O, Wisdom

O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care; come and show your people the way to salvation.

Today, we enter more intensely into the Advent season – the Octave before Christmas – as the final week of preparation begins for the celebration of God’s breaking into human history as a fully vested member of that history. The “O Antiphons” are highlighted in the liturgy now, until Christmas eve.

These ancient acclamations are best known in the form they take as the verses of the venerable hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” In order, roughly translated, they are: O Wisdom; O Lord; O Root of Jesse; O Key of David; O Light of Dawn; O King of Nations; O Emmanuel (God with us).

In the Latin: O Sapientia; O Adonai; O Radix Jesse; O Clavis David; O Oriens; O Rex Gentium; O Emmanuel. The first letter of each, in the Latin, is S-A-R-C-O-R-E. When the order is inverted, they spell Ero Cras, which can be translated “Tomorrow I will be (there),” a Divine answer to the Church’s plea, in each prayer, for the Savior to come.

“To us the path of knowledge show” we sing to Wisdom in the hymn, while the world around us prattles on about the arrival of knowledge workers in the information age. But the words of Isaiah from the first reading of the First Sunday in Advent haunt me still: “There are none who call upon your name.” The world, indeed, has grown weary of God, has found better things to rejoice in, has reverted even to seeking the answers to life’s riddles in the marvels and complexities of nature – and the words of an ancient Jewish sage indicts the world that waits for Santa Claus and forgets the name of God, while toying with the manufacture and destruction of human life:

Wisdom 13:1-9 (NAB)
    For all men were by nature foolish who were in ignorance of God,
        and who from the good things seen did not succeed in knowing
           him who is,
        and from studying the works did not discern the artisan;
    But either fire, or wind, or the swift air,
        or the circuit of the stars, or the mighty water,
        or the luminaries of heaven, the governors of the world,
           they considered gods.
    Now if out of joy in their beauty they thought them gods,
        let them know how far more excellent is the Lord than these;
        for the original source of beauty fashioned them.
    Or if they were struck by their might and energy,
        let them from these things realize how much more powerful
           is he who made them.
    For from the greatness and the beauty of created things
        their original author, by analogy, is seen.
    But yet, for these the blame is less;
    For they indeed have gone astray perhaps,
        though they seek God and wish to find him.
    For they search busily among his works,
        but are distracted by what they see,
           because the things seen are fair.
    But again, not even these are pardonable.
    For if they so far succeeded in knowledge
        that they could speculate about the world,
        how did they not more quickly find its LORD?