Today is the feast of St Boniface, the Apostle to Germany. In the office of readings for this morning we find the following passage from the writings of the martyred bishop:
I would gladly give up the task of guiding the Church which I have accepted if I could find such an action warranted by the example of the fathers or by holy Scripture. Since this is the case, and since the truth can be assaulted but never defeated or falsified, with our tired mind let us turn to the words of Solomon: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own prudence. Think on him in all your ways, and he will guide your steps.
What caught my eye was the use of the word “prudence” there. That’s actually a direct translation from Jerome’s Vulgate Bible. This verse (Proverbs 3:5) is rendered this way:
Habe fiduciam in Domino ex toto corde tuo, et ne innitaris prudentiae tuae.
Have confidence in the Lord with all thy heart, and lean not upon thy own prudence.
The Hebrew word Jerome is working with is בִּינָה binah and “prudence” is a valid, not terribly sui generis translation of binah, I was surprised to learn; the word is usually rendered “understanding” as in the KJV.. The LXX renders it as “Sophia” which was more directly “wisdom”. The NABRE has this as “your own intelligence” which is both wrong and right, given our current sense of what “mind” is.
But it was that word as “prudence” that sparked my meditation.
Prudence as a virtue is the root of all other virtues. Every act becomes virtuous by the application of prudence. Love, without prudence, is either too-soft or else a cover for concupiscence. Anger with prudence can be justice. Without prudence, the same anger can be pride, violence, and abuse. Prudence is the ground and center from which all other virtues arise. Grace builds on nature. If my own love, my own anger, my own desires, or drives can be repaired by proper use of the virtue of prudence, what then is “prudentiae tuae” or “your own prudence” that can lead me astray? What is, if you will, imprudent prudence? It’s the possessive that gives the clue, I think: “my own.”
The saint is saying that the awesome responsibility of leadership in the Church would have – should have – scared away any man who thought about it for a bit. Conceive of it: not only might one destroy one’s own soul this way, but one may lead others astray and so condemn them as well. So the saint says, “I would have run away if I could find other examples of holy men doing so.” Yet none were found. His own inner prompting would say “go back”, but the Church – and through her, God – was saying to Boniface, “Go forward”.
Boniface trusted in God to do so. I am reminded of an online clergy man who shared that he, as a youth, met his bishop for the first time. The Bishop said, “I understand you want to be a priest.” The young man formed a correct (so he thought) humble reply of the sort one might think needed, “Well, I hope so, Bishop, if I might…” and the Bishop’s reply was, “You hope so? You have to want this with all your heart! This is not an easy job and you have to want it…”
Our inner voices might make us shy away in false humility, or imprudent prudence might make us chicken. God wants us to run forward, to drive forward – even to fail – with all our heart, trusting in him to make all things work for the good of those who love the Lord.
We are unworthy vessels: broken, mended, weakened. But in that state – that is the only state humans can be – God can and will use us if we but let him. It’s important to be honest about our brokenness. God can’t make tools from uppity clay. Yet God can and will use misfired clay, poorly glazed clay, cracked clay, fragile clay, discarded clay to build the bricks of his Kingdom.
Trust him. Let him do his work with you and he will do far greater things than you can imagine – even if you are slain tomorrow.