Monday, December 16, 2013

O Sapientia (December 16)

Tonight we enter that beautiful time of year, Sapientia-tide, once again.  December 16 has been designated "O Sapientia" in the Church Calendar of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer for 350 years now - but the antiphons themselves are much older.  They originated during a period no later the 8th Century, and have been sung in monasteries and convents during these days before Christmas since those very early times.

"O Sapientia" ("O Wisdom") is the Antiphon Upon Magnificat at Vespers for the 16th - and the first of 8 "Great 'O' Antiphons" for this octave before Christmas.  (Roman Catholics begin on December 17; they use one fewer antiphon. The last is sung, in each church, on the 23rd, "Christmas Eve Eve.")

The texts for the Great "O"s are taken in great part from the Prophets and from the Wisdom literature, and become mystical  proclamations, made daily during those eight days, of the imminent coming of Christ "in great humility." 

Here's O Sapientia; the English translation - in the old language - is below the video.

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.

And here, at last, is a video of the antiphon sung in English!  It comes from the Society of St. John Evangelist - an Anglican monastic order in Cambridge, MA. There is also some discussion of the antiphon after, after it's sung:

The text of O Sapientia is drawn in great part from Sirach 24.  I'm including the whole chapter here because it deserves to be read in its entirety, I think:
1 Wisdom shall praise her own self, and shall be honoured in God, and shall glory in the midst of her people,
 2 And shall open her mouth in the churches of the most High, and shall glorify herself in the sight of his power,
 3 And in the midst of her own people she shall be exalted, and shall be ad- mired in the holy assembly.
 4 And in the multitude of the elect she shall have praise, and among the blessed she shall be blessed, saying:
 5 I came out of the mouth of the most High, the firstborn before all creatures:
 6 I made that in the heavens there should rise light that never faileth, and as a cloud I covered all the earth:
 7 I dwelt in the highest places, and my throne is in a pillar of a cloud.
 8 I alone have compassed the circuit of heaven, and have penetrated into the bottom of the deep, and have walked in the waves of the sea,
 9 And have stood in all the earth: and in every people,
 10 And in every nation I have had the chief rule:
 11 And by my power I have trodden under my feet the hearts of all the high and low: and in all these I sought rest, and I shall abide in the inheritance of the Lord.
 12 Then the creator of all things commanded, and said to me: and he that made me, rested in my tabernacle,
 13 And he said to me: Let thy dwelling be in Jacob, and thy inheritance in Israel, and take root in my elect.
 14 From the beginning, and before the world, was I created, and unto the world to come I shall not cease to be, and in the holy dwelling place I have ministered before him.
 15 And so was I established in Sion, and in the holy city likewise I rested, and my power was in Jerusalem.
 16 And I took root in an honourable people, and in the portion of mg God his inheritance, and my abode is in the full assembly of saints.
 17 I was exalted like a cedar in Libanus, and as a cypress tree on mount Sion.
 18 I was exalted like a palm tree in Cades, and as a rose plant in Jericho:
 19 As a fair olive tree in the plains, and as a plane tree by the water in the streets, was I exalted.
 20 I gave a sweet smell like cinnamon. and aromatical balm: I yielded a sweet odour like the best myrrh:
 21 And I perfumed my dwelling as storax, and galbanum, and onyx, and aloes, and as the frankincense not cut, and my odour is as the purest balm.
 22 I have stretched out my branches as the turpentine tree, and my branches are of honour and grace.
 23 As the vine I have brought forth a pleasant odour: and my flowers are the fruit of honour and riches.
 24 I am the mother of fair love, and of fear, and of knowledge, and of holy hope.
 25 In me is all grace of the way and of the truth, in me is all hope of life and of virtue.
 26 Come over to me, all ye that desire me, and be filled with my fruits.
 27 For my spirit is sweet above honey, and my inheritance above honey and the honeycomb.
 28 My memory is unto everlasting generations.
 29 They that eat me, shall yet hunger: and they that drink me, shall yet thirst.
 30 He that hearkeneth to me, shall not be confounded: and they that work by me, shall not sin.
 31 They that explain me shall have life everlasting.
 32 All these things are the book of life, and the covenant of the most High, and the knowledge of truth.
 33 Moses commanded a law in the precepts of justices, and an inheritance to the house of Jacob, and the promises to Israel.
 34 He appointed to David his servant to raise up of him a most mighty king, and sitting on the throne of glory for ever.
 35 Who filleth up wisdom as the Phison, and as the Tigris in the days of the new fruits.
 36 Who maketh understanding to abound as the Euphrates, who multiplieth it as the Jordan in the time of harvest.
 37 Who sendeth knowledge as the light, and riseth up as Gehon in the time of the vintage.
 38 Who first hath perfect knowledge of her, and a weaker shall not search her out.
 39 For her thoughts are more vast than the sea, and her counsels more deep than the great ocean.
 40 I, wisdom, have poured out rivers.
 41 I, like a brook out of a river of a mighty water; I, like a channel of a river. and like an aqueduct, came out of paradise.
 42 I said: I will water my garden of plants, and I will water abundantly the fruits of my meadow.
 43 And behold my brook became a great river, and my river came near to a sea:
 44 For I make doctrine to shine forth to all as the morning light, and I will declare it afar off.
 45 I will penetrate to all the lower parts of the earth, and will behold all that sleep, and will enlighten all that hope in the Lord.
 46 I will yet pour out doctrine as prophecy, and will leave it to them that seek wisdom, and will not cease to instruct their offspring even to the holy age.
 47 See ye that I have not laboured for myself only, but for all that seek out the truth.
[EDIT:  As Nathaniel reminds me in the comments, I'd forgotten that another part of the antiphon comes from Wisdom of Solomon.   This is a beautiful passage, too, so I'll quote a bit of it here as well:
For [wisdom] is a reflection of eternal light,
a spotless mirror of the working of God,
and an image of his goodness.
Although she is but one, she can do all things,
and while remaining in herself, she renews all things;
in every generation she passes into holy souls
and makes them friends of God, and prophets;
for God loves nothing so much as the person who lives with wisdom.
She is more beautiful than the sun,
and excels every constellation of the stars.
Compared with the light she is found to be superior,
for it is succeeded by the night,
but against wisdom evil does not prevail.

She reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the other,
and she orders all things well.

Interestingly, this last passage also shows up in at least one of the mass propers  - cannot recall at the moment if more than one - at The Feast of the Transfiguration; clearly "eternal light" has something to do with that.  In any case, at some point, I'm going to take an in-depth look at the way "Wisdom" is portrayed in the Apocrypha; it's always fascinated me.  Wisdom seems to be a persona, an aspect of God given a separate form - and a feminine one, while we're at it!   Thanks again to Nathaniel for reminding me of this.]

Below is a Latin version of the Magnificat itself, if you're inclined to listen to or sing it:

The text of the Magnificat comes from Luke 1;  here are the words to the original Latin and the modern English (US BCP 1979) versions of this beautiful canticle, so that you can sing along if you wish.

Magnificat: anima mea Dominum.
Et exultavit spiritus meus: in Deo salutari meo.
Quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae:
ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generationes.
Quia fecit mihi magna, qui potens est:
et sanctum nomen eius.
Et misericordia eius, a progenie et progenies:
timentibus eum.
Fecit potentiam in brachio suo:
dispersit superbos mente cordis sui.
Deposuit potentes de sede:
et exaltavit humiles.
Esurientes implevit bonis:
et divites dimisit inanes.
Suscepit Israel puerum suum:
recordatus misericordiae suae.
Sicut locutus est ad patres nostros:
Abraham, et semini eius in saecula.

Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto,
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; *
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed: *
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him *
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm, *
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel, *
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise he made to our fathers, *
to Abraham and his children for ever.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

The rubrics for Sapientia-tide (these next 8 days) change, according to; the antiphons at Lauds and Vespers are proper to this period.  If you'd like to pray the whole office of Vespers, you can do it at St. Bede's Breviary; choose "Amplified Prayer Book" under "Style" to get the "O's".

You can see the antiphons listed here, at Breviary Offices, from Lauds to Compline Inclusive (Society of St. Margaret, Boston, 1885).   Here is a direct peek-in:

This is an "O Antiphon" page from the Poissy Antiphonal (1335-45); it's got "O Sapientia," "O Adonai," and "O Radix Jesse" - the first three "O"s:


Nathaniel M. Campbell said...

Don't forget the other text the "O Sapientia" antiphon quotes directly: Wisdom of Solomon 8:1.

In the Vulgate: Attingit ergo a fine usque ad finem fortiter, et disponit omnia suaviter.

In the AV trans.: "Wisdom reacheth from one end to another mightily: and sweetly doth she order all things."

bls said...

You're right! I'd totally forgotten that part; I'll add in that passage, too - it's another beauty.


Nathaniel M. Campbell said...

Thanks for the shout out -- near the end of the semester in the college course on ancient history and religion that I teach, I have my students read Wisdom of Solomon as a coda after having previously read Job in our unit on the Hebrews, and a three-week stint on Plato, to see how first-century Hellenistic Judaism used the tools of Greek philosophy to tackle the unresolved issues of the Jobian theodicy. As most of my students are from a Protestant background, the Apocrypha comes as a bit of a pleasant shock -- it helps that "Wisdom of Solomon" is so thematically close to Christianity; substitute "Logos" for "Sophia" [or just look at passages such as 9:1-2], and it sounds just like the Prologue to John's Gospel. Plus, because it's a Fall semester course, the Sapientia week almost always lines up with the beginning of Advent, which means I can spring the second verse of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" on them.

A great primer on sapiential theology, especially as it was exercised in the hands of one of the Middle Ages' greatest female teachers, St. Hildegard of Bingen, can be found in Barbara Newman's book, Sister of Wisdom: St. Hildegard's Theology of the Feminine (Univ. of California Press, 1987; 2nd ed., 1997).

bls said...

You're so right about the Prologue; I'm so interested in that particular period and what was going on in the heads of all these people; it seems so fascinating, all the while it also feels impenetrable and opaque.

So, thanks very, very much for all that information and the ideas and suggestions for reading; that's way more than I'd ever have been able to locate on my own. Very grateful!


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