In the Divine Office, we are currently reading from the Wisdom Tradition. Thus our daily fare consists of passages from Sirach, Wisdom, Proverbs, etc. Praise the Lord. They have a lot to say about the times in which we live.
I’d like to review a few of the sayings in the Book of Proverbs. But before doing so, I’d like to explain the use of the word fool in the Wisdom Tradition (as contrasted with the wise one). Without a richer understanding of the term fool it is possible to think it a mere ad hominem attack, or a dismissal of opponents through name-calling and ridicule.
To the modern mind, the term fool is demeaning and hurtful. In modern usage, fool tends to refer to one who is irredeemably stupid, buffoonish, and lacking in common sense—one who is “dumb as a rock.”
However, when the Scriptures use the term fool it is set forth in contrast with the wise and wisdom. Its meaning is more nuanced, more descriptive of a rejection of wisdom rather than merely pejorative. There are several Hebrew words in Proverbs and other places that are translated as fool. Let’s look at two of those.
The first Hebrew root of fool is אֱוִיל (ewil), which means to be perverse and lacking in reflection. In context, the word refers to
- those who despise wisdom and discipline (Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 15:5);
- those who mock at guilt (Proverbs 14:9);
- those who are quarrelsome (Proverbs 20:3);
- those who are licentious (Proverbs 7:22); or
- those for whom attempted instruction is folly (Proverbs 16:22, Proverbs 27:22, Jeremiah 4:22, Job 5:2-3, Isaiah 19:11, Psalm 107:17).
Another Hebrew root is כְּסִיל (kasal), which means a stupid fellow, a dullard. In context, the word refers to
- those who hate knowledge (Proverbs 1:22);
- those who delight not in understanding (Proverbs 18:2);
- those who love to do mischief (Proverbs 10:23, Proverbs 12:23, Proverbs 15:2); or
- those who feed on the mischief of others (Proverbs 15:14).
Thus we are not dealing with someone who is stupid, but rather one whose stance is against what is reasonable, holy, orderly, and wise. Such people may in fact have intelligence and wide knowledge about many things of the world. But their stance is against Godly Wisdom; they are set against what matters to God; they are rooted in the passing things of the world that are of darkness. They base their lives on transitory and frivolous things, which cannot be the true basis for salvation.
The Latin Vulgate often uses the word insipiens (unwise) to refer to foolishness, i.e., the setting of oneself against wisdom.
Hence simply thinking that fool means stupid fails to grasp the nuance of what is said. And while it is not a flattering portrayal, neither is it mere name-calling. Rather, it is descriptive. Fools are those who set themselves against wisdom; they are not merely stupid people.
With that in mind, let’s examine a few of the proverbs that we are reading at this time in the Divine Office. They help to explain what God’s Church and those who seek wisdom are up against. The maxims are all from the 10th chapter of Proverbs. My comments are presented in red text.
- Blessings are for the head of the just, but a rod for the back of the fool (Prov 10:6).
God’s law is a great blessing to those who love wisdom. His commandments are not prison walls; they are defending walls. His commands do not limit freedom so much as they frame it within necessary limits.
But to the foolish, to those who hate and despise God’s wisdom, to those who hate discipline and reasonable limits; God’s law—any authority that tries to limit behavior—is hateful and punishing, like a rod on the back.
And thus many today are not simply indifferent to God’s wisdom as proclaimed by the Church and Scripture, they are openly hostile to it!
It is like the reaction of someone who has been sitting in a very dark room and is suddenly overwhelmed by bright light: he cries out in protest. He despises the light and protests its presence as something hateful and hurtful. Jesus lamented, And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil (Jn 3:19).
To those who despise God’s wisdom, it is seen not as a brilliant and beautiful light, a blessing for the mind to contemplate; rather, it feels like a punishing rod on the back.
- A wise man heeds commands, but a prating fool will be overthrown. A path to life is his who heeds admonition, but he who disregards reproof goes astray (Proverbs 10:8, 17).
The wise man listens to instruction and strives to base his life upon it. The wise humbly accept that they do not know all things and must be taught by God.
But fools, those who hate wisdom, prattle on and on about their own opinions. They believe anything is true simply because they think it.
It is difficult to reason with them, for although they scoff at religious truth as mere “religion,” it is really they who exhibit a far more extreme version of “blind faith” than any Christian believer who sees faith and reason as compatible.
The text says that their end is destruction. Many political ideologies, errant trends, and misguided philosophies have come and gone over the years, yet the Church remains. The wisdom and the Word of the Lord endure forever.
- He who walks honestly walks securely, but he whose ways are crooked will fare badly (Prov 10:9).
Evil has its hour. It rises, seems glamorous to many, and is praised and paraded about as some sort of new form of liberation.
But evil cannot last, and those who practice it will fare badly. It may come in the form of addiction, disease, strife, inner conflict, or any number of resentments rooted in false hope; but those who practice it will fare badly.
Only those who walk in honesty and in the truth—time-tested truth taught by God Himself—will walk securely. They will have trials to be sure, but even these difficulties will help them to reach their goal if they follow time-tested wisdom.
- He who winks at a fault causes trouble, but he who frankly reproves promotes peace (Prov 10:10).
There is great pressure from many sectors today to remain silent about sin and evil. Those who do speak of sin are called judgmental and intolerant. Sadly, many Christians have succumbed to the pressure and started winking at faults. Nothing but trouble results from this. The moral cesspool of the modern age shows this.
The correction of faults, frankly and with love, is an act of charity (St. Thomas Aquinas). Error and sin bring war and division, both individually and collectively. But God’s truth, lovingly proclaimed, brings peace by insisting on what is good, right, true, and beautiful.
We live in an age that winks at evil. In other words, the world finds evil funny and often celebrates it in visual entertainment, written media, music, and other ways. The destructiveness of glamorizing evil is apparent if one simply reads a newspaper or turns on the news.
God’s law is His peace plan for this broken world of ours; it is His wisdom that will bring us peace.
- A fountain of life is the mouth of the just, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence (Proverbs 10:11).
Jesus warned that Satan and those who are evil often masquerade in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves (see Mat 7:15). And hence many in our world today who despise God’s wisdom conceal their violence with euphemisms such as pro-choice, no-fault divorce, reproductive freedom, euthanasia, death with dignity, and so forth.
Despite the euphemisms and their cloak of pseudo-compassion, they ultimately peddle death and division. God’s wisdom, on the other hand, speaks to the dignity of every human life, hope, and promise of life—despite any difficulties.
- The just man’s recompense leads to life, the gains of the wicked, to sin (Proverbs 10: 16).
For those who are striving to be just and to follow God’s wisdom, the rewards received are to be shared generously with others. The gains of the wicked, however, lead to sins such as gluttony, greed, hoarding, and other excesses. Rather than sharing their abundance with others, they spend it on the flesh and they place their trust and reliance on the creature rather than on the Creator, who is blessed forever, amen.
- Where words are many, sin is not wanting; but he who restrains his lips does well (Proverbs 10:19).
In an age of non-stop communication and 24/7 news reporting, the sin of gossip is almost endlessly available. Discretion is lost. Almost everyone thinks he has a right to know everything about everyone else. The people’s “right to know,” seems to have no limits.
And in our age of many words and many media (visual, verbal, musical, etc.), sin is not wanting on account of this. We talk endlessly about other people’s business and often ignore our own issues. Why stay in our own lane when we can “tune in at 11” or go to a scandal sheet or website for the latest gossip?
Rare indeed are those who “restrain their lips” and cover their eyes and ears to what is sinful or merely intriguing.
- Crime is the entertainment of the fool; so is wisdom for the man of sense (Proverbs 10:23).
Our culture celebrates the sins of others as entertainment. On television, in the cinema, and in many other forms of communication, fornication, adultery, and other kinds of sexual misconduct are normalized—even celebrated.
It is the same with violence. Most adventure movies today glamorize the use of violence to solve problems. An injustice occurs and the “hero” (after 90 minutes of killing people, breaking things, and blowing up buildings) has a final showdown with the unambiguously evil enemy, killing him and walking away with the girl on his arm and the burning city in the background—roll credits.
We also glorify mobsters and others who participate in crime and violence.
Some will argue that movies should reflect life. That is fine, but most people are not killing other people, burning cities, crashing cars, or blowing up buildings. Most people are not Mafiosi. Sadly, however, there is a lot of fornication, adultery, and participation in homosexual acts. But in real life these actions are not without consequence, as movies depict.
Where are the movies that depict wisdom, beauty, love, truth, chastity, and strong families? They are out there, but too often are eclipsed at the box office by the far more numerous ones that celebrate crime, violence, dysfunction, and sinfulness.
- When the tempest passes, the wicked man is no more; but the just man is established forever (Proverbs 10:25).
The Church alone is indefectible, by the promise of Jesus Christ. Although evil movements, political forces, sinful regimes, etc. rise and boast of their power, they eventually fall. As noted, the Church has seen empires rise and fall and philosophies come and go. Evil men have threatened the Church with destruction for thousands of years now, but we have read the funeral rites over every one of them.
The truth will out. Evil will not remain; it cannot last. Christ has already won the victory.
The foolish keep resisting; they laugh at God’s wisdom, dismiss the Scriptures, and ridicule the Church. But when they are gone, we will still be here proclaiming Christ crucified, gloriously resurrected, and ascended to glory.
Those who mock this resist the consistent message of history. Jesus is Lord, and though He permits His enemies time to repent, their days are ultimately numbered—evil cannot last.
These are just a few proverbs that speak to our times and help us to decode what God has to say of many modern trends.
Here’s a video with some other sayings. In posting this I do not mean to affirm every saying presented, but some of them do make good sense!