness of his face shall be changed.
Pr 21:22 A wise man scaleth the city of the mighty, and casteth down the strength of the confidence thereof.
Ecclesiastes 8:5 A wise man’s heart discerneth both time and judgment.
Ecclesiastes 10:2 A wise man’s heart is at his right hand; but a fool’s heart at his left.
1Co 2:15 But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.
Col 1:9 For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;
God made animals for us to learn from them, and not for them to learn from us.
24 There be four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise:
25 The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer;
26 The conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks;
27 The locusts have no king, yet go they forth all of them by bands;
28 The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings’ palaces.
All verses are taken from the Kings James Version Bible.
The lips of wisdom are closed, except to the ears of understanding – The Kybalion
The lips of the wise disperse knowledge: but the heart of the foolish doeth not so. – The Bible
Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who embrace her; those who lay hold of her will be blessed. By wisdom the LORD laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place; by his knowledge the deeps were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew.
If a man’s credibility is to be judged, it should be according to the wisdom of his words and not by any institutionalized qualifications.
Pr 12:8 A man shall be commended according to his wisdom.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
In our first post on thinking biblically about faith, work, and economics, we suggested five tools, or mental models, that should shape and support our thinking and decision-making, as well as help us build a holistic biblical worldview. By using these tools, we can take biblical principles and apply them to various situations that we encounter in our daily lives.
We have looked at the first two, “personal vision” and “gifts and talents,” now we want to turn to the third tool, “wisdom and knowledge.”
At first glance, it seems that the authors of the Bible use the words “wisdom,” “knowledge,” and a third term, “understanding,” almost interchangeably. A closer examination shows a difference in the way the three terms are used. This difference is very important for our understanding of this third mental model of “wisdom and knowledge.”
Simply put, these gifts as they are called in the Bible are defined as:
• Knowledge – the facts (Proverbs 9:10, Proverbs 18:15, Colossians 2:8, 1 Timothy 2:4).
• Understanding – ability to translate meaning from the facts (Psalm 119:130, Proverbs 3:5-7, 18:2, Philippians 1:9-10).
• Wisdom – knowing what to do next, given an understanding of the facts and circumstances (Ecclesiastes 8:1, James 3:17).
Those with knowledge are able to collect, remember, and access information. But, it is possible to have knowledge and lack understanding and wisdom. Someone might have the facts, but not know what they mean or what to do next.
Those with understanding are able to extract the meaning out of information. They “see through” the facts to the dynamics of what, how, and why. Understanding is a lens which brings the facts into crisp focus and produces principles.
Those with wisdom know which principle to apply in a given context. Understanding without wisdom can appear contradictory (Proverbs 26:4-5). For example, the statement, “He who hesitates is lost,” is true, but so is the idea that “haste makes waste.” Which principle to use depends on the context. Those with wisdom know what actions to take next. They do the right thing in the given situation. In contrast, there are many who have great knowledge and understanding but who consistently do the wrong thing.
Charles Spurgeon once wrote,
Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it. There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom.
The following table may help you visualize the difference between these three terms:
What to Do Next
In any given situation, God rarely gives all three gifts to any one person. We need to cooperate and assist each other with our particular gift in order to accomplish what God has called us to do, especially in our vocational work.
This is what economists call the “knowledge problem.” No one person or group can have absolute knowledge or know all the facts, though we are all supposed to work towards developing and acquiring knowledge, wisdom, and understanding in our lives. God is the only one who does not have a knowledge problem.
We will return to the interplay between these three terms— “knowledge,” “understanding,” and “wisdom”—in a later post. But first let’s look closer at this idea of knowledge.
The New Testament word “disciple” literally means “a learner.” Christians are called to a careful study of the Bible. This will help us acquire the knowledge that we need in order to do what God has call us to do. Jesus said,
If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free (John 8:31–32).
R.C. Sproul writes in one daily devotional that,
Our Lord calls for a continued application of the mind to His Word. A disciple does not dabble in learning. He makes the pursuit of an understanding of God’s Word a chief business of his life.
It is clear that Christians are to study God’s word to learn his revealed knowledge (wisdom and understanding can also be learned from Scripture, too). But are there other places to seek knowledge as well? I will answer that question in my next post.
Before I go into the next set of Scripture verses – there is one more thing that I need to point out to you. In many of these verses, you will see three key words that are constantly being repeated over and over again. These three key words are:
God will first start off by conveying Hisknowledgeto you about something specific. However, knowledge by itself will not get the job done. The next key word is“understanding.”
Understanding means that you understand the knowledge that is being given to you. If you do not understand the knowledge that has been given to you, then you will not be able to use it or apply it in a real life situation.
The third key word is“wisdom.”Once you understand the knowledge that has been given to you, then there is now one more step you will need to have in order to be able to properly use that knowledge – and that step is having the actual wisdom to be able to use that knowledge in a real life situation.
Many college graduates understand the knowledge they have learned through many of their college courses – but they lack the wisdom to be able to apply that knowledge in the real world. You have all heard the term that someone may be “book-smart” – but lack the common sense and wisdom to be able to use this knowledge in the real working world.
Here is an example. Say someone just gave you a perfect manual on how to rebuild a car engine. All of the knowledge that you will need on how to rebuild a car engine is all contained in this one book.
However, the next step is that you have to be able to understand the knowledge that is contained in this book. If none of it makes any sense to you, then all of the perfect knowledge contained in this book will be of no real use to you.
However, if you do have the ability to understand all of the knowledge contained in this book – then the next and final step is to be able to have the wisdom to be able to actually rebuild a car engine in a real life situation. All of that knowledge and all of the understanding of that knowledge will be of no use to you if you do not have the actual wisdom to be able to use it to actually rebuild a car engine.
This is where the Holy Spirit will be coming in big time! The Holy Spirit will help you in being able to understand the knowledge that God may be trying to give you on something.
The Holy Spirit will help illuminate your mind so you can fully understand what is being given to you. The Holy Spirit will also help you with the last and final step – which is being able to have the wisdom to use or apply that knowledge to a real life working situation.
Example – say God is calling you to be a great heart surgeon:
- First, God will arrange to make sure that you are given all of the working knowledge that you will need to become a great heart surgeon.
- Second, God will then make sure that you have the ability to fully understand all of the knowledge that He will give to you on how to be a great heart surgeon.
- Third, God will then complete His work with you in making sure that you have the actual wisdom to be able to apply that knowledge so that you can then do real live heart surgeries in real life situations.
The above three step process can be done by God with each and everyone of you on a wide variety of matters and issues in your life. It is just a matter of you being willing to seek after whatever it is God wants you to seek after. Knowledge, understanding, and wisdom direct from God on a wide variety of matters and issues in your life is available to all of His children if they would only be willing to spend the time to seek after it!
This is part 6 of our 19 part series on Seeking After The Knowledge of God.
1. Growing in the Knowledge of God
2. The Fear of the Lord is the Beginning of Receiving Knowledge and Wisdom
3. God’s People Are Destroyed For Lack of Knowledge
4. Knowledge and Wisdom Are Better Than All the Material Things of This World
6. All Knowledge and Wisdom Comes Direct From God
7. The Holy Spirit is our Helper, Teacher, and Guide
8. Seeking After the Knowledge of God
9. Knowledge and Wisdom Will Help Keep You Safe
10. In the Multitude of Counselors There is Safety
11. Use the Knowledge That God Will Give You
12. Walk With Other Wise Men
13. A Wise Man Will Not Show Partiality in Judgment
14. Stay Humble When God Does Start to Release His Knowledge to You
15. Knowledge Will Increase Sorrow and Grief
16. The Wisdom of This World is Foolishness With God
17. Do Not Ever Cease Listening to Instruction
18. The Story of King Solomon
As you may recall, there are seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge, Counsel, Piety, Fortitude and Fear of the Lord. Most Catholics cannot define them well in any sort of articulate way. This is due to poor catechesis but also to the fact that modern English has tended to use several of these terms interchangeably, almost as synonyms, though they are distinct theologically. There are also secular usages of these terms that have no correspondence to how we mean them theologically. To indicate intellectual understanding of something, a person in modern English may say, “I know” or they may say “I understand.” To most modern Anglophones this is a distinction without a difference. To speak of someone as being of great intelligence, a contemporary English speaker might say, “He has great understanding” or “He is a wise man” or yet again, “He is possessed of great knowledge.” Here too most would not think of these as dramatically different sentences. There are shades of meaning in calling a man wise versus smart or knowledgeable but most modern speakers are losing what those shades of difference actually are.
For all these reasons (poor catechesis, secular misuse and evolving language) Catholics have a hard time distinguishing between Knowledge, Wisdom and Understanding. Let’s try to repair some of the damage.
First, some distinctions:
- We are discussing here the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. As such they are given to the baptized and strengthened in confirmed. They exist only in the Christian per se. A man may be said to be knowledgeable in the repair of a car or in the stock market, but we are not referring to the Gift of Knowledge given by the Holy Spirit in this case, only to worldly knowledge. A woman may be said to be wise in the ways of the world. But again, we are not referring to the Gift of Wisdom given by the Holy Spirit when we speak in this way. A man may be said to understand Spanish, but we are not speaking of the Gift of Understanding given by the Holy Spirit when we speak in this way. Hence, there are worldly counterparts to these words which do not conform to the theological meaning of these realities.
- The Gifts of the Holy Spirit are supernaturaland thus they transcend the ordinary powers of the soul or the human person in general. They are infused by God and no soul could ever acquire them on its own. In these senses they are different from the virtues which can be acquired naturally and can be moved or actuated by man himself. In the caseof the Gifts, God is the unique mover and cause. Man is only the instrumental cause. Thus the acts which proceed from the gifts are materially human but formally divine just as the melody an artist plays on the harp is materially from the harp but formally from the musician who plays it. That the soul reacts or responds preserves freedom and merit but the soul merely seconds the divine action and can not take the initiative.
- Wisdom and knowledge are distinguished according to their objects. Wisdom pertains to God and the things of God. Knowledge pertains to created things and how they relate to our final end.
- Understanding too, meant here as the Gift of Understanding has a rather specific focus: It penetrates revealed truth to grasp its fullest meaning. Hence one may understand Spanish, but we are not referring to the Gift of Understanding in speaking this way. To grasp the purpose, meaning and implications of the redemption wrought by Jesus Christ would be a more proper usage of this word in terms of the Gift of Understanding.
OK, How about some Definitions. Incidentally, these definitions are gleaned from the Summa and also substantially from Fr. Antonio Royo Marin O.P. in his Book, The Great Unknown, The Holy Ghost and His Gifts
- The Gift of Knowledge is a supernatural habit infused by God through which the human intellect, under the illuminating action of the Holy Spirit, judges rightly concerning created things as ordained to the supernatural end. Notice that it is a habit. That is, it does not come and go. But like all habits, it can and does grow in depth and breadth. Grace builds on nature, and as one matures and gains experience the Gift can and does make use of these human qualities. Because the gift is supernatural it is not a matter of human or philosophical knowledge deduced by natural reason. In other words you don’t go to school to get this gift. However, it is not unrelated to human development which school can provide. But this is not its origin. There are plenty of learned and humanly smart people who do not manifest the Gift of Knowledge. This can be due to a lack of faith or to resistance caused by weak faith and sin. By the Gift of Knowledge the human intellect apprehends and judges created things by a certain divine instinct. The individual does not proceed by laborious reasoning but judges rightly concerning all created things by a kind of superior gift that gives an intuitive impulse. I have underlined “created things” because this essentially distinguishes knowledge from wisdom (which pertains to Divine, rather than created things). Notice that the Gift is especially oriented to created things insofar as they pertain to our ultimate end. Now created things tend either toward our supernatural end or away from it and the Gift of Knowledge helps us to judge rightly in this respect. Looked at another way, the Gift of Knowledge helps us to apply the teachings of our faith to the living of daily life, the proper usage of material creation, knowing the proper utility and value of things as well as their dangers and misuses. By it we are able to determine well what conforms to faith and what does not. We are able to make use of creation in a proper way with necessary detachment and proper appreciation for what is truly good.
- The Gift of Wisdom is a supernatural habit, inseparable from charity, by which we judge rightly concerning God and divine things under the special instinct of the Holy Spirit who makes us taste these things by a certain intuition and sympathy. In other words The truths of God begin to resonate with us and we begin to instinctively love what God loves, will what God wills. What he is and wills makes great sense to us. His teachings clarify and make sense. We see things increasingly from God’s point of view through this supernatural gift. The thinking of the world increasingly seems as folly and appreciation of God’s Wisdom magnifies. More and more thorough this gift the human person desires to be in union only with God and His ways. By this gift the world is defeated and its folly clearly perceived. Our love of neighbor is also perfected by it since the Gift of Wisdom helps us to see and thus love others more and more as God sees and loves them. Since this is a gift, it cannot be learned or acquired. But, as with the Gift of Knowledge, one’s study of Scripture and Tradition can help dispose one for the growth of the Gift which can and does make use of what is humanly supplied. Grace builds on nature.
- The Gift of Understanding is a supernatural habit, infused by God with sanctifying Grace, by which the human intellect, under the illuminating action of the Holy Spirit, is made apt for a penetrating intuition of revealed truths, and even of natural truths so far as they are related to the supernatural end. It enables the believer to penetrate into the depths of revealed truth and deduce later by discursive thinking the conclusions implicit conclusions contained in these truths. It discloses the hidden meaning of Sacred Scripture. It reveals to us the spiritual realities that are under sensible realities and so that the smallest religious ceremonies carry tremendous significance. It makes us see causes through their effects simply and intuitively. This gives a profound appreciation for God’s providence.
This song says, “Take My Life and Let it Be Consecrated Lord to Thee.” It goes on to consecrate the whole person to Christ, including the intellect and will. As such it is an invitation for the Seven Gifts to come fully alive.