O Sapienta: O Wisdom

This detail from a painting in the Capitoline Museum, Rome is of Christ as a boy in the temple astonishing his elders with his wisdom.

Seven evenings before Christmas Eve there's a tradition, in many places that sing evening prayer or vespers to add to the Magnificat what are called the 'O Antiphons', prayers of invocation to the coming Christ. Each one uses a title of the Messiah and is based on prophecies in the book of Isaiah.

These begin today 17 December with 'O Sapienta' meaning 'O wisdom'. This is based on Isaiah 11: 2-3 and Isaiah 28:29. In Common Worship liturgy the English words are:
"O wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other,
mightily and sweetly ordering all things:
come and teach us the way of prudence."
Malcolm Guite has written a lovely sonnet on this theme, quoted below:

O Sapienta
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.

In 'Our Need of Wisdom' Digitalnun points out that to pray for the wisdom of God to come and show us the way is a dangerous prayer to pray because when answered it will "knock us off our pedestal and ground us in God instead."

Or you might like to listen to a Latin plainsong version of O Sapienta, sung by the Dominican Brothers of Oxford.


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