All the wisdom literature (even if only Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) explicitly address "my son") is father-son instruction; it is
divided insofar as words work in a twofold way to instruct, in one way, by
asking for the gift of wisdom. Wisdom 7:7: ‘Wherefore I have wished, and understanding was given me, and I called upon God, and the spirit of wisdom came upon me.’ This is how the Psalter instructs, speaking to God in prayer. In another way,
by teaching wisdom, and this in two ways according to the twofold work of wisdom, one of which is to expose the liar, and Job who drove out errors by way of disputation exhibits this. Job 13.3-4: ‘But yet I will speak to the Almighty and I desire to reason with God, having first shown that you are forgers of lies and maintainers of perverse opinions.’ The other work is not to lie about what it knows, and thus we are instructed in a twofold way, because either
wisdom is commended to us, and this in the book of Wisdom, or
the precepts of wisdom are proposed, and this in the three books of Solomon, which indeed differ according to the three grades of virtue that Plotinus, in Enneads 184.108.40.206-7, distinguishes, since the precepts of wisdom ought to concern only the acts of virtue. In the first grade, according to him, are
political virtues, whereby a man moderately uses the things of this world and lives among men, and this in the Proverbs. In the second grade are the
purgative virtues, whereby a man regards the world with contempt, and this in Ecclesiastes, which aims at contempt of the world, as is clear from Jerome’s prologue. In the third grade are the
virtues of the purged soul, whereby a man, wholly cleansed of worldly cares, delights in the contemplation of wisdom alone, and this is found in the Song of Songs. In the fourth grade are the
exemplar virtues existing in God, concerning which precepts of wisdom are not given but are rather derived from them. In word and in deed Sirach instructs. Hence the precepts of wisdom in praise of fathers close his book, as is clear in Chapter 44 and after.
—St. Thomas Aquinas, Hic est liber pt. 2
St. Jerome's prologue to his commentary on Ecclesiastes says Solomon
produced an equal number of titles to the three volumes: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs. He
- teaches for children in Proverbs and gives instruction in the form of maxims almost with a sense of duty, and his sermons here are repeated continually to his son. In
- Ecclesiastes he teaches a man of mature age that he should not think anything in the world to be perpetual, but that all things that we perceive are in fact vain and fleeting. In
- Song of Songs he embraces an elderly man in the covenant, who has already been prepared in spurning his times.
Philosophers educate their followers in a manner similar to this type of instruction: first of all they teach ethics, then explain physics, and then anyone whom they see to excel in these first two they then go on to teach theology.