Jesus - The Wisdom of God
Fr. Thomas Hopko · May 8, 2009
If Jesus is the Word of God, it follows that he is also the Wisdom of God. For where God's Word is, there is also his Wisdom.
In meditating on the various names and titles of Jesus in the Holy Scripture, we want to meditate a bit right now on the conviction that Jesus is God’s Wisdom, the chokhmah or the sophia of God. When the Scripture speaks about Jesus as the Word, it’s very clear that there’s a definite article, that Jesus is the Word of God. But it would follow, even if we would have no Biblical texts, that if Jesus really is the Word of God, the Son of God, the Logos, then he must also be the Wisdom, because where God’s Word is, there is the Wisdom of God.
According to the whole skopos of Scripture, particularly what is called the “Wisdom literature” in the Old Testament—the Psalms and the Proverbs and Ecclesiastes; the Wisdom of Solomon; the Wisdom of Jesus, Son of Sirach—the human beings are called to pursue wisdom; above all things, to get wisdom; that the wisdom that abides with God’s throne, as Sirach puts it, is what human beings should seek after and desire and want more than anything else; that it is more precious than gold, sweeter than honey.
In the Bible, the worst possible condition that a human being can be in is to be a fool—“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ ”—to be foolish, to go astray, to wander, to be in darkness. And what one must get is wisdom and understanding and knowledge.
But here we want to see from the beginning that there is a very special character to wisdom in the Bible. It’s different from knowledge. In fact, in the tradition, there is always a distinction made between the sophia, the wisdom, and the gnosis, the knowledge; or, in Latin, the sapientia, the wisdom, [and] the scientia, where you get the English word “science,” which is knowledge.
And wisdom—we try to define it quickly for our purposes today—is not simply factual knowledge or information or data. It’s insight into the very nature of things, the reality of things. To use patristic language, it’s the knowledge of the Logos of reality whereby you know things’ significance, their meaning, their relationship to everything else, their purpose. And knowing those things, then you know how to relate to them, and you know how to use them. You might even say that wisdom is a kind of a practical application of knowledge.
Wisdom is not only knowing things, it’s knowing what to do with them, knowing how to deal with them, knowing how to treat them, knowing how to use them, knowing what is appropriate, what is inappropriate, and knowing it very existentially, vitally, in life itself. For example, what the present moment would demand, or what would be the right solution in this particular instance, or what would be the best way of proceeding: this is wisdom.
Here, of course, the teaching of Scripture would be very clear, that God is wise. “In wisdom, he creates all things,” it says in Scripture. “In wisdom has he made them all.” That wisdom, in the Wisdom literature, for example, in Proverbs 8 or in the Wisdom of Solomon, you have it said that basically, God is always acting with his Wisdom. He is doing everything. And in the Scriptures, there is even a personification of Wisdom. Wisdom speaks in the first person: “I, Wisdom, dwell in prudence. I find knowledge and discretion.” So you have this expression of Wisdom somehow personified, Wisdom acting. You have, for example, in Provebers 8, which was a very debated text in understanding Jesus Christ, it being said that
the Lord (Kyrios, Yahweh) created me (or fashioned me) at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. Ages ago I was set up. At the first, before the beginning of the earth, when there were no depths, I, Wisdom, was brought forth. When there were no springs abounding with water, before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth. Before he had made the earth with its fields or the first of the dust of the world.
When he established the heavens, I was there. When he drew a circle on the face of the deep; when he made firm the skies above; when he established the fountains of the deep; when he assigned to the sea its limits, so that the waters might not transgress his command; when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, I, Wisdom (Sophia, the chokhmah of God).
It says, “Like a master workman”—in Greek that would be “demi-urgos,” the one by whom and through whom God acts—“I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world, delighting in the sons of man.” And then Wisdom continues:
Now, my sons, listen to me: Happy are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction. Be wise. Do not neglect it. Happy is the man who listens to me, Wisdom, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors. For he who finds me, Wisdom, finds life and obtains favor from the Lord. But he who misses me injures himself. All who hate me, Wisdom, actually love death.
So we have this, what we could call “hypostasization” of Wisdom, in the writings of the Old Testament. And here, because “chokhmah” is feminine in Hebrew, the Wisdom is presented as a “she,” and so when a man or a woman, a human being, is loving wisdom, it speaks about “her”: “I loved her as my bride. I saw her; I wanted her. I lived for her. I did everything to get her.” And when Wisdom is spoken of in a pronoun in the Bible, it’s often spoken of as “she.” For example, in Proverbs 9, it says:
Wisdom has built her house. She has set up her seven pillars. She has slaughtered her beasts. She has mixed her wine. She also has set her table. She has sent out her maids to call from the highest places in the town: “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here.” To him who is without sense, she says, “Come, eat of my bread. Drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave simpleness, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”
So you have this expression of Wisdom as a bride, one to be courted, one to be found, one to be loved.
In our modern time, of course there are movements and various places in Russia and the West, where wisdom is somehow even considered to be a feminine element in God, a kind of divine feminine, and that “sophia” may even be considered to be a kind of a counterpart to “logos,” sort of a feminine counterpart, that logos is the masculine, so chokhmah or sophia is the feminine and so on. And there is that kind of sophiological tradition—Jakob Böhme, Berdyaev in Russia, Bulgakov, Florensky, Solovyov, who had a vision of Sophia, the Wisdom of God, as a beautiful woman, clothed in red in the Egyptian desert and so on. So there is this contemplation of wisdom as a feminine element.
But here [what] we have to say very clearly is, according to Orthodox Christianity, there is no masculine and no feminine in God at all. God is God. God is not like anything in creation. God is beyond even being. You could even say that God is not being. As Gregory Palamas said, “If God is, I am not. If I am, God is not.” If we call God “being,” then I should not be called “being”; but if I am called “being,” like “human being,” then you can’t think of God as being. And, of course, in Scripture, God and all that belongs to God—all his qualities, his wisdom, exactly, his love, his truth, his power, his glory, his splendor, his peace—they are all appropriate to God, and they are all not like anything else. There’s nothing comparable to them in heaven [or] on earth.
So there would be no teaching whatsoever in classical Eastern Orthodox Christianity as divine masculine or divine feminine. You have masculine and feminine when you have human beings, when you have creatures, even plants and animals, actually. You have those gender distinctions.
Of course, Jesus of Nazareth, our Lord, is a man. He’s not a woman. But it is certainly the teaching of Scripture and certainly that of Eastern Orthodox Tradition that the hypostatic Wisdom of God himself is Jesus Christ. Generally speaking, in Christian theology, Jesus is the personification of absolutely every divine quality. He is the personification in human form of God’s love, of God’s truth, of God’s beauty, of God’s power, of God’s peace, and, so too, of God’s Wisdom.
So there is no doubt whatsoever that in Eastern Orthodox Christian classical theology, the Wisdom of God is Jesus Christ. Jesus is this Wisdom. He is the Wisdom that we desire. He is the Wisdom that we must have.
Now, metaphorically we could say we should seek that Wisdom who is Jesus, as a bride, as a beautiful beloved, as one that we would adore, as one that we would worship, the one that we would want to be together with, that we would want to be his home. We would want Wisdom to dwell in us. We would want to become wise. But that Wisdom in the human form is Jesus Christ the God-man.
Here, St. Athanasius the Great and others of the Church Fathers would say… And Fr. Bulgakov in Russia picked this up, but he treated it in a very strange and idiosyncratic manner which we do not need to get into here on the radio at all. You can read Fr. Bulgakov’s writings. A lot of them are translated into English now. But Fr. Bulgakov saw in Wisdom a kind of very unique thing in the Godhead, almost to the point where you have Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and then Wisdom somehow as a special characteristic of God, somehow even identified with the very nature of God himself, because of that quality of Wisdom to bring everything together and put it proper order and to keep in harmony.
So there [it] is, definitely; we don’t need Fr. Bulgakov for this. You just need the Bible and the Church Fathers to tell us that the Wisdom of God is not a created thing. As St. Athanasius would argue about the Logos, he would say, you can’t imagine God as being alogos, wordless, without the Logos. The Logos is an element of the very, very being of God himself, and that element has its personification for human beings in Jesus Christ our Lord.
But Athanasius says exactly the same thing about Wisdom. He says you can’t imagine God as asophos. He said if you read the Bible, you read the Psalms, you read the Proverbs, you read Ecclesiastes, you read the Wisdom of Solomon, you see that Wisdom is always with God. It “abides with his throne,” to use Sirach’s expression. It’s always there. And it is not a creature. Athanasius will argue against the Arians that God does not create Wisdom. There is the Wisdom that is God’s own Wisdom, an element of the very being of God, the person of God, that God can never, ever, ever be without. There is divine Wisdom.
But—I should say And Athanasius, however, and the Fathers would also say, “Nevertheless, this Wisdom is revealed in created form,” in human form, in creaturely form, we should say. And, of course, that Wisdom that God made at the beginning of the age, by whom he created all things, is Jesus Christ.
If we just followed this type of argumentation: if, according to the Scripture, God does everything by his Wisdom—he creates in Wisdom, sanctifies in Wisdom; he acts in Wisdom; he is not a fool; God is not foolish. God is not stupid. God is not dark; God is truth—therefore there’s always the Wisdom in the divine activity. But if you just took a sentence like “God created all things through his Wisdom,” well, the New Testament, St. Paul, for example, would say very clearly that God creates everything by Christ—by Christ, through Christ, in Christ, for Christ—just exactly in the same way as the Old Testament would speak about the divine Wisdom.
So St. Athanasius would say that when you’re reading Holy Scripture and reading about Wisdom, you have to keep two things in mind: the divine, eternal, uncreated, ever-existing Wisdom that is the Wisdom of God himself that is truly divine and uncreated; and then you have Wisdom as expressed in creation, Wisdom in its created forms. And here St. Athanasius and the other Fathers would say you can see God’s Wisdom in all that exists. If you contemplate the stars and the moon and the plants and the animals and the trees, that you have a revelation of the very Wisdom of God in all of these things, as well as his power, as well as his beauty, as well as his truth, as well as his glory and his splendor.
That Wisdom is also there, revealed. And then, according to St. Athanasius—because he wrote about this extensively, especially in interpreting Proverbs 8, because the Arians said, “The Logos is a creature, the Son of God is a creature, and therefore [the] Wisdom of God is a creature.” And they used the text of Proverbs, that “the Lord created me, fashioned me in the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old.” So the Arians said, “You see? It was the first creative act of God: to create Wisdom, and then God uses his Wisdom as an instrument, as a kind of demi-urgos through which he does all of his activities. It’s kind of like a tool in the hand of God.”
But here Athanasius would say, “Hey, wait a minute. The very Wisdom by which God acts is divine. It’s always with him. God is not wisdomless.” But at the same time, what he is saying is that Jesus, in his humanity, is the human expression of this Wisdom of God. Just like Jesus in the flesh is the expression of everything of God. And we should remember that Jesus is always the God-man. You can’t separate in Jesus. You can make a distinction between what is divine and what is human, but they are united inseparably, without division, in Jesus.
So you have Athanasius even saying that the same way that, it says in Scripture, God kind of redeemed the world in Christ before the foundation of the world, so you can say he also revealed his Wisdom in creation and had it in mind even before the foundation of the world; that that Wisdom that is revealed in Christ and as Christ was with God before the foundation of the world. And sometimes the New Testament speaks that way in a very striking manner. It would say, for example, that Jesus was the Lamb of God before the foundation of the world. He was the redeemer of the world before the world was even made, because that is an element of his very being as a person, as the Son of God, that God knew before he even created the world.
Another point should be made here, and that is this: In the Bible, you have very many words for “create” or “fashion” or “form” or “make” or “do” that are not always very technically distinguished. I think that’s very important to know, that the Bible, when it speaks about “create” or “fashion” or “form” or “make,” even in the very first chapters of Genesis in the formation of the world, you have these different words used different ways. Some of the patristic scholars even tell us that a very clear and accurate distinction between “coming forth from God” and “abiding with God” and “being in God” and then “being created by God as a ktisis, as a creature,” that that distinction only was clearly formulated in the fourth century when Athanasius and Basil and Gregory and Hilary and Ambrose were fighting with these Arians and Eunomians who said that Jesus was a creature.
At that time, then, the words had to be defined very, very carefully. So when you had words like “proceeded from” or “abided in” or “were born of” or “begotten of,” the Holy Fathers would say these kind of words depict or declare or affirm or testify to the fact of that which is not created, which is ever-existing. And then, of course, the term “to make,” and in Greek “poiō,” to make, that would then be considered to be an act of God’s will.
So the Fathers would make a distinction [between] what exists just according to the very being of God and then what exists according to the will of God. What does God bring into existence which before was not? And here, when this is applied to Jesus, you have this distinction very clearly made. For example, the Nicene Creed makes this distinction when it speaks about Jesus being “gennēthenta ou poiēthenta, begotten, not made”: born of the Father, an element proceeding from God’s very being and not a creature of God that God willed to make by his free act out of nothing.
The same thing is said about the Holy Spirit, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, abides in the Son, everlastingly, eternally, unchangedly, in a divine manner; that God didn’t decide to create for himself a spirit. He did not create for himself a word. He does not create for himself wisdom. Wisdom, word, power, spirit: these are realities that are divine. Nevertheless, certainly when it comes to Jesus Christ, who is a man, born and becoming man [by] the Virgin Mary, then you have all of these realities now being shown forth, depicted, and revealed in human form.
So you have Jesus as the Wisdom that God fashioned for humanity from before the foundation of the world, revealed in the world in human form, but that very Wisdom itself was before, as we heard in Proverbs, before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, before he made the earth with its fields, or [before] there was any dust in the world. When he established the heavens, that Wisdom was already there, and that Wisdom is the very Wisdom of God himself.
Now, it’s also said in Scripture, it’s probably most beautifully put in the book called “the Wisdom of Solomon,” that this Wisdom which is always there with God, that this Wisdom which is divine, the Wisdom that is not a creature, that Wisdom which according to the Wisdom of Solomon is radiant and unfading, found by those who seek her when those hunger and thirst for God, they have a fear of God and they come and discover the very divine Wisdom that is the Wisdom of God himself, but what you also have in the Wisdom of Solomon is that this [this is the] Wisdom by which God acts, the Wisdom that is inherent in every one of his actions, that is called “the Fashioner of all things.”
For example, in Solomon, it says, “I learned both what is secret and what is manifest,” and the holy Fathers would say [that] what is secret is in the depth of God, divine; what is manifest is what is revealed to us through the divine energies, and, ultimately, most perfectly, through the very humanity in created form, in Jesus himself. Then it says, “For Wisdom (chokhmah), the fashioner of all things, taught me”: the maker of all things, the former of all things.
And then it adds a very wonderful thing. It speaks about the spirit that is in Wisdom, or “the spirit of Wisdom.” The Prophets used that expression also. For example, in Isaiah, when speaking about Jesus, it says, “On him was the spirit of understanding, the spirit of Wisdom, the spirit of the fear of God.” That’s the kind of language that you find in the Scripture: the Holy Spirit, the ruach of God, the breath of God. You find this throughout the Bible so that you cannot think of God without his Spirit, and you cannot think of God without his Word or his Wisdom.
But then the Spirit is the spirit of the Word. It’s the spirit that vivifies the Word, but it’s also the spirit of Wisdom. It’s the living, existential, vital aspect of Wisdom itself. [It] is what it is because of the spirit that dwells within Wisdom. Here again we have that same teaching that we have all the time: there is no Word without Spirit. There is no Wisdom without Spirit. There is no truth without Spirit. There is no life without Spirit. So, concerning Wisdom specifically, it says in the Wisdom of Solomon 7: “For in her”—Sophia, Wisdom…”
And here of course, the “her” is used because it’s feminine in Hebrew; and, by the way, so is the word “spirit” feminine, but as Gregory the Theologian says, we never draw theological conclusions by the gender of nouns in any language. He pointed out with St. Jerome [who] did the same thing, that when it comes to the word “spirit,” for example, it’s feminine in Hebrew and Aramaic, it’s masculine in Latin, and it’s neuter in Greek, so we don’t build theologies on the basis of gender. In fact, even in [the] Russian language, the very word “trinity,” troitsa, is a feminine; it takes feminine adjectives. But that’s how language works. You don’t draw conclusions about masculinity and femininity in that same sense.
However, here you have: “in Wisdom there is a Spirit that is”—and this is really amazing, what is said—
In Wisdom there is a Spirit that is intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle, mobile, clear, unpolluted, distinct, invulnerable, loving the good, keen, irresistible, beneficent, humane, steadfast, sure, free from anxiety, all-powerful, overseeing all, penetrating through all spirits that are intelligent and pure and most subtle. For Wisdom itself is more mobile than any motion. Because of her pureness she pervades and penetrates all things. For she is a breath, a wind of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty. Therefore nothing defiled gains entrance into her. For Wisdom is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, an image of his goodness.
And here we will see that logos (word) and chokhma (wisdom, sophia) [are] identified with eikona, with icon, with image. We will talk about that later.
Though Wisdom is but one, she can do all things. And while remaining in herself, she renews all things. In every generation, Wisdom passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God and prophets, for God loves nothing so much as the man who lives with Wisdom. For she is more beautiful than the sun and excels every constellation of the stars. Compared with the light, she is found to be superior, for it is succeeded by the night, but against Wisdom, evil does not prevail.
She reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the other, and she orders all things well. I loved her and sought her from my youth. I desired to take her for my bride. I became enamored of her beauty. She glorifies her noble birth by living with God, and the Lord of all loves her. She is an initiate in the knowledge of God, an associate in his works.
And it goes on and on and on about these qualities of Wisdom and the Spirit that dwells within Wisdom, and in this book it even speaks about that spirit being the Holy Spirit. For example, it says in the ninth chapter: “He who has learned the counsel of the Lord, who has been given wisdom and is sent by the Holy Spirit from on high,” and that we were taught and were saved by wisdom. So wisdom is saving. Wisdom is illumining. Wisdom is empowering.
All these things of the Old Covenant about Wisdom, in the New Testament are clearly applied to Jesus the Christ, Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, and [this is] undoubtedly in the New Testament, where you have that most specifically stated. Besides [this], you have lines in the New Testament that say, for example, that in Christ there dwells all of the fullness of knowledge and wisdom; you have those kinds of expressions in the New Testament. For example, in the Letter to the Colossians is written the following line; it says, “I want you to know how greatly I strive for you,” St. Paul writes, “that your hearts may be encouraged and knit together in love, have all riches of assured understanding, and the knowledge of God’s mystery of Christ in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and of knowledge.” So wisdom and knowledge are always going together there.
You have that, and there are many other such texts, but the one that seems to have really taken preeminence in the Church’s understanding about Jesus as God’s Wisdom is in the opening chapters of the first letter of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians, where St. Paul is writing in that very first chapter. He says that “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the Gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom lest the Cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (I Corinthians 1:17). So St. Paul says that his teaching is not by human wisdom; it’s not by eloquence. It’s not like a rhetorician.
In the Letter to the Galatians, he will say this Gospel is not his; it’s God’s, it’s divine. And what he imparts from God, including the wisdom and knowledge of God, is of God, and it’s not human. The Cross, however, is the revelation of God and the revelation of all of God’s qualities, including Wisdom. So here in Corinthians, he continues:
For the Word of the Cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God, for it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has God not made foolish the wisdom of the world?
He sophia tou kosmou, the wisdom of this world, which in the letter of James will be called “earthly, psychic,” and even “demonic.”
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom.
So St. Paul says that human beings gave up their wisdom. They violated their wisdom. They became fools. If there is any teaching of the Old Covenant, it is that human beings all became fools. By sinning against God and not following his commandments, everybody became foolish, even to the point of saying, “There is no God”: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ ” So here you have St. Paul saying,
Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom. It pleased God, through the folly of what we preach, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs, and Greeks seek wisdom.
And of course, “philosophia” means “the love of wisdom.” And so St. Paul will write, “We don’t follow the philosophia of this world; we follow the sophia of God, and that’s the real philosophia. The love of wisdom is the wisdom of God. God’s own divine wisdom, not the wisdom of men, or what is called “the wisdom of this world,” or what is called in James, “the wisdom from below.” We seek and follow the wisdom from on high, the wisdom that comes to us from God.
So the Apostle continues:
Jews demand signs; Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews…
“Skandalon” in Greek: “scandal.”
...and folly to Gentiles…
“Mōria”: that’s where you get the word “moronic.” Simply, “stupid,” to the philosophical Hellenes.
...but to those who are called…
And here you have it:
...both Jews and Greeks, Christ: God’s power and God’s wisdom.
We will speak about power. We’ll speak about Jesus as the power of God. But for now we want to see that it says “God’s wisdom.”
It has to be said that in this sentence there is no definite article. In English, both in the RSV and in the King James Version of the Bible, it is translated: “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” But in Greek it actually says, “Christ, God’s power and God’s wisdom—theou dynamis kai theou sophia”: God’s power and God’s wisdom.
So there you have it. Christ is God’s wisdom. He is the Wisdom of God. He is God’s Wisdom. And that would be the Christian conviction. So it [continues]:
The foolishness of God is wiser than men; the weakness of God is stronger than men.
And the same way that God’s power is revealed through weakness, so God’s wisdom will be revealed through the foolishness and the scandal of the Cross. That’s where you will really see the wisdom of God revealed: in Christ crucified. That’s what the Apostle Paul is going to say:
We preach Christ crucified: scandal to those who want power, and folly to those who want earthly wisdom and knowledge, but for those who are called, those who believe in Christ, Jews and Greeks, Christ: God’s power and God’s wisdom.
And then at the end of that very same first chapter, the Apostle continues to say:
God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
And then he says:
He (God) is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made…
And there you have that same verb as in Proverbs 8:22, as St. Athanasius points out: God made Christ in human form, the same Wisdom that was with God before anything was created and the very instrument by which God creates all things, his own divine Wisdom. Then it says:
God is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness, and our sanctification and our redemption.
So here you have Jesus being called wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. And we’ll talk about those things later on.
But sticking now here with wisdom, the Apostle even then continues to say that his very message of Christ crucified is the expression of that very Wisdom. So he says:
I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or human wisdom. I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
And then he says
My speech and my message were not implausible words of wisdom in a human way, but in the demonstration of the spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
And then he continues, and this is very important:
Yet, among the mature, we do impart wisdom.
Now there you go. He’s blasting all this human wisdom, wisdom of this world, wisdom of the ungodly, the wisdom of the philosophers and so on. But then he continues:
Yet, among the mature (the believers, the chosen), we do impart wisdom, though it not a wisdom of this age, or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away.
And here you have that expression “wisdom of this age,” and you also have the expression “wisdom of this world,” and those are two different words in Greek. “World” is “kosmos”; “age” is “aiōn.” So you have a wisdom of this age or this time, and a wisdom of this world or this place. But that’s not what Christians impart or profess. “We impart,” the Apostle continues writing, “a secret and hidden wisdom of God.” Secret and hidden wisdom of God. And it is that wisdom that is revealed in human form, in Jesus.
We impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God which God decreed before the ages for our glorification.
That’s what it says in the Proverbs: God fashioned this wisdom before the foundation of the world for the sake of our illumination and glorification. Then the Apostle continues:
None of the rulers of this age understood this wisdom, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory, but as it is written, “What no eye has seen nor ear heard nor the heart of man conceive, what God has prepared for those who love him,” God has revealed to us through the spirit.
And so the spirit, which is the Spirit of God, which, according to Scripture, is the spirit of Wisdom, he says it’s not the spirit of this world. He says we have received not the spirit of this world, but the spirit which is from God, which according to Scripture is the spirit of wisdom, the spirit of truth, the spirit of life, that we understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom he insists again, but taught by the spirit, interpreting the spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit. And then he ends that whole chapter by saying simply:
We have the mind of Christ.
There is no doubt at all that in the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Wisdom of God is Jesus. The Wisdom of God in human form, personified, is the God-man Jesus. And everything that Jesus is in human form, we believe he is and possesses, so to speak, in divine form, before the Incarnation. So he is the eternal divine Wisdom of God who takes human form and reveals this divine Wisdom to us in human form. So he is the Wisdom of God.
In our prayers in the Church, we pray this way. The example that comes to mind most readily, most quickly, is that troparion from the Paschal service, where we say, “O Pascha of the Lord, O Pascha great and holy (O Passover of the Lord, O Passover great and holy), O Wisdom and Word of God and Power”—and sometimes it’s translated “O Wisdom and Word and Power of God”—“Jesus Christ. Allow us to commune with you more truly in the never-ending day of your kingdom.”
And it’s interesting that in the canon on Holy Thursday, the day of the Lord’s Mystical Supper in church, one whole ode of the canon is speaking to Jesus as Wisdom, and they see the Eucharist as the meal, the table that Wisdom has set. Because it says in the proverb writing that Wisdom has built herself a home, that Wisdom has set the table, that Wisdom becomes the food for the faithful. And so you have in the Holy Thursday service—I don’t have the text in front of me at the moment, but it’s very vivid in my mind about how Wisdom comes to the world, and Wisdom reveals itself, and Wisdom sets this meal, and when you participate in the Holy Eucharist, you are eating and drinking the Wisdom and the Word of God, that that Wisdom comes into you, that Wisdom is acting in you, that Wisdom that Jesus Christ himself is.
But certainly in the prayers of the Church… Just go to church and pay attention. You’ll see how Jesus is addressed as the Wisdom of God. And of course, in the liturgical services, every time we are calling out, “Wisdom! Let us attend! Wisdom! Let us attend!” we’re calling people to focus on Christ, to focus on the Gospel, to focus on his Person, which according to St. Paul, is the embodiment of the very Law of God in which wisdom is found. So Wisdom is enfleshed.
Here you have a very interesting thing in the ancient Christian tradition, the ancient faith, and that is that in Proverbs, when it says, “Wisdom has built a home for itself, for herself,” that Wisdom has made a temple, the Eastern Orthodox tradition has been bold enough to identify that with the Theotokos, with the Virgin Mary; that Wisdom tabernacles on earth and becomes flesh through Mary; the Word and Wisdom of God becomes flesh through Mary.
And so it’s an interesting thing, that Mary is often called, in the tradition, the temple of Wisdom or the throne of Wisdom. For example, one great patristics scholar, a French man, Louis Bouyer, wrote a book about Mary, and the title French was Le Trône de la Sagesse: The Seat of Wisdom. And that is a name for Mary in the Akathistos: the seat of Wisdom, the throne of Wisdom. In Latin it was called the sedes sapientiae, the seat of Wisdom, where Wisdom is enthroned. And in Christian tradition, you had churches, church buildings, dedicated to Christ as Wisdom. The most famous of which, of course, in the Orthodox Church, is the Church of Holy Wisdom in Constantinople.
The big, huge church that was in Constantinople as the cathedral was always called Holy Wisdom: Hagia Sophia. And then Justinian in the fifth century, built this magnificent building, the most amazing building, that still stands. Sadly, right now, it’s a museum. It was a mosque for a while after the Muslims took Constantinople. Now it’s a museum. You could go there and see it. It’s Holy Wisdom. But it was dedicated to Christ.
Sometimes you read in books that the Holy Wisdom cathedral in Constantinople was dedicated to “St. Sophia.” Sometimes it’s even called St. Sophia Church as if [for] some woman martyr, or something, named Sophia, but it doesn’t mean that; it means Christ. It means Christ.
Just like the church in Constantinople, called Hagia Eirēnē, is not the church of St. Irene. It’s the church of the Holy Peace. And the church, that little church that Gregory the Theologian was in when the Arians held the capitol and the imperial city was called Anastasia. That wasn’t St. Anastasia Church. It was the church of the Resurrection, also dedicated to Christ.
So you had the church of Wisdom, the temple of Wisdom, the temple of peace, the temple of resurrection, all dedicated to Christ. Sometimes if you even ask, “What would be the feastday for a church dedicated to the Holy Wisdom?” I believe that traditionally it would be the feast of Mid-Pentecost, where, between Pascha and Pentecost, the Church remembers Jesus as a child being in the Temple, debating with the scribes and the lawyers and the rabbis and showing forth himself as the incarnate Wisdom of God. And that would even be the icon of Jesus as a twelve-year-old child in the teacher’s seat surrounded by the teachers of the Law, imparting to them the Wisdom of God.
However, another interesting thing happened in Christian tradition. Certainly in the middle ages and in Russia, Slavic lands—Ukraine, Russia; Novgorod, Kiev—there were churches that were called Holy Wisdom Church, but their festival days were not days—for example, was not Mid-Pentecost—but were festivals of the Theotokos. For example, the church of Holy Wisdom in Novgorod, I believe, had its festal day on the Dormition of the Theotokos. And why was that? Well, it was because of the conviction that Mary was the tabernacle or the ark or the temple in which Wisdom had built its home. She was Wisdom’s home. And that led some Russian theologians, including those of the early 20th century, like Solovyov, Florensky, and Bulgakov, to see Mary as Wisdom in its created form, which would then be a body, a feminine type of image. So you would have Jesus as the God-man, as a divine sophia, the uncreated sophia, and then Mary kind of imaging the creaturely sophia as a deified Christian, as a person who became truly holy and all-holy. Therefore she herself becomes a kind of personification of an expression of Wisdom in human form.
However that may be, still the fact of the matter is—it is a fact—that in some of the churches in Slavic lands, temples, church buildings, that were dedicated and called the church of Holy Wisdom, their festival day was a feast of the Theotokos and not a feast of Christ. Then, of course, that led to some further reflections and meditations about what Bulgakov called “netvarnaya sophia” and “tvarnaya sophia”: the uncreated wisdom of God who is incarnate as Jesus Christ and then the creaturely wisdom, wisdom in created form as somehow hypostasized or personified in the Virgin Mary. But that’s a theological poetry. It’s theological reflection, meditation, and so on. And very beautiful in its own way.
But what we want to see right now, certainly, for certain, is that in classical, ancient Christianity, the Wisdom of God is Jesus Christ. The Wisdom of God is not some type of “God is feminine” wisdom or some feminine expression of deity. That would not be the classical tradition. Nor would the Wisdom of God be identified simply with the Virgin Mary or the Theotokos at all. The Wisdom of God is Jesus Christ.
Christ is Wisdom incarnate. He is the Word incarnate. He is Wisdom incarnate. He is the Son of God incarnate. He is God’s peace incarnate, God’s truth incarnate, God’s life incarnate, as we will see as we continue our meditations on the names and titles of Jesus. But for today and for right now, what we must see is that in ancient Christianity, according to the Scripture and the traditions of the Church in interpreting that Scripture, God’s Wisdom hypostasized, God’s Wisdom personified, God’s Wisdom revealed, God’s Wisdom shown to us in its ultimate, perfect form, the Wisdom that is given to us that we can understand and know and experience what that Wisdom of God really is, is Jesus Christ, because that Wisdom of God is not only what it is, it is who it is.
And Jesus Christ is the Wisdom of God. He is what that Wisdom is, and he is who that Wisdom is. Jesus Christ is God’s Wisdom. And that would be the deepest conviction of the Scriptures as understood in the ancient Christian faith in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Jesus Christ, God’s Wisdom, God’s power, God’s Logos, God’s truth, God’s Son, and being all those things and everything that he is, he expresses and actualizes and realizes for us the uncreated Wisdom of God himself and is given to us in his flesh and in his blood, in his human life on the Planet Earth. We confess our Lord Jesus Christ as truly and genuinely the Wisdom of God the Father himself.