O Sapientia

[Note: Today’s post is the first of a series of reflections for this year on the “O Antiphons” sung during the forefeast, or the week prior to, the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Huw will also be blogging reflections on the “O Antiphons” (his invitation is here).

I’m a couple days late with this first installment, and will likely be late for the next installment on the 20th, since it’s not clear whether I will have internet access where I’ll be. But I should be good for the 25th and the remainder of the days.]

O Sapientia,
quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem fortiter,
suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom,
who proceeds from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching out mightily from end to end,
and sweetly arranging all things:
come to teach us the way of prudence.

John M Neale and Henry S. Coffin render these verses in the well-known hymn:

O come, O Wisdom from on high,
who orders all things mightily,
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

Wisdom and order are the hallmarks of this created world, and of God’s dealings with us. Prudence, prudentia, or, in Greek, phronesis, is, according to the ancient world, that practical knowledge that grasps the first principles, knows those things that are universally true, and weaves them together with intimate knowledge of the particularities of experience to produce a beautiful way of life. This Wisdom from on high, who lives this way of phronesis, though, is not some impersonal divine intellect thinking the thoughts which give reality to the universe. Nor is this some deity distant from his handiwork, content to fashion, or pass on to the fashioner the task of making, this world, only to settle back for eternity in blissful contemplative rest.

No, this God, this Wisdom from on high, not only speaks the universe into existence, but, clothes himself with creation, indeed, with the particularly human. He does not merely tell us the way, he shows us the way.

Christianity is ever and always a way of life, not a summary of precepts. There are things to know and to believe, but such knowledge and belief are only the threads of the tapestry of a beautiful life, a life crafted from the particulars. Wisdom became a man. Not everyman, but this man Jesus, born of Mary, raised by Joseph, lived and died in a specific place and time. This Wisdom was embodied so that not only might we know the way, we could follow him who is the Way. We not only know the God-man, Jesus the Christ, but he has been seen, he has been touched, he has been heard. He is life. The life he lives is light. And when we follow him, we embody by grace that light which he is. We are illumined.

Now seeing that to which we were formerly blind, we acknowledge a terrible grace and beauty to all that is around us. We live in the meantime, and time is so frequently very mean. But illumined by grace, the translucent veil of the glory which is and which is to come, the glory that is his, we see that the bitter is bounded by sweet, chaos with order, randomness with arrangment.

Wisdom from on high, teach us the way, show us the way. Arrange all things most sweetly for mercy for us and not for judgment. Come, Lord Jesus.

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