The Beginning of Wisdom
by Fr. Robert D Smith
The modernists tell us that fear of the Lord should be avoided altogether, that
to fear the Lord is, in its own way, sinful. By their own words, they convict them-
selves of being unwise, for the Holy Scriptures tell us that the fear of the Lord is the
beginning of wisdom (Prov.1:7; 9:10; Job.28:28; Ps.111:10; Sir.1:16).
What do they put in place of fear as their own candidate for the beginning of
wisdom? Sorrow and shame. They say that when our consciences begin to bother us
in the sense that we have deep feelings of shame or sorrow, it is time to repent. If we
feel no shame or sorrow, they say, then we are surely saved, surely on the road to
Father Persons wrote: "Carnal men will feel no sorrow." He said we all must "fear
then, and be not more insensible than a brute beaSt. " Many tell themselves that absence
of fear brings them to a higher level of sensitivity. Father Persons said it is the other way
around, that the absence of fear brings men to a lower level than the animals. "Fear
Judgment, fear Hell," he admonishes us. "This fear is called the beginning of wisdom and
not shame or sorrow." (Book of Resolution, by Fr. Robert Persons, S.J.)
How can one be expected to fear if he has no shame or sorrow to start with?
A conscience may well be so dead that it may not provide us with any shame or sorrow.
But it will provide us with knowledge. We shall always remember God's law. The long-time
sinner does not forget what is wrong; He merely thinks himself excused. He has no shame or sorrow, and maybe shame and sorrow will never of themselves come back.
His real, most basic problem, is not that he has no shame or sorrow, but that he
has lost the fear of God altogether. He tells himself that no punishment will ever come
from God to those who excuse themselves from God's law. It is here that he is shaky,
here that his conscience still operates. Although he does not fear punishment, he still
knows he is violating God's law. And if he arouses in himself a fear of God, then he can
begin to be wise, begin to feel shame and sorrow. Fr.Person's insight shows us how
true indeed are the words of the Scriptures: "Fear of The Lord is the beginning of
wisdom." As St. Paul said,"...let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of the
flesh and of the spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." (2 Cor.7:1)
What about St. John's statement that "...perfect love casts out fear..." (1 John
4:18)? This applies only after we have examined our consciences in the light of fear and
in the light of God's law, and found that we are indeed accepting no excuses in ourselves
for disobedience of God's law. After this, we can trust safely in Christ's promises and
cast out fear of damnation for ourselves. But this fearlessness will have at least begun
with fear, and will always keep fear at least in the background, ready to bring forward
whenever we are tempted to excuse ourselves from God's law.
"For there will come a time when they will not endure
the sound doctrine; but having itching ears, will heap
up to themselves teachers according to their own lusts
and they will turn away their hearing from the truth and
turn aside rather to fables..." (2 Tim.4:3-4)
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