O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.
O Sapientia, one of the seven O Antiphons sung and meditated upon during the Advent season, is officially my favorite. Sapientia is Latin for “wisdom.” This Advent Antiphon is generally sung on December 17th in preparation for Advent, but it is plain to see its relevance at all times of year. Moreover, it is a profound reflection of beautiful and theological proportions.
It reminds us of the source of all wisdom: Christ. It reminds us of where we came from and where we are going. It gives us the opportunity to focus our attentions upon Christ, and to remember the goodness and the beauty of our God.
The O Antiphons themselves have been sung for longer than a millennia. In fact, no one knows from where they originated or when they were first thought up. One of the first references to the O Antiphons is made by St. Boethius, who lived from 480-524 AD. It is believed that they have been in existence since the days of the early Christian church (“O Antiphons,” 2018).
Much has been said regarding the traditions of the early church, and where I live, in the West, I find constant opposition to them. Many people rid themselves of all tradition, viewing it as legalism and perfectionism. I was once in this mindset myself, and my heart would race and my eyebrows poke upwards whenever someone mentioned something such as “Advent” or “Lent” or even what I am writing about today, the O Antiphons.
Although, in the last five years, I have discovered the beauty that lies undisturbed in the Christian traditions of Lent, Advent, and the O Antiphons. There are many other traditions that my family and I have savored, and many times it is greeted with less than enthusiasm from my fellows.
However, in my family, these traditions are not simply to-do’s or duties that need to be accomplished. The traditions that we delight in, given to us by The Church of England and even the Catholic church, are ones that draw us in closer to our Lord. They bring us into a deeper realization of who He is and why we serve Him. They bring us to our knees in adoration and worship. They bring out the truth of why we celebrate what we do.
These traditions are here to remind us of the God we serve and of how good He truly is.
Like O Sapientia.
It is a prayer to our God, who is the personification of wisdom. In the prayer, we show our honor and reverence for the Lord, and we realize how good and wise He is. And to conclude, we ask that He would show us the way of prudence. Prudence is the ability to remain cautious and wise in all things. We ask Him for Himself: for wisdom. When we pray to Christ, we pray to Wisdom, for He is Wisdom.
Malcolm Guite, a new poet I happened upon during this season, wrote a poem in reflection of O Sapientia that utterly touched me to the core. I have never read a more beautiful poem, I don’t think, in my life. His poem is one that also, in the first few lines, hints at the theological argument known as the “teleological argument,” which states that all the world was designed by an Intelligent Designer. The world is intelligent, therefore the world must have been made in an intelligent manner.
Check out his blog HERE.
I should also mention that Guite is a professor of Divinity at Cambridge University, a singer, songwriter, poet, and theologian who gives lectures across England. I’ve started following his blog, and I would encourage you to do the same!
Be sure to check out Guite’s post on O Sapientia HERE.
Anyways, here is Guite’s poem in full:
I cannot think unless I have been thought,
Nor can I speak unless I have been spoken.
I cannot teach except as I am taught,
Or break the bread except as I am broken.
O Mind behind the mind through which I seek,
O Light within the light by which I see,
O Word beneath the words with which I speak,
O founding, unfound Wisdom, finding me,
O sounding Song whose depth is sounding me,
O Memory of time, reminding me,
My Ground of Being, always grounding me,
My Maker’s Bounding Line, defining me,
Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring,
Come to me now, disguised as everything.
This poem is certainly a full and delightful commentary on O Sapientia and, if I may say so, an expansion on it. Guite pulls out the ideas of Christ’s wisdom and inserts it into every line of the poem. The poem argues God’s wisdom, and illustrates how it has been given to us.
We have found the unfound wisdom. No one found Christ’s wisdom: it is His, and it is to us that He so freely gives it. We cannot think unless we have been thought, as the poem so says.
We have asked for His wisdom, and He gives it to us. We want to know, we want to understand, we want Him, and He gives Himself to us and for us.
Just as He did at Christmas.
When, in the form of a small child in the feeding trough, Christ came just as we had asked, cried, and pleaded for Him to do. He loved us that much, and He had come to give us life, to give us hope, and to give us sapientia—to give us wisdom.
Isn’t that a beautiful thought!
Oh, and before I sign off, here is the audio file of the actual O Sapientia antiphon read along with Guite’s sonnet! Please listen in, as it’s so beautiful:
May Christ be our wisdom this Christmas!
Happy Christmas everyone!
“O Antiphons.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 8 Dec. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O_Antiphons.