Wisdom and Holy Wisdom

All on one page. Wow!

3.  Wisdom

 According to Confucius, wisdom can be learned by three methods: reflection (the noblest), imitation (the easiest) and  experience (the bitterest). Wisdom is not talked about  unless asked for by another. This means a wise man never tells his wisdom unless asked person to person. As William Blake said, "those that say, don't know and those that know don't say."

When I was a boy, Floyd Johnson would sit on the porch of my grand father's store in Penhook and play a board game called moon with whomever came along - looser had to buy the soda water. The board was homemade and resembled a checker board, the pieces were soda caps: one player was cork side up, the other was top side up. The board was placed over an empty nail keg and the contestants sat on upended wooden coke cases. In 1919 Floyd was on a  Navy ship in the Pacific, when a sister ship signaled  that Congress had passed prohibition. He said, "I knew I was getting out of the navy and going home to Penhook to make moonshine."

Floyd was the local Socrates, asking basic but penetrating questions about life. A few months before he died in 1954, he said to me, "All I ever made in life was mistakes and all I ever got was experience."  Like Floyd my wisdom, such as it is, is of the bittersweet type.....but I do have several diplomas.


4. Hagia Sophia (holy wisdom - the last frontier)

A friend of Socrates asked Pythia, the oracle of Delphi: "Is anyone wiser than Socrates?"   The answer was: "No human is wiser." Socrates, since he denied any knowledge, tried to find someone wiser than himself among politicians, poets, and craftsmen. It appeared that politicians claimed wisdom without knowledge; poets could touch people with their words, but did not know their meaning; and craftsmen could claim knowledge only in specific and narrow fields. The interpretation of the Oracle's answer might be Socrates' awareness of his own ignorance or it might mean he could distinguish (techne) which is presented as superior to natural instincts (physis) from holy wisdom  (hagia sophia).

If you try to relate wisdom to consciousness you end up in the middle of eastern thought and discover that "Wisdom and distinction-making consciousness are like ice and water. As the water freezes, the ice appears; as the ice melts, the water appears. On the level of the phenomenal activity of the mind, the greater the attachment to distinctions, the weaker the functioning of wisdom; the stronger the functioning of wisdom, the less attachment to distinctions. For attachment to distinctions to be permanently eliminated, wisdom must operate with sufficient basis and power to supercede not only the manifestation of the distinctions but also their seeds, which are their basic cause." I have no idea what that means.

On the other hand if we examine western though  you end up reading books, such as Michio Kaku's "The Future of the  Mind."  Kaku thinks the  mind can be duplicated by computers.  The philosopher David Chalmers made the distinction between “easy and “hard problems in the study of consciousness. Easy problems, according to Chalmers, were things like figuring out how the brain cycles through signals from the arm allowing you to pick up an object.  Such “easy problem remain pretty hard, but  control of the arm is nothing compared with developing a scientific account of the totality of our own experience. It’s the internal  being  of our being  that makes Chalmers’s  "hard" problem and that eludes a computer based perspective. We don’t have a working model of consciousness. 

 Kaku tries to provide a model through what he calls a “space-time theory.  That is a model of consciousness with a graded scale of awareness based on the number of feedback loops between environment and organism. Thus, in Kaku’s view, a thermostat has the lowest possible level of consciousness while humans, with our ability to move through space and project ourselves mentally backward and forward in time, represent the highest level currently known.  This is the same problem Heidegger pointed out with modern philosophy: it forgets being and becoming.

During the Enlightenment some thinkers call deists compares the universe to a mechanical clock. It ticks along, as a perfect machine, with its gears governed by the laws of physics making every aspect of the machine predictable. God made the universal clock then retired.  Now that we have computers, God has become a computer programmer.


The east has taken a different path, sans machines, a path that offers a more poetic explanation. Buddha consciousness is like the blooming of the lotus flower. The lotus symbolizes the union of the four elements; earth, air, fire, and water. The roots are in the earth, it grows in and by means of water, its leaves are nourished by air, and it blooms through the power of the sun's fire. The lotus is therefore the perfection of the fourfold order of the natural world. The growth of a new flower directly from the earth-bound original is a symbol of transcendence: a spiritual emergence of a higher world directly from our physical manifestation.

For Westerners sitting around waiting to bloom like a water lily is just not our style. Nor is seeking a state of non-being, we want a physical being and we want it to last into eternity. Both Catholics and Protestants initially envisioned heaven with streets of gold and the blessed with incorruptible bodies walking about forever.

What happens in the hereafter is anybodies guess.   But while we walk about on Mother Earth, music, as stated earlier, might be our best approach to hagia sophia. However,  there are also the visual arts. Selected icons of western art dating back to the Greeks are offered here:


zeus athena "When the Zeus had in mind the making of a world through a word (logos) his first thought was Athena"  -Justin Martyr

Zeus lay with Metis, the goddess of crafty thought and wisdom, but he immediately feared the consequences. It had been prophesied that Metis would bear children more powerful than the sire, Zeus himself. In order to forestall these dire consequences, Zeus "put her away inside his own belly" he "swallowed her down all of a sudden." He was too late: Metis had already conceived.

Eventually Zeus experienced an enormous headache; Hephaestus, cleaved Zeus's head with the double-headed Minoan axe.  Then Athena leaped from Zeus's head, fully grown and armed, with a shout " pealed to the broad sky her clarion cry of war."

Wagner, 2,500 years later has her sing, "Ho jo to ho!" upon arrival.

On this black figure amphora, Athena emerges from the head of Zeus while Metis, under the throne, continued to provide advice to Zeus. Note Metis has wings, an attribute that will continue in other images of holy wisdom. On the throne with Zeus is the owl, Athena's familiar. (above left)

 (below) Tetradrachm, Athens, 480-420BC,MBA Lyon
The owl is associated with Athena because the owl can see into the darkness.




Athena, marble head of Roman statue, copy after Greek original, 1st century BC - 1st century AD,  (Museo Civico Archeologico, Bologna)

Plato says she is "divine intelligence" [Theou noesis - θεο νόησις]

This is my favorite image of Athena. We had to travel to Bologna twice to see her. The first time the museum was closed.


Icon of Sophia from St George Church in Vologda: Christ is represented above her head (16th century)

In this Orthodox personification of hagia sophia, she is shown with wings, a crown, and sitting on a throne.

The early Christians had heated disputes about Jesus and the Logos and Wisdom. Eventually the Emperor Constantine set a pattern for Eastern Christians by dedicating a church to Christ as the personification of divine wisdom. In Constantinople, the Emperor Justinian rebuilt Santa Sophia, consecrated in 538, and it became a model for many other Byzantine churches. Nevertheless, in the New testament and subsequent Western Christian thought Logos as Word came through more clearly than "the Wisdom" of God as a central title of Christ.


Christ Pantocrator

Byzantine mosaics on the dome interior of Santa Maria dell Ammiraglio La Martorana Church, Palermo, Sicily, Italy

The most common translation of Pantocrator is "Almighty" or "All-powerful". In this understanding, Pantokrator is a compound word formed from the Greek words πᾶν, pan (pantos), i.e. "all" and κάτος, kratos, i.e. "strength", "might", "power". This is often understood in terms of potential power; i.e., ability to do anything.

The Pantokrator, largely an Eastern Orthodox or Eastern Catholic theological conception is less common by that name in Western (Roman) Catholicism and largely unknown to most Protestants.


In Hinduism, Ganesha is widely revered as the remover of obstacles, the patron of arts and sciences and the deva of intellect and wisdom.

A divinity with the head of an elephant sitting on a lotus flower that resembles a tutu will probably not gain much traction in the West, and especially south Arkansas.

Once in Japan, I was discussing religion with a local who said that he did not think Christianity would make much headway in Japan. I asked why and he replied that any god that lets himself get nailed to a cross looks like a looser to us.
memory I close this section with the best image of wisdom the Internet had to offer.