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.