11 February 2017

Created Wisdom

I remember once sharing a mutual concern with that erudite liturgist and beloved bishop (now, of course, Mgr) David Silk (oh dear, that's not a common combination nowadays). We both, at some time or other, had felt awkward about the custom of the Latin Church of using the 'Sapiential' literature of the Old Testament to apply to Our Lady. It provides some lovely liturgical passages; better men that I am have felt totally easy about it: such as nearly-­blessed John Henry Newman, who employs it in the purple passage at the end of his sermon on the Assumption. But, for me at least, there is the nagging memory at the back of my mind of S Paul's first Epistle to the Corinthians (chapter 1). He there regards Christ as the Wisdom of God Incarnate; just as S John sees him as the Word Incarnate. Since, for a Jew, Wisdom is Torah, S Paul is also saying that our Lord is the Incarnate Torah. How can it therefore be right to say that our Lady, a mere creature, is God's Wisdom? Is that not the title of the Incarnate First Person of the Holy and Coequal Trinity - and therefore a title which not even his Mother may steal from him?

But then I recalled that in the Arian controversy, Orthodoxy had a bit of a problem with these 'Wisdom' passages. If they apply to the Divine Son, does this not mean that passages like He created me from the beginning before the world point to the createdness of the Word; to the Arian formula en pote ote ouk en [there was a time when He was not]? And then I remembered Newman's superb passage:

"Arius did all but confess that Christ was the Almighty; he said much more than S Bernard or S Alfonso have since said of the Blessed Mary; yet he left him a creature and was found wanting. Thus there was a 'wonder in heaven'; a throne was seen, far above all created powers, mediatorial, intercessory; a title archetypal; a crown bright as the morning star; a glory issuing from the eternal throne; robes pure as the heavens; and a sceptre over all; and who was the predestined heir of that Majesty? Since it was not high enough for the Highest, who was that wisdom, and what was her name, 'the Mother of Fair Love, and fear, and holy hope', 'exalted like a palm tree in Engaddi, and a rose plant in Jericho', 'created from the beginning before the world' in God's counsels ... the Church of Rome is not idolatrous unless Arianism is orthodoxy."

The Arians discerned the idea of an exalted mediatorial - yet created - being; the Church discerned that this was not adequate to the full uncreated Divinity of the Divine Son; the Church discerned that what Arius erroneously predicated of Christ is truly said of his Mother, She is the human wisdom, the created wisdom who is eternal in the sense that she was always in the creative mind and will of the Father, the wisdom appropriated by faithful Virgin Israel when her bridegroom God bestowed his covenantal Law from far above Mount Sinai, the responsive wisdom which in the Daughter of Sion was found worthy to give birth to the Divine Wisdom, the human graced endeavour which accepts and contemplates that Wisdom which is God himself, Second Person of the Trinity, our only Redeemer.


Matthew Celestine said...

Have you read much Sergius Bulgakov, Father? Nobody as said more on the subject than he did.

I think it is difficult from an exegetical point of view to limit Wisdom to the Logos. If we take a broader view of Wisdom as the revelation of God's beauty and goodness, then we can see Our Lady as the highest manifestation of Wisdom in creation.

Ben of the Bayou said...


Beautiful passage from Newman and a very solid reflection from you. But, ahem, "the title of the Incarnate First Person of the Holy and Coequal Trinity...." Surely you can only mean Second Person of the Holy &c.?!



Tomas said...

Fr. Hunwicke, have you ever studied the work of Vladimir Soloviev or Sergei Bulgakov? Their sophiology tends to deal with just this matter - or at least it is their justification for their speculation. I am still very unsure about either of them, but I can't help wondering that they were on to something very important.

On a different not, Charles de Koninck, the Laval-School Thomist, wrote a wonderful reflection on Mary as the personified Wisdom - http://ldataworks.com/aqr/imwisdom.pdf . It's quite good, though one may be turned off by his rather precise philosophical jargon - Lord knows, I have to be in the right mind to appreciate a good Thomist!

peregrinusto said...

Thank you Father for this insightful and poetic paeon to Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, as we finish the yearly contemplation of her Purification and the Presentation of the Word made flesh in the Temple.

Thomas Beyer said...

Might we discern a shadow of what you describe in Athena springing from the head of Zeus? Santa Maria sopra Minerva?