The Need to Attain Wisdom for Pastoral Ministry

Now, if we were to speak gently to one of them, advancing, as follows, step by step in argument:  “Tell me, my good sir, do you call dancing anything, and flute-playing?” “Certainly,” they would say.  “What then of wisdom and being wise, which we venture to define as a knowledge of things divine and human?”  This also they will admit.  “Are then these accomplishments better than and superior to wisdom, or wisdom by far better than these?”  “Better even than all things,” I know well that they will say.  Up to this point they are judicious.  “Well, dancing and flute-playing require to be taught and learnt, a process which takes time, and much toil in the sweat of the brow, and sometimes the payment of fees, and entreaties for initiation, and long absence from home, and all else which must be done and borne for the acquisition of experience:  but as for wisdom, which is chief of all things, and holds in her embrace everything which is good, so that even God himself prefers this title to all the names which He is called; are we to suppose that it is a matter of such slight consequence, and so accessible, that we need but wish, and we would be wise?”  “It would be utter folly to do so.”  If we, or any learned and prudent man, were to say this to them, and try by degrees to cleanse them from their error, it would be sowing upon rocks, and speaking to ears of men who will not hear:  so far are they from being even wise enough to perceive their own ignorance.  And we may rightly, in my opinion, apply to them the saying of Solomon:  There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, a man wise in his own conceit; and a still greater evil is to charge with the instruction of others a man who is not even aware of his own ignorance.


-Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration II.50, NPNF 2.7 (tr. Browne and Swallow)

Two points about this quote. The first is that the adaptation of Socratic dialectic is brilliant. Reminds me of Socrates in Cratylus arguing that name-giving is a work, which means it requires skill, which means language cannot merely be arbitrary. While I disagree with Socrates conclusion, arguing from work to skill to wisdom to knowledge of the good seems to be common throughout Plato. I’m sure I’ll see it more as I read through the Republic.

Second, I was reminded of my undergrad where (paraphrasing one of my professors put it) those who want to “do” ministry wont take the time to do the hard work of studying the Bible, whereas those who do the “classwork” don’t lift a finger at their own churches (I fit into this category). Both seem to suffer from what Gregory indicts as a wishfulness for wisdom, only in the opposite areas of necessary ministerial activity. I doubt Gregory would have separated biblical studies from the care of souls: both require wisdom, which means both require work. Another professor in my undergrad noted that one would never place the care of one’s body in the hands of an untrained physician, but so many are willing to place the care of their souls into untrained hands. What does that tell us about our priorities? (note: placing a “higher” value on the soul does not make one a dreaded “Platonist” nor necessitate a denial of the resurrection). Does not the care of souls require even more wisdom than the care of bodies? A broken bone isn’t hidden from sight, but intentions, motivations, and thoughts are. A pastor must be able to discern the later set in order to give accurate and appropriate council, yet it seems that many people today would rather trust their facebook friends who in all likelihood cannot even discern their own intentions, motivations, and thoughts but feel free to generalize to universal principles based on their individual experience (hint: your sample size is too small!). On the other hand, a wise pastor deals with many different people from many different backgrounds, with many different motivations. As such, they should be able to see what is wrong with greater clarity than the stranger in the supermarket.


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