O Sapientia


Today marks the beginning of the great “O Antiphons” marking the passing of the “Golden Nights” as the Church prepares herself for the final octave (eight days) towards the Feast of the Nativity. They are recited at Vespers as the Magnificat antiphons and each emphasises a title of the Messiah. They express the hope of the prophets of Israel and the expectation of the Church.

The first great “O” is of Wisdom. O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviter disponens que omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

English: O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from one end to the other, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.

It reflects the following prophecies and Scripture:

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,

  • “I came out of the mouth of the most High, and covered the earth as a cloud.” Sirach 24:3 explicates the meaning of St John’s opening verses of his Gospel John 1:1, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” It also reflects the nature of “Wisdom” that IS Christ, who as the “logos” (Greek: Word) is the “ruach Elohim” (Hebrew: spirit of God) referring to the creative activity of God (Genesis 1:2), and active power (Isaiah 40:13), in providence (Job 33:4, Psalm 104:30), in redemption (Ezekiel 11:19 & 36:26-27 ), in upholding and guiding the chosen ones (Nehemiah 9:20, Psalm 143:10, Haggai 2:5), and the empowerment of the Messiah (Isaiah 11:2; 42:1 & 61:1);

reaching from one end to the other, mightily and sweetly ordering all things:

  • “Wisdom reacheth from one end to another mightily: and sweetly doth she order all things.” Wisdom of Solomon 8:1 The most basic knowledge of Biblical symbolism reveals that any reference to the female gender in scripture points us to the head of that gender. The head of the woman is the man (Gen 2:23 And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man), the head of the man is Christ (1 Corinthians 11:3 But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.) , and “the head of Christ is God”. Now which of these is ‘wisdom’? ‘Wisdom’ certainly is not the woman, because her head is the man. Wisdom is certainly not the man because his head is Christ. But since God “by wisdom founded the earth” (Prov. 3:19), and since wisdom “is a tree of life unto them that lay hold upon her” (Prov. 3:18), and since “the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor 11:3), then it only follows that it was by Christ that the earth was founded, and it is Christ who is a tree of life (cf  Isaiah 11:2) to those who lay hold on Him, and it is Christ, who was with God “from the beginning” (John 1:1-2; Prov. 3:19). It is only Christ that can be this ‘wisdom’, because it is Christ who we are told, was used of God to create all things, “For by him [Christ, wisdom] were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.” Colossians 1:16-17

Come and teach us the way of prudence.

  • “The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.” Isaiah 11:2-3 At His baptism by St John the Baptist, the heavens opened and the Spirit of God descended like a dove upon Jesus (Matthew 3:13–17; Mark 1:9–11; Luke 3:21–23); here the human nature of our Lord required, and received abundantly, the sanctifying and enlightening influences of the Holy Ghost; “Wisdom and understanding,” or intellectual and moral apprehension (εὐσυνεσία) the ability to perceive moral and abstract truth; “counsel and might,” or the power at once to scheme and originate, and also to carry out thought into act; “The knowledge and the fear of the Lord,” or acquaintance with the true will of God, combined with the determination to carry out that will to the full (John 4:34; Luke 22:42; Hebrews 10:7).
  • “[…] he is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in wisdom.” Isaiah 28:29 Christ is the “husbandman” described in this chapter of Isaiah, the wonderful Counsellor, qualified to give suitable and proper advice to the sons of men; and of “might” or “power”, to preach the Gospel with authority; in giving counsel to man, both with respect to things temporal and spiritual; and whose counsel is always wise and good, and for the best; he is “wonderful” in forming wise plans and schemes of operation; the wise plan of his works of creation and providence was formed in his vast and infinite mind from eternity; the wise scheme of our redemption and salvation by Christ was concerted by him, wherein he has abounded towards us in all wisdom and prudence; and the manner, means, time, and place, of his gathering and the effectual calling of his people, are all wisely fixed by him; and he does all things after “the counsel of his will”, Ephesians 1:11; Proverbs 3:19 “The Lord by wisdom hath founded the earth; by understanding hath he established the heavens.”

Nota Bene. Sometimes the character of “Wisdom” is mis-attributed to the Blessed Virgin Mary, largely because of an assumption concerning the use of the feminine gender and perhaps because the Church often uses readings from the books of Proverbs and Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) on Marian festivals in the liturgy. It’s important to appreciate that it is about the Messiah, her son, that the allusion to “Wisdom” is ever made in connection with Our Lady; Our Lady certainly employed “wisdom” and chose “wisely” in accepting and applying herself to the Will of God for her, but it is her son, Christ, who is “Wisdom”.

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