Monday, December 17, 2018

Advent Reflections: Mary, Sophia, and the Antiphons

Sophia, Wisdom of God,
from St. Sophia's Cathedral, Kiev.
A tradition dating back to the seventh or eighth century begins today, as the church honors the many aspects of Christ with the "O Antiphons." The prayers are reflected in the Christmas hymn "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." One antiphon is recited each day through December 23, and they begin with an ode to Holy Wisdom.

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

Translated from the Latin:

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.

And as reflected in the Christmas hymn:

O come, thou Wisdom, from on high,
Who orders all things mightily.

To us the path of knowledge show,
And cause us in her ways to go.

Those words, in turn, reflect what Wisdom herself tells us in scripture. From Proverbs (8:12, 14-15, 17, 22-31):

I, Wisdom, dwell with prudence, and useful knowledge I have. 
Counsel and safety are mine. 
Discernment is mine, and strength is mine: 
By me kings reign, and rulers enact justice. 
I love those who love me. 
And those who seek shall find me. 

The Lord possessed me, the beginning of his works, 
The forerunner of his deeds of long ago; 
From of old I was formed, at the first, before the earth. 
When there were no deeps I was brought forth,  
When there were no fountains or springs of water; 
Before the mountains were settled into place, before the hills, 
I was brought forth; 
When the earth and the fields were not yet made, 
Nor the first clods of the world. 

When he established the heavens, there was I;  
When he marked out the vault over the face of the deep; 
When he made firm the skies above, 
When he fixed fast the springs of the deep, 
When he set for the sea its limit, 
So that waters should not transgress his command, 
When he fixed the foundations of earth, 
Then was I beside him as artisan; 
I was his delight by day, playing before him all the while, 
Playing over the whole of his earth, having my delight with human beings.

And from Sirach (24:3-6):

From the mouth of the Most High I came forth 
And covered the earth like a mist. 
In the heights of heaven I dwelt, and my throne was in a pillar of cloud. 
The vault of heaven I compassed alone, and walked through the deep abyss. 
Over waves of the sea, over all the land, over every people and nation I held sway.

And who is this Wisdom? How do we find her? Here, we turn to the book of Wisdom (7:24-29):

And she penetrates and pervades all things by reason of her purity.
For she is a breath of the might of God and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; 
Therefore nothing defiled can enter into her. 
For she is the reflection of eternal light, the spotless mirror of the power of God, 
The image of his goodness. 
Although she is one, she can do all things, 
And she renews everything while herself perduring; 
Passing into holy souls from age to age, she produces friends of God and prophets. 
For God loves nothing so much as the one who dwells with Wisdom. 
For she is fairer than the sun and surpasses every constellation of the stars.

The official church teaching is that Wisdom revealed herself in Christ -- which is true enough in itself, but it obscures an important part of the story. The most obvious detail that begs to be addressed is that Wisdom is a woman. The mystics throughout the ages have known her as Sophia, whom they recognized not just as the immanent presence of God, but as a being herself -- the feminine aspect of God, the Holy Spirit, or an expression of what the three persons of the Trinity hold in common, thus making her a symbol of the fullness of the Trinity, its ousia.

The book of Baruch (3:15, 29-30, 36-38) speaks of Sophia's descent to Earth:

Who has found the place of wisdom? Who has entered into her treasuries?
Who has gone up to the heavens and taken her, bringing her down from the clouds?
Who has crossed the sea and found her, bearing her away rather than choice gold?

Such is our God; no other is to be compared to him:
He has uncovered the whole way of understanding, and has given her to Jacob, his servant,
To Israel, his beloved.
Thus she has appeared on earth, is at home with mortals.

"Nothing defiled can enter into her."
"She is fairer than the sun."
"By me kings reign."
"Thus she has appeared on earth."

The Song of Songs (6:10) asks: "Who is this that appears like the dawn, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, majestic as the stars in procession?"

She sounds very much like God's masterpiece of creation. One who was full of grace and chosen above all others to bear the incarnation of God, and thus became the very Mother of God. As she consented to carry the Christ child, so by her kings reign.

Thus do we see Holy Sophia, the Wisdom of God, the maternal face of the Divine, the universal symbol of the Sacred Feminine, in the Blessed Virgin Mary, our perfect spiritual mother -- without whom we would have no Advent, no Christmas, no redemption, no hope.

If we follow Mary, trust in her, follow her example of faith and trust, we will find our way.

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