Friday, December 17, 2010

Advent 3 Friday: The O Antiphons Begin

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High, pervading and permeating all creation, you order all things with strength and gentleness: Come now and teach us the way to salvation. 

Come, Lord Jesus!

Beginning tonight, the Church's vesper prayers make use of the "O antiphons." seven words of praise and supplication which make use of Messianic titles found in the Hebrew Scriptures. Each day there is a new antiphon until Christmas Eve, when the church's prayer turns towards the birth of Jesus. 

Tonight's title is "Wisdom," in Latin, "Sapientia." It reminds us of the first verses of John's gospel: Christ comes forth from the mouth of God: he is the Word made flesh. As God's Word, he contains-- no, he embodies God's wisdom.

Wisdom is one of those slightly mischievous, slightly subversive titles for Jesus. Wisdom has a tradition of being translated into the feminine form, as in the Greek "Sophia" and the Hebrew Hokhmot.  Verbal femininity is not necessarily to be understood as female, until it is:

Does not wisdom call,
and does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights, beside the way,
at the crossroads she takes her stand;
beside the gates in front of the town,
at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
“To you, O people, I call,
and my cry is to all that live.
O simple ones, learn prudence;
acquire intelligence, you who lack it.
Hear, for I will speak noble things,
and from my lips will come what is right;
for my mouth will utter truth;

wickedness is an abomination to my lips.      Proverbs 8:1-7

There is a great and venerable tradition of personifying Wisdom female, and the case can be made (and has been made by actual scholars of Greek and Hebrew) that some of this seeps into the gospel portrayals of Jesus.

So, on this first night of the O antiphons, I invite you-- I invite myself!-- to remember the resonances of  the messianic title, "O Wisdom," as we wait with longing for the revealing of Christ.

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