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June 2000/1

The Word and Wisdom of God and Meditation

"Blessed is the man who meditates on wisdom and who reasons intelligently" (Sir 14:20).

 

I. THE WORD AND THE WISDOM OF GOD

The Wisdom of God in Himself

"In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made" (Jn 1:1-3). With these words St. John begins his account of the Gospel. Here he indicates the divinity and eternity of the Word of God, and that God created all things through his divine Word. He spoke, and all things came to be, both the heavens and the earth, both spiritual creatures and material creation. This same Word, who is the eternal Son of the Father, is called the Wisdom of God as attested by the Fathers of the Church: "There is one God, the Father of the living Word, who is his subsistent Wisdom and Power and Eternal Image."

The Wisdom of God embraces all that exists. As St. Paul wrote, "the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. (1 Cor 2:10). In knowing himself, God also contemplates all other things which are, were, will be or could be. He sees them all in the eternity of his Word. That is to say that God does not know creatures directly in themselves as though creatures, in all their temporal movements and contingent causes, were the source of his knowledge. Rather, God sees everything in the light of his own essence and his own causality. This divine causality not only gives things existence, but also determines the reason (or finality) for the existence of all things. From this Wisdom all the laws of the universe emanate, and all things are ordered to their proper ends. "She reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the other, and she orders all things well" (Wis 8:1). The Wisdom of God pervades and penetrates all things in creation "for she is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty…a reflection of eternal light, and spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness" (Wis 7:24-26).

Creation's Participation in Wisdom

In creation God has endowed angels and men with the power of intellect. This power enables these creatures with the capacity to know a seemingly infinite variety of subjects and sciences. But the most sublime capacity and the highest knowledge that God has offered to both men and angels is through the participation in his divine Wisdom. Wisdom is the highest knowledge because by it the creature knows the Highest Cause, God, in a most intimate way. In addition to this the creature knows and judges other things in the light of their relation to this Highest Cause. In this way angels and men share, in varying degrees, in God's knowledge in a higher manner and they can grasp the ordering things according his divine plan.

God has revealed his own divine Wisdom to intelligent creatures in order to form them and offer them the fullness of life and joy. St. Augustine explains,

In the creature's case…living is not the same as possessing a life of wisdom and happiness. For when it is turned away from the changeless light of Wisdom, its life is full of folly and wretchedness, and so it is in an unformed state. Its formation consists in its turning to the changeless light of Wisdom, the Word of God. The Word is the source of whatever being and life it has, and to the Word it must turn in order to live wisely and happily.

The Angels and Divine Wisdom

The revelation of God's Wisdom was first made to the holy angels. The Son of God, who is the light who enlightens ever man who enters into the world, was revealed to the holy angels. According to whether they turned to the Wisdom or not, they were filled with light or became darkness in themselves. Those angels who turned to the Wisdom of God underwent a formation and an illumination. This is explained by St. Augustine in his commentary on Genesis:

When eternal and unchangeable Wisdom, who is not created but begotten, enters into spiritual and rational creatures, as he is wont to come into holy souls, so that with his light they may shine, then in the reason which has been illuminated there is a new state introduced, and this can be understood as the light which was made when God said, "Let there be light." This supposes, of course, that spiritual creatures already existed and were intended by the word heaven, where Scripture says, In the beginning God created heaven and earth, and that this means not the material heaven but the immaterial heaven above it. This heaven is exalted above every material thing not by its location but by the excellence of its nature.

With the illumination of the faithful angels, Wisdom created wisdom in them. The angels who turned to God in their great trial received an intimate, experiential knowledge of God. Through that knowledge they were able to know rightly and properly order and judge everything.

St. Augustine actually explains the division of the six days of creation in terms of the knowledge of the angels. He wrote:

There is a vast difference between knowledge of a thing in the Word of God and knowledge of the same thing in itself. The first kind of knowledge can be considered as belonging to day; the second kind to evening. In comparison with the light that is seen in the Word of God, all knowledge by which we know any creature in itself can rightly be called night….The holy angels…always behold the face of God and rejoice in his Word…and in them first of all Wisdom was created. They, therefore, without any doubt know all creation, of which they are the creatures first made, and they have this knowledge first in the Word of God himself, in whom are the eternal reasons of all things made in time, existing in him through whom all things have been created. And then they have this knowledge in creation itself, as they look down upon it and refer it to the praise of him in whose immutable truth they behold, as in the source of all creation, the reasons by which creatures have been made.

There the knowledge they have is like day, and so that the blessed company, perfectly united by participation in the same Truth, in the day first created; here among creatures their knowledge is like evening…. They are the day as they remain firm in this Truth. For if the angels turned to themselves or took delight more in themselves than in him in union with whom they are happy, they would fall swollen with pride. This is what happened with the devil.

The succession of morning and evening recorded in the account of creation, according to this explanation of St. Augustine, obviously does not refer to the days that we experience which are measured by the rotation of the earth. Nor does this succession even imply a passage of time. For the angels are able to contemplate at the same time what is called the morning and evening knowledge of creation in one single glance. The succession that is mentioned to in the account of creation refers not to temporal succession, but to the order in which the creation was revealed to the angels. This order does not follow the actual order in which things were created. But it follows another logic.

This explanation of St. Augustine clearly demonstrates the nature of created wisdom in general, and angelic wisdom in particular. Created wisdom is the bright, most perfect knowledge which sees God, and which sees all other things in the light of God's Word. It knows everything according to the divine eternal Idea. It is only in this light that the creature can fully grasp the meaning of each thing that exists, and the finality for which it was made.

Man and Divine Wisdom

When some of the angels turned from the Wisdom and Word of God they were separated from the light and became darkness. From that decisive moment onward there began the struggle between light and darkness, between eternal Wisdom and the false wisdom which is dark foolishness. Men have been taken into this struggle and have become some of the key players in this drama.

God created man with the capacity to receive wisdom, and with a craving to possess wisdom. But rather than waiting and hoping to acquire the Wisdom of God through obedience, man turned to the false wisdom presented him by Satan through disobedience. It is recorded in the book of Genesis: "So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took the fruit and ate" (Gen 3:6). The deceiver presented the forbidden tree to Eve as something to be desired to make them wise. This was perhaps the strongest lure presented: the desire for wisdom. So, rather than receiving light, life and formation by turning toward the eternal Wisdom, man laid hold of the fruit of disobedience and was darkened in intellect, deformed in the will and death entered the world.

Nevertheless, "even when he disobeyed [God] and lost [his] friendship, [God] did not abandon him to the power of death, but helped all men (emphasis added) to seek and find [him]." Although God certainly gave special graces to Abraham and his descendants, nevertheless, God helped all men to seek and find him by giving them some degree of access to his Wisdom. This was accomplished in varying degrees, and by diverse means. Wisdom has been offered to men both according to the natural order of their intelligence and by means of a supernatural revelation. As the Catechism explains:

By natural reason man can know God with certainty, on the basis of his works. But there is another order of knowledge, which man can not possibly arrive at by his own powers: the order of divine Revelation. Through an utterly free decision, God has revealed himself and given himself to man. This he does by revealing the mystery, his plan of loving goodness, formed from all eternity in Christ, for the benefit of all men. God has fully revealed this plan by sending us his beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit (CCC 50).

The Wisdom of the Gentiles

For those people who did not receive the supernatural revelation, God planted the "seeds of the Word (Logos)" in every race of men. That is to say, with the help of his holy angels, God enlightened the peoples of the world, to the extent that they were docile. In this way, there were planted elements of his wisdom among all peoples. These seeds were tended and cultivated by the working of the holy angels assigned to each of the nations. But due to the effects of original sin too often even these elements of God's wisdom were couched in much error and confusion.

The wisdom that the people of gentile nations was able to acquire was a natural, philosophical wisdom. A prime example is Aristotle's Metaphysics. He himself describes the science of metaphysics as "divine" for two reasons:

For a science which God would most appropriately have is divine among sciences; and one whose object is divine, if such there be, is likewise divine. Now our science has precisely these two aspects: on the one hand, God is thought to be one of the reasons for all things and to be in some sense a beginning; on the other hand, this kind of science would be the only kind or the most appropriate kind for God to have.

Through such philosophical disciplines many non-Israelites were able to acquire a certain knowledge of a supreme being who is divine, eternal and a pure spirit, who governs all things by his love. Joined to this philosophical wisdom was the wisdom of the natural religions by which men came to certain truths about God. St. Stephen refers to this when speaking of Moses. "And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in words and deeds" (Acts 7:22).

The Wisdom of the People of God in the Old Testament

With the Chosen People of God, Wisdom was given through the revelations to the prophets and holy men. The book of Wisdom describes how wisdom worked with Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, etc. (cf. Wis 10-11). "In every generation she passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God, and prophets, for God loves nothing so much as the man who lives with wisdom" (Wis 7:27-28). The people of Israel especially understood the revelation of the Law as gift of divine wisdom:

Wisdom will praise herself, and will glory in the midst of her people… From eternity, in the beginning, he created me, and for eternity I shall not cease to exist. In the tabernacle I ministered before him, and so I was established in Zion…. All this is the book of the covenant of the Most High God, the law which Moses commanded us as an inheritance for the congregations of Jacob. It fills men with wisdom, like the Pishon, and like the Tigris at the time of the first fruit (Sir 24:1,9, 22-23).

The recognition of the law as wisdom indicates that wisdom is not simply a knowledge of God and creation. It is also a knowledge which orders a person's judgment according to God's law. Thus, St. Thomas says, "Wisdom is a certain rectitude of judgment according to the Eternal Law."

Beyond the wisdom of the law of Moses, there was the wisdom of Solomon, which was granted by divine favor (cf. 1 Kg 3:3-14). The wisdom of Solomon provided him with the ability to render justice to govern his people fairly. It also gave him the ability to utter three thousand proverbs and to speak "of tree, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall; he spoke also of beasts, and of birds, and of reptiles and of fish" (1 Kg 4:32-34). Together with the wisdom of Solomon there was gathered what was later called the "Wisdom Literature" of the Old Testament. Books such as Ecclesiastes, Wisdom, Proverbs, and Sirach make up a body of wisdom for the People of God to meditate and try to incorporate in their lives.

In addition to these, there was also given the wisdom of the prophets in the Old Testament. The Second Vatican Council said: "…by listening to the voice of God speaking to them through the prophets, [Israel] had daily to understand his ways more fully and more clearly, and make them more widely known among the nations." From this it seems that the prophets helped the people of Israel to develop a more thorough understanding of the doctrines concerning God. In this way there developed a kind of "sacred doctrine" or theology. This study treats of the highest cause of all things, namely God, as the Ultimate Principle, the ultimate cause. It is properly called wisdom, since wisdom is the intellectual virtue which considers this highest and ultimate principle and in the light of that principle is able to form a most certain judgment about other things, and in this way it is able to set all things in correct order. This theological wisdom is based upon the data of supernatural revelation, but it scrutinizes it by natural reason, aided by the grace that sustains the supernatural virtue of faith, in order to come to certain conclusions.

The revelation of the Old Testament was oriented towards preparing for the fullness of revelation in the new and eternal covenant. "These books, even though they contain matters imperfect and provisional, nevertheless show us authentic divine teaching. Christians should accept with veneration these writings which give expression to a lively sense of God, which are a storehouse of sublime teaching on God, and of sound wisdom on human life."

The Incarnation of Eternal Wisdom

Then, in the fullness of time, God having in many and various ways spoken to our fathers (cf. Heb 1:1), chose to speak to us through his eternal Word, through whom all things were made. St. Irenaeus writes of this in the second century of Christianity:

The Word, who existed in the beginning with God, by whom all things were made, who was also always present with mankind, was in these last days, according to the time appointed by the Father, united to his own workmanship, inasmuch as he became a man liable to suffering.

"The Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth" (Jn 1:14). Through the Incarnation of the Divine Wisdom, God has revealed himself in the most perfect manner possible. The whole life of Christ speaks the Word of God, every action the Wisdom of God. The teachings of Christ are the summit of divine revelation. They comprise what St. Paul calls "the unsearchable riches of Christ" (Eph 3:8).

In addition to bringing revelation to perfection by his life, teaching, passion and glorious resurrection, Christ promised to bring his disciples into the fullness of the truth by the sending of his Holy Spirit. With the gift of the Holy Spirit a whole new dimension was added to the man's participation in God's Divine Wisdom. As all virtues, the virtue of wisdom is under the direction of man's own reason, and according to a human mode of activity. But the gift of Wisdom is categorically distinct, for it is exercised under the immediate direction of the Holy Spirit, and according to a divine mode of activity, "…as if man, under the impulse of the Holy Spirit, no longer worked humanly, but became God by participation." All the gifts of the Holy Spirit give man a certain connaturality with God. That is to say, man does not proceed laboriously and by means of rational discursive thought when he acts under the influence of the gifts, but in a rapid and intuitive manner by a special "instinct which proceeds from the Holy Ghost."

The "connaturality" or sympathy with the divine which is typical of the gifts of the Holy Spirit reaches its perfection in the gift of wisdom. The gift of wisdom is related to the virtue of charity. As one writer puts it: "There is a remarkable analogy between the object of charity and the object of wisdom. The object of charity is God himself, in his infinite goodness; the object of wisdom is that same goodness, but as an experience, as something savored. Through charity we love God in himself; through the gift of wisdom we know his infinite goodness because we taste and experience it…. If we could, so to say, enter into God and look through his eyes, we would see things in a divine manner. And so it is with things that are seen with the gift of wisdom: they are seen in God, they are seen from the heights." For this reason it is said:

The knowledge which the gift of wisdom gives to the soul is incomparably superior to all human sciences, even theology, which already possesses something supernatural. For that reason a simple uneducated soul who lacks the theological knowledge acquired by study may sometimes possess, through the gift of wisdom, a profound knowledge of divine things, which causes amazement even to eminent theologians.

This gift of wisdom in men is identical to the participation in divine wisdom received by the angels, which we described when speaking about the "morning knowledge" of the angels. Everything is seen in the bright light of the Word of God. It is this gift that brings supernatural contemplation to perfection in this life.

Characteristic Effects of the Gift of Wisdom

The person who has the gift of Wisdom sees everything from God's point of view, both with regard to the little details of daily life, and with regard to larger issues. Such a person is able to see the hand of God in all the events that befall him. He is capable of seeing beyond the secondary causes and he judges events in the light of the highest and first Cause which governs and rules all things "fortiter et sauviter" (strongly and gently). They adopt the policy which was expressed by St. Aloysius Gonzoga: "Quid hoc ad aeternitatem?" (What is this to eternity?)

Such a person is able to bear adversity with perfect patience. As it is said of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, the greatest trials and sufferings were unable to disturb her for a moment. "No matter what misfortunes befell her, she remained as unmoved and tranquil as if her soul were already in eternity."

Further, the soul who has this gift of wisdom lives in constant experiential union with the three Persons of the Trinity. "If the duties of one's state in life should so demand, it gives itself externally to all types of work, even the most absorbing work, with an unbelievable activity; but in the most profound center of the soul, as St. John of the Cross used to say, it experiences and perceives the divine company of the Three, and does not abandon them for an instant."

Beyond this, wisdom raises the virtue of charity to heroism. The person who possesses this gift loves God with such intensity that they are truly disposed to suffer anything for him to serve and please him. They demonstrate the ardor of their desire not simply in their words, but in their very actions. Their charity also extends to the love of their neighbor as well. "They love their neighbor with a profound tenderness which is completely supernatural and divine. They serve their neighbor with heroic abnegation, which is at the same time filled with naturalness and simplicity." This same love is also directed to the whole of God's creation. "St. Francis of Assisi embraced a tree as a creature of God, and desired to embrace all creation because it came from the hand of God."

From this brief overview of wisdom as a gift of the Holy Spirit, we can get a sense of the grandeur of vistas opened up for man in Jesus Christ. Christ has come to establish, or re-establish we should say, the possibility for man to enjoy more fully the divine wisdom in this life. But now, having seen the various ways that man can participate in God's wisdom, we have now to consider the means by which man can come to arrive at this participation.

II. MEDITATION

Predispostions for the Acquisition of Wisdom through Meditation

Meditation, otherwise known as mental prayer, or simply prayer, is one of the fundamental means of disposing oneself for the maturation of the Life of Christ in our souls. In the concept of meditation we wish to include a variety of elements, and we must presuppose a number of predispositions.

First among the necessary predispositions is a certain purity of body, and integrity of mind. The book of Wisdom begins with this admonition: "For perverse thoughts separate men from God, and when his power is tested, it convicts the foolish; because wisdom will not enter a deceitful soul, nor dwell in a body enslaved by sin" (Wis 1:3-4). We must be free from what Scripture refers to as the "wisdom of the flesh." St. Paul speaks of this in his letter to the Romans, "The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law, indeed it cannot; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Rom 8:7). The Vulgate translates this: "the wisdom of the flesh is an enemy of God."

The second predisposition needed to acquire wisdom is to combat the false wisdom of the world. That is to say, the world has its own set of goals and standards. If anyone tries to live according to these standards, he will necessarily be unfaithful to the wisdom of God. Mediation on eternal truths is the way to form the mind according to God's standards. One must make every effort to judge all things according to the value they have in the eyes of God. Poverty of spirit, as spoken of in an earlier conference, is a key disposition for the reception of the gift of wisdom.

A third prerequisite is the need for a certain degree of leisure. The book of Sirach makes this clear:

The wisdom of the scribe depends on the opportunity of leisure; and he who has little business may become wise. How can he become wise who handles the plow, and who glories in the shaft of a goad, who drives oxen and is occupied with their work, and whose talk is about bulls? He sets his heart on plowing furrows, and he is careful about fodder for the heifers … On the other hand he who devotes himself to the study of the law of the Most High will seek out the wisdom of all the ancients, and will be concerned with prophecies; he will preserve the discourse of notable men and penetrate the subtleties of parables; he will seek out the hidden meanings of proverbs and be at home with the obscurities of parables (Sir 38:24 - 39:3).

Meditation on Sacred Scripture

One of the most fundamental ways that we practice meditation is through meditation on Sacred Scripture. It was said that wisdom consists in the vision of things in the eternal Word of God. In Sacred Scripture the eternal Word speaks to man in human language. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, "Through all the words of Sacred Scripture, God speaks only one single Word, his one Utterance in whom he expresses himself completely…. For this reason, the Church has always venerated the Scriptures as she venerates the Lord's Body. She never ceases to present to the faithful the bread of life, taken from the one table of God's Word and Christ's Body" (CCC 102-103). In another place the Catechism says, "God is the author of Sacred Scripture. The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of Sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit" (CCC 105).

Following upon the fact that the Sacred Scriptures are the Word of God, a primary way to meditate is through reflective reading of Sacred Scripture. There are various passages from the inspire text which express this truth:

Thy words were found and I ate them, and thy words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart (Jer 15:16).

I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; yea, I will remember thy wonders of old. I will meditate on all thy work, and muse on thy mighty deeds (Ps 77:11-12).

Reflect on the statutes of the Lord, and meditate at all times on his commandments. It is he who will give insight to your mind, and your desire for wisdom will be granted" (Sir 6:37).

…from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are the source of wisdom which through faith save you in Christ Jesus (1 Tim 3:15).

It is important not to neglect meditating the wisdom of God's Word contained in the Old Testament. Christians should reflect upon the Law, the Prophets and the Wisdom Books, as well as the way the God instructed his people through many historical events in the course of salvation history. But the Old Testament can only be fully understood in the light of the New Testament, especially in the light of the Paschal mystery of Christ. As St. Thomas once wrote:

The phrase "heart of Christ" can refer to Sacred Scripture, which makes known his heart, closed before the Passion, as the Scripture was obscure. But the Scripture has been opened since the Passion; since those who from then on have understood it, consider and discern in what way the prophecies must be interpreted.

In the New Testament the Letters, the Acts of the Apostles and Revelation cast light upon the mystery of God and his mercy towards men. These should be well known to every Christian. But the fourfold Gospel merits our highest consideration. As St. Therese once wrote, "But above all it's the Gospels that occupy my mind when I'm at prayer; my poor soul has so many needs, and yet this is the one thing needful. I'm always finding fresh light there, hidden and enthralling meanings." The sacred writers of the Gospel spend a considerable amount of time recounting the passion and death of Christ. This is because the highest wisdom of Christ was manifested on the Cross. The Cross of Christ is the wisdom of God as St. Paul wrote, "We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor 23-24).

The Second Vatican Council emphasized the importance of all the faithful to read and meditate on Scripture:

The Sacred Synod forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful, especially those who live the religious life, to learn "the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ" (Phil 3:8) by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ." Therefore, let them go gladly to the sacred text itself, whether in the sacred liturgy, which is full of the divine words, or in devout reading, or in such suitable exercises and various other helps which, with the approval and guidance of the pastors of the Church, are happily spreading everywhere in our day. Let them remember, however, that prayer should accompany the reading of sacred Scripture, so that a dialogue takes place between God and man... For, "we speak to him when we pray; we listen to him when we read the divine oracles."

The closing point that the Council makes is of particular importance, we are to read Scriptures prayerfully. We are not to read the Bible as we read the daily newspaper. It is the Word of God, which "is alive and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Heb 4:12). The Catechism writes, "The Christian faith is not a 'religion of the book.' Christianity is the religion of the 'Word' of God, 'not a written and mute word, but incarnate and living.' If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, "open [our] minds to understand the Scriptures" (CCC 108).

How to Meditate on Sacred Scripture

It is fitting to begin the reading of Sacred Scripture with a prayer to the Holy Spirit. It is also helpful to ask the angels to enlighten our mind as we look into the Scriptures. Just as the prophet Daniel was assisted by St. Gabriel in understanding certain prophecies, so we too will be helped if we ask for the assistance of the angels (cf. Dan 9:20-27).

Scripture must be read and reread, each word pondered, and many words memorized by heart. Mary is our model in this regard for, "Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart" (Lk 2:19, 51). This is the way to fulfill the advice of St. Paul, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly" (Col 3:16).

The finality of meditation is not simply to know more, but to love more. This is particularly true of the meditation on Sacred Scripture. St. Augustine wrote:

Every earnest student of Holy Scriptures exercises himself, to find nothing else in them but that God is to be loved for his own sake, and our neighbor for God's sake; and that God is to be loved with all the heart, and with all the soul and with all the mind, and one's neighbor as one's self.

Four Senses of Scripture

Nevertheless, the meditation on passages of Scripture should be founded upon a sound interpretation of Scripture. It is helpful to realize that there are various senses of meaning to be found in the Bible. These senses convey the depth of meaning intended by the divine Author, the Holy Spirit.

There are traditionally considered four senses of Sacred Scripture. The first sense is called the literal, or historical sense. This refers to the literal meaning of any particular passage. For instance, when the book of Exodus speaks about Moses leading the people of Israel out of Egypt it is speaking about an historical event that is meant to be understood at face value.

The next sense of Sacred Scripture is called the allegorical. According to this sense particular passages of Sacred Scripture are understood in reference to their fulfillment in Jesus Christ and his Church. So, the passage about the Exodus of Israel from Egypt in the allegorical sense can be understood to refer to the victory of Christ over sin and death through his fulfillment of the "Passover mystery." Particularly, the crossing the Red Sea can be understood as a sign or type of Christian Baptism by which the Church is lead out of the slavery of sin.

The third sense of Sacred Scripture is called the moral sense (or tropological). According to this sense, particular passages of Scripture are understood as lessons for man's personal moral life. So, the passage of Israel from Egypt, in the moral sense can be understood to signify the passage of a man from bondage to a particular sin. The wonders that were worked can be understood to signify the wonders of God's grace which are worked in order to free us from sin and death.

The fourth sense of Sacred Scripture is called the anagogical sense. According to this sense particular passages of Scripture are understood as pointing to our eternal destiny. So, the passage which speaks of Israel having to pass through the desert in order to arrive at the promised land, in the anagological sense, can be understood to speak about the need to pass through trials in order to come to heaven.

There are many examples of how these various senses are used throughout Sacred Scripture. One other clear example is how the city of Jerusalem can be understood in a fourfold manner. According to history and the literal sense of Scripture Jerusalem is a city in Palestine. According to allegory it signifies the Church of Christ. According to the moral sense of Scripture it refers to the soul of the human being, which under this name is frequently either reproached or praised by the Lord. According to anagogy it is that heavenly city of God "which is the mother of us all."

Three Criteria for Correct Interpretation of Scripture

There are three criteria which indicate whether an interpretation of Scripture is valid or not. First, our understanding of any particular passage must be in the light of the unity of Sacred Scripture. As said earlier, one and the same Word of God extends through all of Scripture. Therefore, it is necessary to try to form our understanding not simply on a few passages, but in the context of the whole of Scripture.

The second criteria for correct interpretation of Scripture is that it be seen in the light of the living Tradition of the Church. That is to say, we understand Scripture in the context of how the Church has understood it from her very beginning. The writings of the Fathers of the Church, the Councils of the Church, the Catechisms of the Church and the liturgical customs of the Church all give indication of the correct understanding of the texts of the Bible. This is called the "living Tradition" because with the passage of time the Church's insight into the meaning of God's revelation grows. It is like the mustard seed that with the passage of time becomes a large plant which does not look at all like the original seed, but is in fact contained in the seed.

The third criteria for correct interpretation of Scripture is call the analogy of faith. By this is meant the coherence of the truths of the faith among themselves and in the whole plan of salvation. That is to say, our understanding of Scripture must be seen in the context of the doctrines of the faith. St. Augustine explained:

If a man in searching the Scriptures endeavors to get at the intention of the author through whom the Holy Spirit spoke, whether he succeeds in this endeavor, or whether he draws a different meaning from the words, but one that is not opposed to sound doctrine, he is free from blame so long as he is supported by the testimony of some other passage of Scripture. For the author perhaps saw that this very meaning lay in the words which we are trying to interpret, and assuredly the Holy Spirit, who through him spoke these words foresaw that this interpretation would occur to the reader, nay, made provision that it shown occur to him, seeing that it too is founded on truth.

Other Worthy Objects of Meditation

Beyond the meditation on Sacred Scripture, we can dispose ourselves to God's Wisdom by our meditation on other things as well. For example, the sacred liturgy offers ample opportunity for meditation. One may behold in the light of faith the reality of our participation in the heavenly liturgy and say with the psalmist:

O God, thou art my God, I seek thee, my soul thirsts for thee; my flesh faints for thee, as in a dry weary land without water. So I have looked upon thee in the sanctuary beholding thy power and thy glory…My soul is feasted as with marrow and fat, and my mouth praises thee with joyful lips, when I think of thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the watches of the night (Ps. 63:1-5).

Also, we can meditate on the mystery of the Church and the mercy of God made manifest through the rich traditions in the Church. St. Paul tells us "Through the Church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places" (Eph 3:10).

But apart from sacred objects, we should try to see all things as God's works created for an eternal finality. All of God's works, even the works of physical creation, have been arranged "in an eternal order." This indicates that there is no simply arbitrary order in creation, but a divine, wise order. Man can see beyond the physical, transitory to know the eternal wisdom of God. Christ taught through parables which revealed how the kingdom of God is represented in creation: "The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field…The kingdom of heaven is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till it was all leavened" (Mt 13:31, 33). The Gospel writer goes on to say, "All this Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed he said nothing to them without a parable. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophets: 'I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world'" (Mt 13:34-35). These things concerning the mystery of God's kingdom have been hidden in the creation since the foundation of the world, and our Lord points to them to draw them out. He so instructs us to look more intently at the things of creation to see beyond them to drink in eternal light.

Christ has established the means to open up to men the riches of God's wisdom. He sent the Spirit of Truth, to bring his disciples into all truth. St. Paul wrote "To the mature we impart a wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification. … We impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit" (1 Cor 2:6-7, 13).

For us to acquire this wisdom we must pray. "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him" (Jas 1:5). "I perceived that I would not possess wisdom unless God gave her to me–and it was a mark of insight to know whose gift she was–and so I appealed to the Lord and besought him" (Wis 8:21). So we may conclude with a prayer from Sacred Scripture to petition the great gift of God's Wisdom.

O God of my fathers and Lord of mercy, who have made all things by thy Word,
and by thy wisdom have formed man, to have dominion over the creatures thou have made,
and rule the world in holiness and righteousness, and pronounce judgment in uprightness of soul,
give me the wisdom that sits by thy throne. Send her forth from the holy heavens,
and from the throne of thy glory send her, that she may be with me and toil,
and that I may learn what is pleasing to thee. (Wis 9:1-10)