The wonderful thing about an icon is that it acts as a kind of doorway or window, that so often opens your mind and heart to thoughts and ideas which take one by surprise. Early on in the life of the icon I remember Ian writing about ‘uncreated wisdom’. In truth I confess to not really thinking or meditating on that, but recently this theme of wisdom has come more and more to the fore. The Litany describes the Heart of Jesus as containing ‘all the treasures wisdom and knowledge’ ( Cor Iesu, in quo sunt omnes thesauri sapientiae et scientiae). As I pondered over how the young man in Jersey was prepared to place all his trust in the Heart of Jesus and allow his faith and science to unfold in their own time, I was reminded of what he wrote to his cousin, Marguerite Teillard-Chambon, in 1915.
The Making of Mind: letters of a soldier priest 1914-19, p57-8
Teilhard is telling her to place her faith and hope in the loving wisdom of God – and let this be her guide. Then it 'hit' me that the Sacred Heart is an icon of wisdom. We have to trust in the love of God, and trust in the power and wisdom of God. Jesus is the ‘logos’ who was from the beginning and is now made flesh to live with us. Just as wisdom ‘pitched’ her tent ( her tabernacle) in Israel in ancient times, so now wisdom is to be found in the very heart of Christ. As the Litany says, Jesus is the ‘Tabernacle’ (or dwelling place) of the Most High. The Heart of Jesus is the meeting place where humanity can encounter the divine wisdom. The icon shows Christ’s Sacred Heart , rather than a book of scripture, since Jesus told us to learn from his meek and humble heart. It is his heart which contains all wisdom and knowledge. We have to change our hearts - by trusting to the wisdom of God.
In this way, contemplating this heart of Christ as the great treasure of all wisdom and knowledge opens the window to allow the light of scripture to illuminate what the Litany means. Indeed, what putting all our trust in the heart of Christ means. And what putting our trust in the slow work of God means. Unlike the Orthodox tradition the Catholic tradition does not seem to have an iconic history of presenting wisdom – Sophia or Sapientiae.
In the Orthodox tradition we can find numerous representations of wisdom – Sophia- drawing on scriptural references. In the Old Testament:
"Wisdom has built a house for herself, and has set up seven pillars…." (Proverbs, 9:1).
‘All wisdom comes from the Lord…Wisdom was created before everything..’ (Ecclesiasticus, 1, 1-4)
Then the creator of all things commanded, and said to me: and he that made me, rested in my tabernacle, And he said to me: Let thy dwelling be in Jacob, and thy inheritance in Israel, and take root in my elect. 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. And so was I established in Zion, and in the holy city likewise I rested, and my power was in Jerusalem.
(Ecclesiasticus. 24- 1- 15)
And in the New Testament:
‘ as the child grew to maturity, he was filled with wisdom, and God’s favour was with him.’, Luke 2:49
‘and they found him in the Temple…and all who heard him were astounded in his intelligence…And Jesus increased in wisdom…’ (Luke 2 : 41-52)
Teilhard's approach to the Sacred Heart was wholly grounded in St Paul. So, he must have known Paul's words well. Hence in the Luc Barbier picture in the Chapel at Paray - influenced by Teilhard's ideas - we see that he has placed St Paul next to the Virgin. Paul preached ‘..a Christ who is both the power of God and the wisdom of God’ ( 1 Corinthians 1: 24) Paul encourages us to have knowledge of the mystery of ‘Christ in God’ (Colossians 3.3) in which are hidden ‘ all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ (Colossians. 2, 3.)
|The seat of wisdom, Lady Chapel: St Albans Cathedral.|
|Icon by Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik SJ|
Blessed John Paul says of this invocation - in his Angelus meditation , September 1985- that it 'permits us to understand the necessity of going to the heart of Christ to enter the fullness of God':
'The knowledge referred to here is not the knowledge that ‘puffs up’ (1 Cor8:1), knowledge based on human ability. It is divine wisdom, a mystery hidden for centuries in the mind of God, creator of the universe ( Eph. 3.9).It is anew knowledge, hidden from the wise and learned, but revealed to little ones, those who are rich in humility, simplicity and purity of heart. This knowledge and wisdom consist in recognizing the mystery of the invisible God who calls men to share in his divine nature and admits
In 2000 Blessed John Paul commissioned Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik SJ (above) to design an icon of the seat of wisdom.
|Seat of Wisdom, 1199, Camaldolese abbey , Italy|
With strength and gentleness you order all things: come to teach us the way of prudence" (Liturgy of the Hours, Vespers of 17 December)."
This wonderful invocation is addressed to "Wisdom", the central figure in the Books of Proverbs, Wisdom and Sirach. These are in fact called the "Sapiential" Books, and in them the Christian tradition discerns a prefiguration of Christ. This invocation becomes truly stimulating and even provocative when we find ourselves before the Nativity scene that is, before the paradox of a Wisdom that "from the mouth of the Most High" comes to lie in swaddling cloths in a manger (cf. Luke 2: 7, 12, 16). Already we can anticipate the response to that initial question: the One born in Bethlehem is the Wisdom of God. St Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, uses the phrase: "a hidden wisdom of God" (1 Cor 2: 7): in other words, a divine plan, which has long been kept hidden and that God himself has revealed in the history of salvation. .. The Christian paradox consists precisely in the identification of divine Wisdom, that is the eternal Logos, with the man Jesus of Nazareth and with his story. A solution to this paradox cannot be found if not in the word "Love", which naturally in this case is written with a capital "L", in reference to a Love that infinitely exceeds human and historical dimensions. Dear friends, a Christian professor, or a young Christian student, carries within him a passionate love for this Wisdom! He reads everything in her light; he finds Wisdom's imprints in the elementary particles and in the verses of poets; in juridical codes and in the events of history; in works of art and in mathematic formulas. Without Wisdom not anything was made that was made (cf. Jn 1: 3) and therefore in every created reality one can see Wisdom reflected, clearly visible in different ways and degrees. Everything understood by human intelligence can be grasped because in some sense and to a certain extent it participates in creative Wisdom. Herein lies, in the last analysis, the very potential of study, of research, of scientific dialogue in every field of knowledge. [But] …. Let us ask ourselves: who was present on Christmas night at the grotto in Bethlehem? Who welcomed Wisdom when he was born? Who hurried to see him, to recognize him and adore him? They were not doctors of law, scribes or sages. There were Mary and Joseph, and then the shepherds. What does this mean? Jesus was one day to say: "Yes, Father, for such was your gracious will" (Mt 11: 26); you revealed your mystery to the little ones (cf. Mt 11: 25). But then is there no use in studying? Or is it even harmful counterproductive in understanding the truth? The two thousand-year-old history of Christianity excludes the latter hypothesis, and suggests to us the correct one: studying entails deepening one's knowledge while maintaining a spirit similar to the "little ones", an ever humble and simple spirit, like that of Mary, the "Seat of Wisdom". ... In that Child, born of the Virgin, the two came together: mankind's longing for eternal life softened the heart of God, who was not ashamed to assume the human condition.
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As Christmas approaches I will keep these thoughts on the incarnation of divine wisdom in the heart of a baby beating in the womb of his mother.