Blessed memorial of Saint Athanasius.

John 1 says “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Back in the 4th century A.D., the heretic Arius used Biblical references to Sophia/Wisdom to say that the Word/Logos was an angelic creature: not God. The Logos, said Arius, was a demi-god.

Saint Athanasius opposed Arius. His work explained the references to Sophia/Wisdom so as to affirm that the Word/Logos IS God, that the Word can be called Wisdom (although here Sophia, a feminine name, means neither masculine nor feminine); and the Word/Logos/Wisdom “becoming flesh” means “God became man” as the man, Jesus Christ!

But Athanasius goes on to explain there is this effect in Biblical language, that the likeness of the Word (Christ) in created things is so strong, and that this likeness so powerfully speaks of God’s “act” of creation, that Wisdom (i.e. the Word) speaks to us through the Bible so as to identify “Himself” with the very “likeness of Himself” in creation.

This is pretty nuanced stuff. And I’m sure is because it is showing the mystery of the Incarnation foreshadowed in a kind of Old Testament paradox. Athanasius says, “Wisdom himself is not created, because he is the Creator, but by reason of the created image of himself found in his works, he speaks thus as though he were speaking of himself.”

Here is an attempt to describe this effect. If I do not make sense here, just hold on. You can read St. Athanasius and try to wade through it yourself.

When referencing the divine God/Source of the inspired statements in the Bible (the revelation of the Word), Wisdom is referred to as “He,” not because there is a “divine superiority” to the masculine, nor that the Divine Word is even remotely a “male” thing, but rather by way of distinction with creation. All of creation can thus be reference in the feminine by comparison. For, immediately in the instance that the Word speaks with reference to the realities (the things) of creatures (as much as we, us-human-beings, can know what God made in these fellow creatures) then Wisdom becomes feminine (both lower case ‘w’ for the quality of the intellect that knows the creatures, upper case ‘W’ for a kind of literary personification); and the nature of each thing, as God intended to create it, is known in the personification of a “she.”

If that is as clear as mud, let’s just forget about it. Here is the full text of Saint Athanasius.

An impress of Wisdom has been created in us and in all his works. Therefore, the true Wisdom which shaped the world claims for himself all that bears his image, and rightly says: The Lord created me in his works. These words are really spoken by the wisdom that is in us, but the Lord himself here adopts them as his own.

Wisdom himself is not created, because he is the Creator, but by reason of the created image of himself found in his works, he speaks thus as though he were speaking of himself. Our Lord said: He who receives you receives me, and he could say this because the impress of himself is in us. In the same way, although Wisdom is not to be numbered among created things, yet because his form and likeness are in his works, he speaks as if he were a creature, and he says: The Lord created me in his works, when his purpose first unfolded [emphasis added].

The likeness of Wisdom has been stamped upon creatures in order that the world may recognize in it the Word who was its maker and through the Word come to know the Father. This is Paul’s teaching: What can be known about God is clear to them, for God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature has been there for the mind to perceive in things that have been made. Accordingly the Word is not a creature [a direct attack on the heresy of Arianism], for the passage that begins: The Lord created me is to be understood as referring to that wisdom which is truly in us and is said to be so.

But if this fails to persuade our opponents, let them tell us whether there is any wisdom in created things. If there is none, why does the apostle Paul allege as the cause of men’s sins: By God’s wisdom, the world failed to come to a knowledge of God through wisdom? And if there is no created wisdom, how is it that the expression a multitude of wise men is found in Scripture? And again, Scripture testifies that the wise man is wary and turns away from evil, and by wisdom is a house built.

Further, Ecclesiastes says: A wise man’s wisdom will light up his face. He also rebukes presumptuous persons with the warning: Do not say, “How is it that former days were better than these?” For it is not in wisdom that you ask this.

So there is a wisdom in created things, as the son of Sirach too bears witness: The Lord has poured it out [sent her forth, the likeness of Him] upon all his works, to be with men as his gift, and with wisdom he has abundantly equipped those who love him. This quality of being “poured out” belongs not to the essence of that self-existent Wisdom who is the Only-Begotten, but to that wisdom which reflects the only-begotten one in the world. Why then is it beyond belief if the creative and archetypal Wisdom, whose likeness is the wisdom and understanding poured out in the world, should say, as though speaking directly of himself: The Lord created me in his works? For the wisdom in the world is not creative, but is itself created in God’s works, and in the light of this wisdom the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims the work of his hands.

From Saint Athanasius’ Discourses against the Arians (Oratio 2, 78, 79: PG 26, 311. 314) appears in the Roman Catholic Divine Office of Readings for Thursday in the 30th week of ordinary time with the accompanying biblical reading drawn from Wisdom 7:15-30.  

The personification of an explicitly feminine character, Lady Wisdom, active in creation and “calling out to men in the streets” (Proverbs 1:20) sets a typological pattern in the Bible. She bears witness to Him who is the Divine Creator. He speaks as if He is one with Her.

Lady Wisdom is a biblical personification. This “Lady” is not an individual person as a singularly created being. While she is not a person who is “here” or “there” in creation, we are meant to carry this very personification of Lady Wisdom into our consideration of all kinds of human affairs. Most especially the divine love-affair of scripture.

Lady Wisdom: Yes, she is in all men who are righteous. For when He who is Divine Wisdom filled the souls of Melchizedek, and Solomon, and Ezekiel, with His likeness, He said of this work:

“It is he who created her; he saw her and took her measure; he poured her out upon all his works, upon all the living according to his gift; he lavished her upon those who love him.” Sirach 1:9-10

Lady Wisdom: Yes, she is in all the holy women of salvation history. She is in the Matriarchs of old, and the virgins of the Church; in Hannah, in Esther, in Judith, in Elizabeth, in Perpetua and Felicity, in Edith Stein and Therese Martin.

And He said of this work:

“It is he who created her; he saw her and took her measure; he poured her out upon all his works, upon all the living according to his gift; he lavished her upon those who love him.” Sirach 1:9-10

Above all this personification of Lady Wisdom is fulfilled, to a measure beyond all comprehension, in the All-Holy Mother of God.

“He lavished her upon those who love him.” Sirach 1:9-10!

“Woman behold your son.” John 19:26!

Let’s conclude this with a consideration for action: advise for prayer.

I was once given the question, given Christian practice of praying to the saints, whether a Christian could pray to Lady Wisdom.  A devotional suggestion had been made in this regard, to pray to “Sophia” as to a celestial person.

Of course, to the extent that Lady Wisdom is a personification, we do not pray to personifications, but rather to real persons.

Now there is a precedent for praying to Wisdom – as a name for the Word united to the Father and the Holy Spirit – although not necessarily to Lady Wisdom. The prayer must be made via a translation of word σοφία, “Wisdom of God be at work in me!” There is no tradition of transliterating the name into modern naming practices, “Dear Sophia, be at work in me.”

But in this final regard we have a real person, among all the created persons now in heaven, who is rightly addressed in very-near terms, as Seat of Wisdom and Spouse of the Holy Spirit.

Call on her any day. Ring the line which may certainly be described as Lady Wisdom whenever you want. The answer will be something like…

“Office of the Theotokos:
Immaculate Conception and Bride of the Holy Spirit speaking.
How can I help you?”

Then make your petitions known.

Stay Close to Mary.

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1 Comment

  1. Clearly our Lord and Savior has at his command a mastery of expression in language. Perhaps the Trinity has no need of language as we might understand it. Regardless, I am eternally grateful that He choose instead to teach us using parables.


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