20Wisdom cries out in the street;
in the squares she raises her voice.
21At the busiest corner she cries out;
at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
Wisdom is a woman. Her name is Haggia Sophia, “Holy Wisdom” and the Book of Proverbs tells her story this way:
Yahweh created me when his purpose first unfolded,
before the oldest of his works.
From everlasting I was firmly set,
from the beginning, before earth came into being,
The deep was not, when I was born,
there were no springs to gush with water.
Before the mountains were settled,
before the hills, I came to birth;
before he made the earth, the countryside
or the first grains of the world’s dust.
When he fixed the heavens firm, I was there,
when he drew a ring on the surface of the deep,
when he thickened the clouds above,
when he fixed fast the springs of the deep,
when he assigned the sea its boundaries
—and the waters will not invade the shore—
when he laid down the foundations of the earth,
I was by his side, a master craftsman,
delighting him day after day,
ever at play in his presence,
at play everywhere in his world,
delighting to be with the sons and daughters of the human race.
Where have heard this before? The prologue to John’s Gospel draws a comparison between Jesus who was there at the beginning and Wisdom. John asserts that Jesus is the wisdom of God. In Jesus is the perfect presence of the feminine and the masculine, the coming together of creation and redemption in one earthly being. In a masculine and patriarchal society this seems to us to be nothing more than an oddity. God is and has been for the western mind a masculine figure, a king, warrior, a father. Rarely if ever do we think seriously about God, Jesus, the Spirit in wisdom terms, and even rarer still, in feminine terms.
Yet Matthew Fox writes: “Sophia or Wisdom has often been presented as a minor figure in Jewish theology. However, a serious look at the Hebrew Scriptures reveals that “there is more material on Sophia in the Hebrew Scriptures than there is about almost any other figure. Only God (under various titles), Job, Moses, and David are treated in more depth.” There is more written about Sophia than about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Solomon, Isaiah, Sarah, Miriam, Adam, or Noah. But we do not know her. Sophia, who stands taller than any of them, is ignored.”
In New Testament terms the feminine is reduced to bit parts, Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha, the unnamed women in the Gospel stories, the women who supported Paul, but again rarely in a primary role. The exception of course is Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptiser and Mary the mother of Jesus. Whoever Mary was she was very unlikely to have been the perfect women we have become to see. As we noted a couple of weeks ago, the nomenclature virgin referred more to how she engaged with her understanding of God and what was happening to her at her centre (le point vierge), the capacity and wisdom to see God at work at a difficult time in her life – pregnant and unwed but betrothed.
As civilisations and the jewish experience as an example moved away from a reliance on on the land and sort to distance itself from the fertility Gods, often feminine as the feminine is responsible for birthing all things, society became masculine, an imposed order from above not a birthed order from below. In the New Testament church the role of the feminine was usurped by that of the masculine and remained that way until the middle ages. At this time a renewal began, empowering women to regain visibility and recognition, although their writings and pronouncements were often masculine in form, as they had to be if they were to read.
Two of such women were Hildegard of Bingen and Julian of Norwich. For Hildegard of Bingen, Wisdom (Sapientia in Latin) is present in God from all eternity. She is God’s bride and the means through which all created things are brought forth. She gives life energy or “greening” power to all things. She mediates between the transcendent divine and creation, sustaining all things, She is manifest in all human sciences, as well as in the revelatory and redeeming knowledge of God. She is incarnate as Christ through Mary’s virginal womb, and she continues to speak through the teachers of the church. She is manifest finally in the redeemed people of God as Mother Church.
For Julian of Norwich, Wisdom is identified with Christ, the second person of the Trinity. She is the one through whom we are created naturally and recreated spiritually. “Thus Jesus Christ who does good against evil is our very Mother, We have our being of him, where every ground of motherhood begins, with all the sweet keeping of love that endlessly follows. As truly as God is our Father so truly is God our Mother” (“Revelations of Divine Love,” chapter 59).
This resurgence of wisdom as the feminine principle has been championed by such as Matthew Fox and Thomas Merton and women theologians such as Joan Chittister, Mary Radford Reuther and more. Merton, an unlikely proponent as he was male and part of a male only order, Trappist monks. Yet he wrote a powerful prose poem entitled Haggai Sophia in honour of wisdom. Women played an enormous part in his dreams and were understood by him to be the prophetic wisdom of God.
In his poem he writes the following (I wish I had time to read it all – it is wonderful):
‘The feminine principle in the world is the inexhaustible source of creative realizations of the Father’s glory. She is His manifestation in radiant splendor! But she remains unseen, glimpsed only by a few. Sometimes there are none who know her at all.’
He continues: ‘Sophia in ourselves is the mercy of God in us. She is the tenderness with which the infinitely mysterious power of pardon turns the darkness of our sins into the light of grace. She is the inexhaustible fountain of kindness, and would almost seem to be, in herself, all mercy. So she does in us a greater work than that of Creation: the work of new being in grace, the work of pardon, the work of transformation from brightness to brightness. She is in us the yielding and tender counterpart of the power, justice and creative dynamism of the Father.’
Is there ever been a time when there was a greater need for ‘this tender counterpart of power, justice and creative dynamism’ to be reimagined and lived? The masculine sense of imposed power and right dominate resulting in unjust systems, cruelty and unending war. It is sad that this sense of feminine is often missing, not just in the males who are in power, but by females who take on the masculine traits that lead to momentary success.
Wisdom as the feminine principle is not gender specific. Women have no more of it than men for God evenly distributes it to all. It is to be found in all of creation and is experienced by those who, like Mary and Jesus, are in touch with God at their centre, poor and empty of the ego self, present to the poor and the marginalised and uninhibited by culture, tradition and entitlement.
Proverbs 1:20-23, which we read today starts: “20Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice. 21At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:” and no-one is listening. It is time we started. Amen