In this morning’s Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4, Bishop Guli Francis-Dehqani ,the Bishop of Loughborough, reminded us of the tradition of using one of the seven “O Antiphons” in each of the final days leading up to Christmas, starting on 17 December. Composed in the sixth or seventh century, these are short lines to be sung before and after the psalms. All begin with “O” and one of the titles of Christ drawn from the Book of Isaiah, and all look forward to the coming of the Messiah.
Today’s is “O Sapientia”, based on Isaiah 11:2–3 and Isaiah 28:29, and can be translated as “O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from one end to the other mightily and sweetly ordering all things: come and teach us the way of prudence.”
Bishop Guli suggested that, in a world where arguments abound, there is a maelstrom of opinion, and little consensus: “These words are a reminder for Christians of the hope encapsulated in the coming of Jesus as God’s wisdom into the mess and chaos of the world. They’re also a prayer for wisdom, that we might think and act with insight, compassion and deep understanding.
“It’s difficult to define what precisely wisdom is, but it has to do with experience that’s been reflected on, with the capacity for self-awareness, the ability to see the big picture, to be discerning and perceptive. Wisdom is something we might well want for those in authority, tasked with making rules, passing laws and ordering our society. But perhaps now, more than ever, wisdom is also needed in every other layer of society, including for each of us personally, as we make plans for Christmas, that we might do so with integrity and honesty, navigating our way through the regulations and considering the needs of those around us.”
A lot of thoughtfulness is compressed into a small space in these antiphons. If you would like to follow this up as you prepare for Christmas, listen to Arvo Pärt’s settings on YouTube, or read Malcolm Guite’s interpretations, starting with O Sapientia. You can listen to Bishop Guli via the Thought for the Day programme page.