Wisdom

Do you know anybody named Sophie? Ask her if she knows what her name means. It means wisdom. The Greek word for wisdom is Sophia, and it is a feminine noun.

Our first reading today (Wisdom 6.12-16) sings the praises of wisdom. To understand and appreciate fully these beautiful words, we need to know something of the context. The Book of Wisdom was written around the time of Jesus, perhaps a little earlier. It shows the influence of Greek philosophy. Even today we know the names of Greek philosophers like Aristotle or Plato. Imagine, then, what it was like a few centuries after their death. Their influence was powerful all around the eastern Mediterranean. Greek philosophy was found even in Jewish thought – hence the Book of Wisdom, written by Jewish sages who studied the world and sought to understand it.

They looked at the world and could see that the whole world of nature seemed to operate according to its own laws. How, they wondered, had this come to be? It meant that somehow the world had been designed, and the only creator capable of such a great work would have to be a divine being. God, in fact. So the Book of Wisdom looks at the world, tracing God’s handiwork in it.

But this left the great thinkers with a problem. How could God the great designer influence the world? They sought the mechanism, so to speak, whereby the wishes of God were put into effect in creating creatures great and small, plants and trees and everything that is, in all their workings and their interactions. The answer was Wisdom and you hear the results sung in the first reading today. Wisdom, in this understanding, is like a presence of God in the world, ordering it according to the laws of reason, which only God knows in all their fullness.

The first Christians read texts like these and they thought of the Holy Spirit, as the divine presence, breathing over creation, bringing it fruitfulness and co-operation. But we can also see here a hint of Jesus himself, the mediator between God and humankind, the great revelation of God. Hence the opening of the gospel according to John: ‘In the beginning was the Word …’ The word of God living among us in the Word is a word of love but also a word of reason, a call to us to seek and to find without abandoning our best understanding of the world, for the deepest and best truths of creation will always lead us back to the Creator.

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