instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Wisdom and counsel

A while back I wrote about how the charism of wisdom relates to the gift of wisdom, which in turn presupposes the virtue of charity.

Now I'm going to write about how the charism of wisdom relates to the gift of counsel, which in turn presupposes the virtue of prudence.

As it happens, St. Thomas mentions both a charism of wisdom and a charism of counsel, considered as extensions of the respective gifts, in the Summa Theologiae's Treatise on Virtues. (His (somewhat inelegant) term for "charism" is "gratuitous grace," which is distinct from the sanctifying grace that makes the recipient holy.**)

In the article, "Whether wisdom is in all who have grace?", after explaining that yes, the gift of wisdom "is wanting to none who is without mortal sin through having sanctifying grace," St. Thomas adds:

Some, however, receive a higher degree of the gift of wisdom, both as to the contemplation of Divine things (by both knowing more exalted mysteries and being able to impart this knowledge to others) and as to the direction of human affairs according to Divine rules (by being able to direct not only themselves but also others according to those rules). This degree of wisdom is not common to all that have sanctifying grace, but belongs rather to the gratuitous graces, which the Holy Ghost dispenses as He will, according to 1 Corinthians 12:8: "To one indeed by the Spirit is given the word of wisdom," etc.

In considering "Whether counsel should be reckoned among the gifts of the Holy Ghost? " he counters the objection that "counsel seems to be one of those things which are given by the Holy Ghost specially to certain persons":
That a man be of such good counsel as to counsel others, may be due to a gratuitous grace; but that a man be counselled by God as to what he ought to do in matters necessary for salvation is common to all holy persons.
In both cases, then, the charism given only to some extends the gift given to all by enabling the one who has received the charism to benefit others. (Perhaps if everyone fully developed their gifts of wisdom and counsel, there'd be no need for the charisms.)

Okay, so for St. Thomas the charism of wisdom consists of:
  • knowing particularly exalted mysteries
  • being able to impart knowledge of particularly exalted mysteries to others
  • being able to direct others according to Divine rules
And the charism of counsel consists of
  • being able to counsel others
But how is "being able to direct others according to Divine riles" different than "being able to counsel others"? Wouldn't you counsel them according to Divine rules, if you're counseling them as directed by God?

I think the distinction is suggested by St. Thomas's explanation of how wisdom, which is about Divine things that are eternal and necessary, can nevertheless be practical, even though practicality is about contingent things (i.e., things that don't have to be as they are):
Divine things are indeed necessary and eternal in themselves, yet they are the rules of the contingent things which are the subject-matter of human actions.
Wisdom, then, gives you the rules by which you judge contingent things.

Counsel, on the other hand, helps you decide among contingent things:
Since, however, human reason is unable to grasp the singular and contingent things which may occur, the result is that "the thoughts of mortal men are fearful, and our counsels uncertain" (Wisdom 9:14). Hence in the research of counsel, man requires to be directed by God who comprehends all things: and this is done through the gift of counsel --
 -- or the charism of counsel, if one person is counseling another.

Wisdom provides the higher level direction -- "Go this way. Don't go that way." Counsel gets down into the details, "Go ahead and take the job. Don't be afraid to trust her."

** "[T]here is a twofold grace: one whereby man himself is united to God, and this is called 'sanctifying grace'; the other is that whereby one man cooperates with another in leading him to God, and this gift is called 'gratuitous grace,' since it is bestowed on a man beyond the capability of nature, and beyond the merit of the person. But whereas it is bestowed on a man, not to justify him, but rather that he may cooperate in the justification of another, it is not called sanctifying grace. And it is of this that the Apostle says (1 Corinthians 12:7): 'And the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man unto utility,' i.e. of others."