The O Antiphons: 17 December – O Sapientia

The O Antiphons: 17 December

O Sapientia

LATIN: O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodidisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviter disponensque omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

ENGLISH: O Wisdom, who came from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly: come, and teach us the way of prudence.

17 Dec O Sapientia.jpg (186125 bytes)

Listen to this chant from the Liber Usualis: mp3

Scripture Reference:

Proverbs 1:20; 8; 9
I Corinthians 1:30

Relevant verse of  Veni, Veni Emmanuel:

O come, O Wisdom from on high,
who orders all things mightily,
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.

The version from the Dominican antiphonarium:

REFLECTION: (ENGLISH: O Wisdom, who came from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly: come, and teach us the way of prudence.)

On December 17th we enter into that final stretch of our Advent preparation. In the Church’s solemn prayer of the hours, at Vespers, the great “O Antiphons” are sung. Today we have the first.

The Son is Eternal. There was never a time when He was not. Through Him all things were made. Through Him order was given to the primal chaos. Thus, the marvelous and sweet order we observe in the universe is due to the eternal wisdom of the eternal Word. That same well-ordering eternal Word is the Word made flesh, who dwell among us beginning with His coming birth at Bethlehem.

Each of the “O Antiphons” carries Old Testament biblical figures. At the same time each one carries an element of the New Covent. These two characteristics are juxtaposed and a third dimension emerges which serves as a point of meditation when considering the Incarnate Word, the Son of God made flesh.

In today’s “O Antiphon” – “O Sapientia” – we are drawn into the Old Testament’s wisdom literature. Wisdom is a divine attribute. The divine Wisdom is personified. Wisdom is the beloved daughter who was before Creation, Wisdom is the breath of God’s power, Wisdom is the shining of God’s (transforming) glory. (See Sirach 24:3 and Wisdom 8:1.)

Wisdom is also something which we deeply desire. It is also a human attribute, not just a divine attribute, though authentic human wisdom is never separated from a relationship with God. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, as we learn from the psalms as well as the school of personal hard-knocks. From this convergence of awesome respect for God with the experience of learning through life’s mysterious calendar, we understand (if we are wise) that wisdom is more than mere knowledge. It is something more than love.  It is something more than just a special astuteness regarding how to get along in life, a certain kind of savoir faire. Rooted as it is in fear of the Lord, true human wisdom is both love and that knowledge of God that seeks to understand, the knowledge that is completed by faith.

The Prologue of John’s Gospel refers to the “Verbum caro factum...the Word made flesh”. He is the divine Logos… the eternal thought/word/reason. Through Him all things were made. Without Him nothing can be. So, the New Testament image in the Prologue of John brings to completion the imagery of Wisdom. He, the Word, is the archetype of the material universe. All things are ordered in and to Him.

Our lives, to be happy, need order. Our individual private lives and our collective lives in larger society must have structure and order. They must be disposed in such a way that the real and genuine good of all is fostered and promoted. Thus, in human governance we struggle to find the proper balance of exercise of power (without which governance and order is not possible) and gentle concern for the individual and community (without which there is mere imposition and tyranny and exploitation for some end material or ideological). Wisdom permits the balance of these.

This first “O Antiphon” shows us the Creator of all that is invisible and visible, the whole of  spiritual and material creation.  It is moving according to an eternally disposed plan of divine Providence toward an inexorable end: that God may be all in all. In this end the blessed elect will participate. We have had the way opened for us toward this end by the Word (divine) made flesh (human). Our humanity now sits in transformed glory at the right hand of the Father in an indestructible bond with the Son’s divinity. The risen Christ is the new Adam…the new Creation. With unspeakable sweetness He orders our salvation. With irresistible power all things exist and move according to His will. Our lives have meaning only in Him, according to His guidance, who handles us “suaviter et fortiter“.

Our Old Testament and New Testament figures and images merge into a new point of reflection for our lives which today’s “O Antiphon” underscores as “prudence” – “Come…Teach us the way of prudence!”

“Prudence” comes from the Latin “to see/look ahead”. It is one of the four “cardinal” virtues, one which other virtues depend. Prudence is a habit of the intellect that allows us to see in any circumstance what is virtuous and what is not. Prudence helps us to seek what is virtuous and avoid what is not. Prudence perfects the intellect (rather than the will) in practical decisions. It determines which course of action must be taken. It indicates what the golden mean is hic et nunc…here and now. This mean is at the core of every virtue. Without the virtue of prudence courage becomes foolhardiness… rushing in to the wrong danger in the wrong way at the wrong time. Without the governing of prudence mercy devolves into slackness and enervated weakness, spinelessness.

But this is still a kind of prudence which is merely human prudence, not looking beyond the issues of daily life.  We must also look beyond this vale of tears. In addition to the prudence which grows out of the school of hard-knocks and which becomes a sound and good habit through repeated acts, there is another prudence, an “infused” prudence. This kind of prudence is a grace given us by God out of His merciful love. This greater prudence, which governs other grace-filled virtues, cannot be separated from the life of grace. It is exercised in the state of grace.  Mortal sin is its enemy.  This higher kind of prudence helps us to determine the proper things that help us to salvation.  It helps us to avoid things that slam the door that Christ opened (mortal sin). Thus, prudence cannot be separated from charity, which is in the soul as a characteristic of sanctifying (habitual) grace.

Today in the opening “O Antiphon” we sing to Emmanuel who is coming.  We plead with Him, for He orders all things “sweetly and strongly.”  He teaches us how to avoid things that harm us, both in material concerns and in our pursuit of the happiness of heaven.  He teaches us true prudence.

Take stock: is there something going on in my life that needs to be examined in prudence? Am I doing something which is going to be an obstacle to the happiness of heaven? Christ is coming, both at Christmas as the infant King and the end of the world as the Judge and King of fearful majesty. This is a cause to rejoice.  But it is also cause to prepare prudently and well the way of the Lord and make straight His paths before He comes, as we heard about on “Gaudete” (“Rejoice!) Sunday of Advent.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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7 Responses to The O Antiphons: 17 December – O Sapientia

  1. rakesvines says:

    Re: “This higher kind of prudence helps us to determine the proper things that help us to salvation.” It renders worthless what the world values and values what the world deems worthless.

    I found a post from CMR and reposted it at http://divine-ripples.blogspot.com/2010/12/this-is-something-about-this-video.html It is about a homeless man whose singing accidentally got recorded. It resonated deeply with me that I broke down in tears when I heard it. It wasn’t a set up tear jerker like the movie “The Passion” but the simple faith of the poor man came across the sound bytes as he sang, “The blood of Jesus never fails me.” And it brought joy – the joy of knowing that Jesus lives and is near. It was so comforting, assuring. I hope it resonates with everyone who sees it. Perhaps all your readers would for it takes one to know one. But the world won’t get it, I know. One needs the Wisdom to see beyond the rags and peer into eternity wealth.
    Only with Wisdom from Above can the Beatitudes become intelligible. Hence one will get the meaning of “Blessed are the poor for the kingdom of God is theirs.”

  2. frjim4321 says:

    I have always loved the late Advent days. The move from Preface 1 to Preface 2 is always very dear to me. I hope that everyone on the blog has a very holy late Advent. Fr. Jim

  3. Random Friar says:

    The Dominican antiphon (not a marked difference, but a difference nevertheless!): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6zaiZxJIpU&feature=player_embedded

  4. Dr. Eric says:

    I love the O Antiphons and actually seeking them out to learn more is what lead me to this blog years ago. Thank you, Father, for this post and those that follow.

    “Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
    Nascetur pro te, Israel.”

  5. Girgadis says:

    Beautiful. I’ve always loved Veni, Veni Emmanuel but will look upon the words with new-found appreciation. And while it’s not required of lay people, I know, I am making a sincere effort to pray Vespers every evening this week, either alone or with a nearby religious community, just to have a chance to pray the O Antiphons and meditate on them further.

  6. Dr. Eric says:

    What is E u o u a e ?

  7. rakesvines says:

    @Dr. Eric: Euouae is a mnemonic which was used in medieval music to denote the sequence of tones in the “seculorum Amen” passage of the lesser doxology, Gloria Patri. In plainchant sources, the differentia, that is, the melodic formula to be sung at the end of every line of chanted psalmody, would be written over either the letters EUOUAE, or merely E—-E, representing the first and last vowel of “seculorum Amen.”