Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

O Sapientia

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodisti, attingens a fine usque ad
finem, fortiter suaviter disponensque omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, which camest out of the mouth of the Most High, and reachest from one end to another, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.

The Antiphon is based on Wisdom 8:1, "Attingit ergo a fine usque ad finem fortiter, Et disponit omnia suaviter."

Wisdom, in the Old Testament "is more than a mere quality and tends increasingly to become a hypostasis, so especially in Prov. 8 and Wisd. 7.22 ff" (Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church - ODCC).

Proverbs 8:12 ff runs:
"Ego sapientia, habito in consilio, et eruditus intersum cogitationibus . . . Meum est consilium, et aequitatis; Mea est prudentia, mea est fortitudo. Per me reges regnant . . ." [Making the link between Sapientia and Prudentia].

Wisdom 7:22 ff. runs:
"Est enim in illa [i.e. in Sapientia] spiritus intelligentiae, sanctus,
Unicus, multiplex, subtilis, disertus, mobilis,
Incoinquinatus, certus, suavis, amans bonum, acutus,
Quem nihil vetat, benefaciens,
Humanus, benignus, stabilis, certus, securus,
Omnem habens virtutem, omnia prospiciens,
Et qui capiat omnes spiritus,
Intelligibilis, mundus, subtilis."

"In the New Testament Divine Wisdom is incarnate in Christ, who St Paul calls 'the wisdom of God' (I Cor 1:24)" [ODCC]. The relevant passage is as follows:

I Corinthians, 1:23 ff,
Nos autem praedicamus Christum crucifixum: Iudaeis quidem scandalum, gentibus autem stultitiam, ipsis autem vocatis Iudaeis, atque Graecis Christum Dei virtutem, et Dei sapientiam: quia quod stultum est Dei, sapientius est hominibus: et quod infirmum est Dei, fortius est hominibus.
"But we preach Christ crucified: to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks, Christ the Power ('Virtue') of God and the Wisdom of God; because what is foolish of God, is wiser than men; and what is weak of God, is stronger than men."

"Amongst the Fathers most use 'Wisdom' as a synonym for the Incarnate Word or Logos" (ODCC).

The phrase "suaviter fortiter" occurs in Boethius De Consolatione and has been regarded as the only definite reference to the scriptures and/or the Christian liturgy in that work. But see James Shiel's interesting article "fortiter suaviter" which can be found online here.

The abstract of the article is as follows:
F o r t i t e r s u a v i t e r
by James Shiel

A happy phrase used by Lady Philosophy in Boethius' Consolation has often been quoted as a meagre but significant indication of Christian belief. But it seems rather to be the normal expression of a Neoplatonic sentiment about the combination of power and effortlessness in divine action. And the pleasure expressed by Boethius over the verbal felicity simply echoes the emphasis placed on appropriate dignity of idiom in Eleatic and Platonic descriptions of the divine.

"It is therefore the supreme goodness which rules all things strongly and orders them sweetly." ashiel.html - fn1[1]

This sentence occurs at a pivotal point in Boethius' dialogue with Lady Philosophy. Their discussion had started with his complaint about the injustice of his being imprisoned and condemned as if blind Fortune ruled the universe. The Lady gradually steers him through arguments about the instability and illusion of what men generally regard as good, such as wealth, power, esteem. The prisoner at last comes to fasten firmly on to one abiding conviction, that, despite the bitter appearances to the contrary, a supreme goodness coordinates all things, including the vagaries of Fate. From that central stance the dialogue can go on to explain the nature of Providence, its control over Fate, its compatibility with human free-will, its rewarding of moral effort and prayer.

A Christian version of the crucial sentence has been noted in the Latin church liturgy, in an Advent antiphon with a memorable plain-chant tune. I translate it from the Liber Usualis (a more complete text than that given in Bieler's edition of the Consolatio):
O Wisdom who have come from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end strongly, sweetly, and disposing all things, come to teach us the way of prudence." ashiel.html - fn2[2] 

The antiphon is evidently based on the Vulgate Book of Wisdom, the Sapientia Salamonis (8,1) ashiel.html - fn3[3], which in turn was a close translation from the Greek Septuagint: "Wisdom stretches from end to end strongly and disposes all things gently." ashiel.html - fn4[4]


Boethius in prison communes with Lady Philosophy


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