Confusion Worse Confounded and the Gift of Knowledge

What Milton would make of my quoting him in the title to a post about (a Catholic understanding of) the gift of knowledge, I’m not sure. To me, it makes perfect sense. We live in a world where the din of argument creates more heat than light. People express opinions on this, that and the other on the basis of very little information (I know I do). So-called celebrities adopt a position on everything from the refugee crisis to Britain’s membership of the EU and announce it to the world as though they had an insight the rest of us lack; and as for politicians! The less said the better, perhaps. The less we know, the more definite we tend to be in voicing our ignorance. Real knowledge is something of a nuisance, putting a check on our bolder flights of fancy. You will not be surprised to learn that it is not exactly this kind of knowledge that is meant by the fifth gift of the Holy Spirit.

At first sight, knowledge may look very similar to the gifts of wisdom and understanding, but it operates differently. We could say that, while wisdom prepares us to penetrate the mysteries of faith, knowledge gives us the ability to judge in the light of that faith. In other words, knowledge perfects the theological virtue of faith and, like counsel, is an enabler in our lives. It enables us to distinguish between temptation and its opposite, between the impulses of sin and the inspirations of grace. As such, it is a gift that we call upon again and again in our daily lives. It is closely linked to the development of conscience, which is why the cultivation of an informed conscience is a Christian duty.

This morning Elizabeth Scalia published a good article on Newman’s Letter to the Duke of Norfolk: a fine defence of the supremacy of conscience, but always within the limitations of knowledge as defined above. The confusion of the world in which we live can be hard to navigate. The gifts of the Spirit provide a trustworthy guide, so let us ask for them to be given to us without stint — and especially, today, the gift of knowledge.

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5 thoughts on “Confusion Worse Confounded and the Gift of Knowledge”

  1. What a lovely post.

    I’m trying to absorb knowledge as part of my training at the moment, but there is so much to absorb that I get brain ache trying to put it into context and order, both in my note taking and later reflection on what we’ve been taught.

    Than I recall my Army days, where surrounded by rules and regulations (dozens of books of them) I recall the instructor when I first joined. He told us that we can’t ever hope to remember all that we were being taught, but we needed to be familiar, not an expert, parrot fashion) but be able to go to the regulation to consult, particularly as they are subject to constant revision and amendment.

    I now use this useful advice, when I’m consulting a scriptural source or a referenced book, noting where it was said and where to find it to consolidate what I have learned, particularly useful when it comes to assignments. I’ve found a learning style that works for me, but I’m being very careful about what I might be learning – particularly, the context that I am in – and the people that I am with.

    This morning at a social meeting at a Christian cafe, someone raised the topic of how they should address or describe Pope Francis is it Pope of as Bishop of Rome?

    They came from the point in the Book of Common Prayer, where all reference to a supreme Pontiff was explicitly excluded by Henry 8th for the Reformation.

    For me it is simple. I have prayed openly for Pope Francis (and other leaders of Catholic and Protestant denominations) because I don’t see why we should exclude his ministry or the Church Universal in intercessory prayer.

    This view among most of those in the conversation was shared, apart from the original questioner, who felt that they were bound by the Book of Common Prayer strictures. I can’t be critical of their stance, but feel enlightened enough to see past the BCP, because that is simply an obstruction to prayer and good relationships.

    The point of course is that book knowledge can get in between a relationship between us and God and also each other.

    • Thank you for pointing out that “obstruction to prayer and good relationships” can come from sources we rely upon to build our relationship with God and our fellow man. How ironic. Thank you for having the wisdom to observe that condition and the knowledge to articulate it.

  2. Oh dear. The combined effect of reading all your blogs on the gifts of the hold spirit is making me feel very inadequate! I hope I have a very long life left to get better at any of them… and really must make more of an effort.

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