O Sapientia (17th December)
O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodisti, attingens a fine usque ad
finem, fortiter suaviter disponensque omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam
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 OT "is more than a mere quality and tends increasingly to
become a hypostasis, so esp. in Prov. 8 and Wisd. 7.22 ff" (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 NT 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 at
I take the liberty of reproducing Mr Shiel's abstract below:
f o r t i t e r s u a v i t e r
by James Shiel
Abstract: 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
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 The
antiphon is evidently based on the Vulgate Book of Wisdom, the Sapientia
Salamonis (8,1) ashiel.html - fn3, 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
[end of quotation]
Those who wish to know more can find Mr Shiel's article, as aforsaid, at