Wisdom and its counterpart Foolishness are featured in St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. However, in juxtaposing them in his writings to make a point, he is simply drawing from his knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures. The Wisdom Literature of the Hebrew Scriptures often pairs Dame Wisdom with Madame Folly and provides many valuable lessons through this rhetorical device. In general it might be said that Wisdom is looked upon as “order,” while Folly or Foolishness is looked upon as “chaos.” So, for instance, it was God’s Spirit of Wisdom that was present when God created the universe by ordering chaos.
Using both his knowledge of the Scriptures as well as his knowledge of philosophy, St. Paul writes to the Church of Corinth which is experiencing a bit of chaos as its members struggle against each other for what can only be seen as places of privilege within the community. The recent converts to Christianity were still hanging on to the notion that wealth and the power that it engenders gave them the right to take advantage of those members of the community who were less affluent. The poor within the community, looking for a way to counter these arguments, were turning to ephemeral details such as by whom they had been baptized, claiming that being baptized by Peter made them more important than those who had been baptized by Apollos. Other members of the community were claiming superiority based upon the charisms they had received in baptism.
St. Paul counters these arguments by contrasting the foolishness of God, namely the cross, with the wisdom of the world, namely privilege. Reminding them of the supreme sacrifice that Jesus had made by dying on a cross, he chided them for seeking the rewards of this world and forgetting about the ultimate reward of everlasting life which can only be gained by placing our faith in the cross of Jesus.
No one pursues suffering for the sake of suffering. No one should ever inflict either themselves or their neighbor with unnecessary pain or suffering. Yet our human condition makes the reality of suffering an inescapable part of our lives. St. Paul reminds us that the fool pursues worldly goals while the truly wise person pursues the goals won for us by Jesus and which are available to us if we unite ourselves with the suffering and crucified Savior of the world. The crucifixes which hang in our homes are constant reminders that true wisdom is found in the cross while foolishness is found in the perishable gifts of the world.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator