Sophia and her 3 Daughters, Faith, Hope & Charity/Love
- from a Russian Icon
You of the whirling wings,
circling, encompassing energy of God:
you quicken the world in your clasp.
One wing soars in heaven,
one wing sweeps the earth,
and the third flies all around us.
Praise to Sophia!
Let all the earth praise her!
-Hildegard of Bingen
Sophia is the Greek word for wisdom. She is personified in Proverbs and in the deuterocanonical/apochryphal works of Ecclesiasticus and the Wisdom of Solomon among others.
Sophia has an important role in creation mythology. This is from Proverbs 8:22-31
22The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,This is from Ecclesiasticus 24:1-24:34:
the first of his acts of long ago.
23Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
25Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth—
26when he had not yet made earth and fields,
or the world’s first bits of soil.
27When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
28when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
29when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
30 then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
31rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.
24Wisdom praises herself,
and tells of her glory in the midst of her people.
2In the assembly of the Most High she opens her mouth,
and in the presence of his hosts she tells of her glory:
3‘I came forth from the mouth of the Most High,
and covered the earth like a mist.
4I dwelt in the highest heavens,
and my throne was in a pillar of cloud.
5Alone I compassed the vault of heaven
and traversed the depths of the abyss.
6Over waves of the sea, over all the earth,
and over every people and nation I have held sway.
7Among all these I sought a resting-place;
in whose territory should I abide?
8‘Then the Creator of all things gave me a command,
and my Creator chose the place for my tent.
He said, “Make your dwelling in Jacob,
and in Israel receive your inheritance.”
9Before the ages, in the beginning, he created me,
and for all the ages I shall not cease to be.
10In the holy tent I ministered before him,
and so I was established in Zion.
11Thus in the beloved city he gave me a resting-place,
and in Jerusalem was my domain.
12I took root in an honoured people,
in the portion of the Lord, his heritage.
13‘I grew tall like a cedar in Lebanon,
and like a cypress on the heights of Hermon.
14I grew tall like a palm tree in En-gedi,
and like rose-bushes in Jericho;
like a fair olive tree in the field,
and like a plane tree beside water I grew tall.
15Like cassia and camel’s thorn I gave forth perfume,
and like choice myrrh I spread my fragrance,
like galbanum, onycha, and stacte,
and like the odour of incense in the tent.
16Like a terebinth I spread out my branches,
and my branches are glorious and graceful.
17Like the vine I bud forth delights,
and my blossoms become glorious and abundant fruit.
19‘Come to me, you who desire me,
and eat your fill of my fruits.
20For the memory of me is sweeter than honey,
and the possession of me sweeter than the honeycomb.
21Those who eat of me will hunger for more,
and those who drink of me will thirst for more.
22Whoever obeys me will not be put to shame,
and those who work with me will not sin.’
23All this is the book of the covenant of the Most High God,
the law that Moses commanded us
as an inheritance for the congregations of Jacob.
25It overflows, like the Pishon, with wisdom,
and like the Tigris at the time of the first fruits.
26It runs over, like the Euphrates, with understanding,
and like the Jordan at harvest time.
27It pours forth instruction like the Nile,
like the Gihon at the time of vintage.
28The first man did not know wisdom fully,
nor will the last one fathom her.
29For her thoughts are more abundant than the sea,
and her counsel deeper than the great abyss.
30As for me, I was like a canal from a river,
like a water channel into a garden.
31I said, ‘I will water my garden
and drench my flower-beds.’
And lo, my canal became a river,
and my river a sea.
32I will again make instruction shine forth like the dawn,
and I will make it clear from far away.
33I will again pour out teaching like prophecy,
and leave it to all future generations.
34Observe that I have not laboured for myself alone,
but for all who seek wisdom.
Who is Sophia? This is from Kathleen O'Connor's book, The Wisdom Literature:
Who is this Wisdom Woman, this alluring figure of poetry? Is she merely a literary fiction drawn to contrast a life of wisdom with a life of folly? Is she a personification of the order and harmony in creation? Is she a personification of an attribute of God? Or, is she a divine being, a way of speaking of God in metaphorical language? In the texts about her, there are many indications, connotative rather than denotative, allusive rather than descriptive, that the Wisdom Woman is more than a cipher for the human virtue of wisdom. She is herself God. Much of what is said about her can only be said of God. She existed before the creation of the world and she participated in its formation as a major artisan ([Proverbs] 8:30). She is a tree of life and in her hand she holds life itself (Prov 3:16, 18). Through her, kings reign, princes rule, and rulers decree what is just (Prov 8:15). She pours out her spirit upon her followers and reveals her words to the ones who seek her (1:23). These are activities of God. They are divine prerogatives, activities to benefit humankind which God alone performs. (pp. 82-83)
Sophia certainly has divine characteristics. In I Corinthians 1:24, Paul describes Christ as the wisdom (Sophia) of God. I wonder if Jesus or the early Gospel writers who interpreted Jesus were thinking of Sophia's feast when Jesus offered bread and wine to his followers? Check out Proverbs 9:1-6:
9Wisdom has built her house,
she has hewn her seven pillars.
2She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine,
she has also set her table.
3She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls
from the highest places in the town,
4‘You that are simple, turn in here!’
To those without sense she says,
5‘Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
6Lay aside immaturity, and live,
and walk in the way of insight.’
We will return to Sophia when we speak further about God and Jesus. For other interesting views about Sophia, go to Esoteric Mystery School, or the Catholic Network for Women's Equality, or the The Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica, or read an article from Christian Century, or go to Voices of Sophia.
In the meantime, I will close with this prayer to Sophia:
Hidden within this darkness,
Beauty and wonder
that fills me like water to a sponge,
Lily of the Valleys,
Tree of Life,
You Are Beautiful!