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‘O Sapientia’: To start the last week of Advent

O Sapientia

Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P. | Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Fr. Jacob Bertrand Janczyk, OP - published on 12/17/19 - updated on 12/17/21

The personification of Wisdom plays an incredible role in the development of our understanding of Christ.

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, 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.

O Sapientia (O Wisdom) is the first of the great O Antiphons that ushers in this last week of Advent. “O Wisdom,” the Church cries out, “Come and teach us the way of prudence.” Wisdom certainly pertains to knowledge or experience, perhaps having good judgment, but in the Scriptures, Wisdom plays an even more important and substantial role. Throughout the Old Testament Wisdom is personified, having a role in creation (Wis. 9:1-6), teaching the law (Bar. 4:1-4), and protecting and saving the righteous (Wis. 10:1-9).

The personification of Wisdom and the vocabulary plays an incredible role in the development of our understanding of Christ. Take for example St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians 1:18-4:21, in which our Lord is now understood to be this Wisdom prophesied of old. “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God,” says St. Paul (1 Cor. 1:24).

It is Christ who is the wisdom of God, Wisdom himself, the Word (Jn. 1:1), and it is the very same Christ to whom the prophet Isaiah calls, the one who is “wonderful in counsel, and excellent in wisdom” (Is. 28:29) and who receives this wise spirit of the Lord (cf. Is. 11:2). It may seem a bit out of place for us to call out to and for Wisdom as Christmas quickly approaches. Why “Wisdom?” Why not “Mighty God” or “Prince of Peace?” St. Leo the Great’s homily on this day from the year 450 can help us:

It is by loving that God re-fashions us to his image. That he might find in us the image of his goodness, he gives us the very means by which we can perform the works that we do — by lighting the lamps of our minds and inflaming us with the fire of his love, so that we might love not only him but also whatever he loves.

There is a great maxim that says: “You cannot love what you do not know.” The prophets of Israel, St. Paul, St. Leo, today’s O Antiphon all reveal to us this truth. We faithful echo the words of Isaiah and call upon Christ under the title of “Wisdom,” because he is the light that clears away the darkness of our minds so that we can know him, love him, and, ultimately, be saved by this swaddled child. Come, O Wisdom, and teach us the way!

The beauty of the Incarnation and Christmas is that Christ fulfills everything that was prophesied of him. He fulfills every expectation and every longing of our hearts, not abstractly or from a distance, but in the most intimate and accessible ways: as a little baby. Come, O Wisdom!

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