"The Beginning of Wisdom is the Fear of God" - Proverbs 1:7
This phrase from the Proverbs of King Solomon, written towards the end of his life, provides an insight into how the spiritual life is to be approached.
What is wisdom? St Ambrose of Milan in commenting on this verse identifies wisdom as the path of virtue, as does St John Chrysostom. Following the path requires that we first cut off the passions that Chrysostom calls “a result of a lack of wisdom”. Essentially, it means looking towards the true source of joy and not to the pleasures of the world that Solomon knew all too well.
The main catalyst for turning to God is fear. Upon accepting the truth of God, according to Venerable Bede, one accepts the fact that one could be subject to eternal punishment if one does not lead a virtuous life. “Unless a man fears the Lord,” writes St Ambrose, “he is unable to renounce sin”.
This, however, is only the beginning of wisdom. If fear of God’s punishment is the beginning, what is the end? The next step of the three is the fear of not receiving the reward of eternal life. This is much like the first step, but a necessary step on the path to wisdom.
True wisdom lies in the final step on the path of virtue. The fear at this step, according to the Venerable Bede, is akin to the fear of not meeting one’s father’s expectations. A person at this stage regards God as a father present in their life, and is afraid of disappointing God in any way.
The final section of the verse, “only fools despise wisdom and instruction”, serves to emphasise the consequences of not leading a virtuous life. May we imitate the Saints who were wise in Christ but were considered foolish in the world.
Source: Lychnos Feb 2019 / Mar 2019