Sunday, May 15, 2016

Holy Wisdom

By Trinity Sunday, Christ has ascended and the Holy Spirit has descended. The disciples have preached and thousands have been baptized. And with Trinity C's reading from Hebrew scripture (Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31) we find ourselves back at the beginning. The very beginning. Creation. At the beginning, God drew a circle on the face of the deep, and Wisdom was there.


The structure pictured here is Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey. It is now a museum. Before that it was a mosque. But at its construction it was a Christian church. Hagia Sophia. Which is not a reference to St. Sophia. The official name is Ναός τῆς Ἁγίας τοῦ Θεοῦ Σοφίας, Naos tēs Hagias tou Theou Sophias, "Shrine of the Holy Wisdom of God."

The Wisdom tradition in Hebrew scripture explores the idea of wisdom: who is wise, what it means to be wise. When writing to the Corinthians, Paul refers to Jesus Christ as the wisdom of God (I Corinthians 1:24). The church of Holy Wisdom (sophia) honors Jesus as divine wisdom. In the Divine Liturgy, the Gospel Book is brought into the center of worship and lifted up by the priest as he exclaims, "Wisdom!" The people reply, "Come, let us worship and bow before Christ." Christ is the wisdom.

One of the mosaics in Hagia Sophia (left, bottom) shows Byzantine emperor Leo VI (called "the Wise") bowing before an enthroned Christ. The mosaic is located in the tympanum over the Imperial Door in Hagia Sophia - the door used only by the emperor. On the left of Christ is his mother Mary, the Theotokos. On the eve of feasts of the Theotokos, one of the traditional readings is Proverbs 9:11. (see more about this on this week's Art&Faith Matters' Facebook page), which ties Mary to Wisdom. In the mosaic to the right of Jesus is an angelic figure. The figure is identified sometimes as the archangel Gabriel, sometimes as the Angel of Great Counsel. "Angel of Great Counsel" (alternatively "Messenger of Great Counsel") is how the Septuagint translates the phrase in Isaiah 9:6, which the NRSV translates as "Wonderful Counselor." Christians read that verse during Advent with its reference to a child who has been born for us and a son who has been given to us. Again, Christ is associated with wisdom - great counsel.

The current structure, which is neither the first on the site nor the first called Hagia Sophia, was built between 532 and 537. Justinian I, Byzantine emperor, charged Isidore and Anthemius with the design and construction of the building, which features a dome that rises 180 feet above the floor. The dome rests on four piers, which transfers the weight of the dome through a series of smaller outer domes. The cathedral was the first great work of Byzantine architecture. For more about the church, see: http://www.sacred-destinations.com/turkey/istanbul-hagia-sophia

In verse 30 of Proverbs 8, the Hebrew word אָ֫מ֥וֹן is variously translated. One approach relates that word to the noun אומן, which means artisan or architect. In that translation, Wisdom is the architect at God's side as the earth is being created. Holy Wisdom is the architect. Holy Wisdom is also the architecture.

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