O Wisdom

O Sapientia: December 17

For well over a thousand years, Christians have observed the late days of Advent and prepared for the coming of Christmas by reciting the “O” Antiphons. Most well known as the basis for the hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” these antiphons are traditionally recited prior to the reading of the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). Each antiphon focuses upon a different title for the Messiah, and all teach us to look forward to Christ’s arrival.

The Church Divinity School of the Pacific invites you to join us in observing these final days of Advent. Over the next seven days, different members of our community—including administration, alumni, staff, and faculty—will offer a meditation upon the daily antiphon, beginning with today’s reflection on the antiphon that begins “O Wisdom.” We hope that these meditations will enrich your preparation as we ready ourselves to celebrate the mystery of the Incarnation. O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Antiphon for December 17

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High and reaching mightily from one end of the earth to the other, ordering all things well: Come and teach us the way of prudence.

There is a difference between knowledge and wisdom. According to the old quip, “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing that it doesn’t belong in a fruit salad.” In that light, humanity appears as incredibly knowledgeable and yet often incredibly unwise. In the United States, for instance, we know quite well how to distribute wealth and risks; and yet we have employed that knowledge not to address the endemic poverty in our midst but to engineer credit-default swaps and a government bailout of the financial industry. Although we have immense knowledge, we often do not have the wisdom to know what to do with it. And so, in Thoreau’s famous phrase, our various forms of knowledge become “improved means to an unimproved end.”

I imagine the ancient author of this antiphon anguishing at the disconnect between knowledge and wisdom. In response, the author teaches us to look to God, who is not far off but near. Even as we do our best to utilize the prudence that God has already given to us, we await the coming of divine wisdom in our lives and our world, praying that God might order all things far and nigh and allow us to be not only knowledgeable but truly wise.

--Meditation by Dr. Bradley Burroughs, Assistant Professor of Ethics at CDSP

© 2012 Church Divinity School of the Pacific