Friday, December 17, 2010

O Antiphons-O Wisdom

Welcome to the first installment of the O Antiphons series. As a rule, I'm going to quote either the Evening Prayer or the Alleluia verse version (depending on what I think about the version and its translation). I'll finish up the entry with the Latin and English of the O Come, O Come Emmanuel version. The source for my text is the page on the O-Antiphons.

Sapientia Altissimi,
fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom of our God Most High,
guiding creation with power and love:
come to teach us the path of knowledge!

In this first O-Antiphon, we begin at the beginning, creation. And, at the very beginning, according to Proverbs 8, 22-31 and, in a different sense, John 1,1-5, we find Wisdom. In Proverbs, we find Wisdom spoken as the first born of the Creation, begotten before the beginnings of the universe, when there was nothing yet made- earth, seas, heavens. We find Wisdom participating in Creation 'like a master worker' (Proverbs 8, 30) and rejoicing with God in the sheer delight of creating and in what was created (Proverbs 8,30-31). Wisdom, the divine Wisdom was there from the beginning, involved in creation and involved with God. But, it almost sounds like Wisdom is a separate being from God in Proverbs, why do we think that Wisdom is title of Jesus as the Messiah?

The connection comes with the justly famous opening to John's Gospel which echoes Proverb's vision of Creation, only changing the terminology from Wisdom to the Logos, the Word. Logos is a rather more encompassing term than merely intelligible speech. It is closer to an organizing intelligence just like Proverb's Wisdom. As John says, the Word was with God and was God( John 1,1-2). The Word was there in the beginning and all things, all life, all light came into being through the Word (John 3-5). Just like Wisdom, the Word was not only a witness to creation, but a co-participant in creation. Indeed, John goes just a little farther than Proverbs and, not only identifies the Word as God, but declares that the Word became human in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Messiah. So, the Creator becomes part of His Creation as part of a dramatic effort to redeem it from its present state where humanity's weaknesses and their consequences reign supreme.

Now, that is mind-blowing. One day, over two thousand years ago, the Wisdom of God, that 'master-worker' in creation, who created all things we know and see, entered into His creation as a helpless and vulnerable baby in a provincial backwater in the Roman Empire to a mere carpenter and his wife. The divine becomes mundane, in the true sense of the word. But why?

That reason, I think, is addressed by the request in this antiphon- to teach us in the path of knowledge. Well, prudentia, is the what the Latin says which is a richer word than the rather flat translation of 'knowledge' we have here. What the divine wisdom teaches us isn't some kind of database of useful information nor is it mere trivia. It is what Proverbs means by Wisdom: a sense of one's real place in the universe. We are the created, we are not God. Any suggestion that we control our destiny, that we are in charge of our life is, at best, delusional when we are faced with the Creator God. As God asked Job, "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?" (Job 38,1). Wisdom, true wisdom, tells us that we are not the defining intelligence in this world, God is because God created the heavens and earth. And Wisdom, the Logos, was right there in and with God.

An essential beginning step to faith is the startling realization that we are not, in fact, God. We have to begin with realizing that, whatever else is true, that we are not the centre of the universe, nor are we masters of it. That is a humbling, but necessary realization for us to make in these early days of the 21st century. All around us, voices tell us that we, each one of us, are the most important beings in the world. Wisdom, true wisdom, whispers to us that we are not gods, but, rather, we should look to the true God, the Creator of this exciting and beautiful universe. Only after we've realized this, can we find the path of wisdom which shows us how we can contribute to the world around us and, more importantly, to the redeemed world to come.

Veni, O Sapientia,
quae hic disponis omnia,
Veni, viam prudentiae
ut doceas et gloriae.

O Come, Thou Wisdom,
from on high,and order all things far and nigh;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.



mjjhoskin said...

I am excited for these posts about the O-Antiphons!

I am curious about how you approached Proverbs 8:22 in this context, given the Arian use of it to argue that the divine Logos is, in fact, a creature, e'en if of a much higher order than we are.

I ask because I like the association between Logos and Sophia and seeing Christ's eternal existence as the order and wisdom that guides the cosmos. But I am cautious about his relationship to Proverbs 8 because of the Arian associations; this is a caution I would like to work through.

Phil Snider said...

I'd have to do more research on this, but I'm pretty sure that the tack that I took is the classic answer to your concern. That is, we can't read Proverbs 8 without John 1. Or to be more specific, without remember that John specifies that the Logos was God. That identification is key to the orthodox position and gives us the interpretive framework to avoid the problem you cite. I'll look around over the next day or so, but I'm pretty sure that this is the move that the Church Fathers took as well.

mjjhoskin said...

Cool. Thanks; I've always felt that the Arian position was backwards -- ie. John 1 in light of Proverbs 8 rather than the other way around. No doubt St. Athanasius has something to say about it.