O Wisdom, that comest out of the mouth of the Most High, that reachest from one end to another, and orderest all things mightily and sweetly: come to teach us the way of prudence!
O Sapientia, quæ ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiæ.
O Sapientia, or O Wisdom, is the first of the seven “Great O Antiphons”, an ancient and venerable collection of prayers in the Western tradition of the Church. These prayers are used at evening prayer for the seven days preceding Christmas Eve, sung as antiphons, or musical refrains, at the beginning and end of the Song of Mary (Lk 1:46-55). Each antiphon addresses Christ by a different title or attribute, and all begin with the Latin interjection “O” (thus the name “O Antiphons”) to express the depth of the desire to see Christ come. These antiphons encapsulate both the cosmic and the human desire for the Incarnation of God, the central event of this world’s story.
The antiphon O Sapientia addresses Christ as “Wisdom.” The term, or concept, or personification of Wisdom is developed at great length in the Old Testament — especially so in the collection of writings known as the Sapiential books, or the Wisdom literature (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom of Solomon, Song of Songs, and Sirach). Wisdom is the principle by which all things are created and ordered. The order of the cosmos is so obviously laudable that not only did all the greatest thinkers of ancient times recognize and revere the order of nature, but so too have the brightest scientific minds of our own time – thinkers like Albert Einstein, Georges Lemaître, and Max Planck. The apparently self-organizing tendencies of the universe from the quantum level to the galactic are marvelous to behold, and though it’s said to behave according to blind “laws” and to have been moving in the direction of entropy since the first moment of the big bang, the cosmos nevertheless appears to us to be ordered “mightily and sweetly.”
And we, as human beings, recognize all things ordered mightily and sweetly because wisdom shares itself with us. We can partake of it. We can order things mightily and sweetly, first by way of imitation, and then in newly creative ways. Though, our creation is always sub-creation, and our wisdom is itself, just like our existence, derivative. But we know this from mere scientific observation: we know that we aren’t self-originating, but are rather made up of the stuff of the universe. The matter in our bodies is star dust, and our energy is converted from that very matter. And though science can really say nothing to or against this point, our reason and our creativity have a source, too. When we practice wisdom, we borrow from Wisdom.
It’s Wisdom that reaches from one end of the cosmos to the other (a fine usque ad finem), and so it stands outside of nature, beyond it. Yet at Christmas, Wisdom, the un-circumscribed, became circumscribed, and the womb from which he came forth was thus called More Spacious than the Heavens (Πλατυτέρα των Ουρανών). Wisdom, which ordered all things mightily, was born into a chaotic world and had a feeding trough for a bed. Wisdom, which comes forth from the mouth of God as the Word (the λόγος – that great ordering principle of Greek philosophy), became a baby unable to speak.
This great fall of Wisdom into circumscribability, chaos, and silence is of course wise, in a wisdom that confounds all “wisdom” that has separated itself from the Source. “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart” (1 Cor 1:19 á la Isa 29:14). And, “Since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified – a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” All wisdom in this world which turns from its Source becomes darkness, but true wisdom is accessible to all who with faith approach it, because true Wisdom is a person.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.