Thursday, March 2, 2017

Lovers of Wisdom

One of my intentions for Lent was to re-familiarize myself with the wisdom literature of the Hebrew Scriptures, starting with the original book of Proverbs all the way through (hopefully) the book of Sirach. I knew that Wisdom (or Sophia/Sapientia) appears personified as a feminine figure, but I had forgotten that she also describes herself as preexistent of creation in this earliest of wisdom books. As King Solomon writes in the eighth chapter:
The Lord made me his when first he went about his work, at the birth of time, before his creation began. Long, long ago, before earth was fashioned, I held my course. Already I lay in the womb, when the depths were not yet in being, when no springs of water had yet broken; when I was born, the mountains had not yet sunk on their firm foundations, and there were no hills; not yet had he made the earth, or the rivers, or the solid framework of the world. I was there when he built the heavens, when he fenced in the waters with a vault inviolable, when he fixed the sky overhead, and levelled the fountain-springs of the deep. I was there when he enclosed the sea within its confines, forbidding the waters to transgress their assigned limits, when he poised the foundations of the world. I was at his side, a master-workman, my delight increasing with each day, as I made play before him all the while; made play in this world of dust, with the sons of Adam for my play-fellows. (Knox trans.)
The prehistorical Wisdom of God appears elsewhere in the Old Testament, especially in Wisdom and Sirach. Because of the description of Wisdom as a woman, many commentators have applied this figure symbolically to the Virgin Mary, or as it were to the Platonic Idea of the Mother of God which existed in the mind of God before all creation. But in other ways it more perfectly symbolizes the preincarnate Christ, who St. Paul describes as "the Wisdom of God" (I Cor. 1). St. Hildegard also had visions of Divine Wisdom personified as a woman, the sort of thing that modern feminist esotericists use as an excuse to worship the quasi-pagan Goddess.

Applied to the Second Person of the Trinity, these pre-Christian glimpses into the personality of God are comforting and unusual. Wisdom feels "delight increasing with each day" of creation, and "made play" before God and made the sons of Adam her "play-fellows." It is an expression of the infinite and overflowing joy of creation, the supreme happiness of God as Creator, and the delight which he wished to impart to all his creatures. Those who suppose that God is depicted in the Old Testament as a judgmental grump and in the New as a hippy universalist, have read neither at any length or depth.

Perhaps when I have finished the Hebrew literature, I should move on to a re-read of St. Severinus Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy, which attempts a merging of Hebrew and pagan figures of Wisdom. The philosopher was literally the "Lover of Wisdom," in pretense if not in reality. Solomon as much as Socrates invites everyone to love Wisdom, and to let its dictates guide our reason and action.

Holy Wisdom, play with us!


  1. There is also a description, where is it? Of the Temple of Solomon - her face in the middle (Theotokos) on each side birds (the 2 Archangels). Where is it? It describes a Christian Altar.

  2. J., I wish you great success with your Lenten endeavor! Have you by chance read any of the books by Margaret Barker on "the Second God of Israel"? There is some interesting material on Wisdom as the Mother of this "second God," e.g. how her maternity is symbolized by the "tree" of the seven-branched candlestick in the Temple, which in turn represents the "bush" (or tree) that burned but was not consumed--itself also a type of the divine maternity. Anyhow, maybe you would find it interesting. She draws on ancient Jewish rabbinical sources and apocrypha.

    1. I have not heard of Barker's research before, but what little of it I can read online looks fascinating. Perhaps I will take a deeper look after Lent!