Wisdom is “Gender Neutral”

It’s very interesting that the Book of Wisdom personifies Divine Wisdom as female: “For she is an aura of the might of God and a pure effusion of the glory of the Almighty.” Now, that choice of the sacred writer, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is not what might be expected in a patriarchal society where only men were scribes, educated in the Law and its wisdom. This choice is obviously not happenstance and in itself teaches us something about Divine Wisdom and wisdom in general.

The Biblical understanding of wisdom is quite different from what the world at large means by wisdom, and this is especially true when it speaks of Divine Wisdom. Wisdom was not confused with academic learning, not even with the wisdom of the Academy founded by Plato. The wisdom of the Bible is founded on the Word of God, and is a participation in the very Providence of God.

It is much more than the earthly wise man’s knowledge of the world, or even of God. In God, Wisdom is the very Providence of God at work in this world, beyond man’s natural comprehension. Man participates in this Divine Wisdom by a loving contemplation of God’s Word, for, as St. Thomas says, “it denotes a certain rectitude of judgment in the contemplation and consultation of Divine things.” Aquinas, therefore, treats wisdom under his teaching on Charity.

This perhaps explains why Mary is the Seat of Wisdom, for no one ever was or is more conformed to the Divine Word that she. She, who almost certainly had no academic training, was able to ponder the deep things of God and His providence because of her deep faith, and the tremendous charity that informed both her faith and understanding.

The personification of Divine Wisdom as feminine may, in the first instance, point us toward that mysterious relation between the first conception of the Word/Wisdom in Mary’s soul and the more glorious conception of that same Word in her womb, as Augustine says. But it also is a sharp and important reminder that God’s Wisdom is absolutely not to be equated with man’s wisdom, with human wisdom, which the pagan world tended to see as a masculine attribute. The gender switch helps us to avoid that profound confusion and the damage it causes in our thinking.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” says the Lord. (Isaiah 55:8) Man desperately needs to avoid the utterly destructive error of confusing his own rational wisdom with the transcendent Wisdom that created all things and directs all things to their proper ends. Transcendent Wisdom comes from above and is the source of everything that exists, including man’s rational powers and judgment. Without that higher and supreme Wisdom, man inevitably ends up walking in darkness, the darkness his own sin has created.

Sophia, Holy Wisdom, artist unknown (Ukrainian icon, c. 1812)
Sophia, Holy Wisdom, artist unknown (Ukrainian icon, c. 1812)

What a startling thing that this human participation in the Supreme Wisdom of God is not limited to the learned and the clever: “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes.” (Mt. 11:25) This supreme Wisdom is potentially available to all who believe deeply, love God deeply, and pray constantly and deeply. It is not reserved to the learned or the wealthy, and it is “gender neutral,” as are all things supernatural, where “there is neither. . .male or female.” (Gal. 3:28) Any Christian who has had a deeply devout and prayerful mother or father knows this from experience, regardless of the parent’s level of academic learning.

But even more startling yet is that the when God’s Word/Wisdom became flesh and dwelt among us, He was not welcomed widely and ended up crucified, a scandal for Jews and Gentiles alike. How could this happen if He were truly the “aura of the might of God and a pure effusion of the glory of the Almighty”? The answer of His Bride is simple; He was rejected and crucified “for us men and for our salvation,” to accomplish by his passion what even He was not able to accomplish by his teaching, the conversion of men.

But more startling yet, surprise, surprise, this is not the defeat of Wisdom at all, but its ultimate triumph. God has turned the tables on Satan and demonstrated the absolute power of His weakness, and the true greatness of his sovereign might, by turning what man sees as the greatest defeat of God into His greatest victory. Wisdom is seen in the working out of divine providence, and our participation in that Wisdom, our wisdom, is being able to judge all things in the light of His victory over sin and death.

This “turning of the tables” by Divine Wisdom continues to happen all through the history of the Church, beginning from the death and resurrection of the Word/Wisdom made flesh. The evil of men cannot thwart that divine plan, and it only makes more wonderful the way in which God continually transforms defeat into victory. It like witnessing the wonders of creation, only much more wonderful in the victory of Redemption.

In addition to her victories, which are many, many to be sure, the Church suffers defeat after defeat down through her history, sometimes through the malice of the world, often enough through our stupidity and sinfulness. But these are never total, irredeemable defeats, and Christian wisdom, Mary’s wisdom, can always detect the redemption awaiting its moment in these apparent catastrophes.

And so we Christians never lose hope. Whatever men may do that will harm the Church and her mission, we believe deeply that God will pull victory out of that defeat. That’s the true “Hail Mary” victory pass that never fails to amaze us, and keeps us filled with that joy that no one can take from us.

Fr. Mark A. Pilon (1943-2018) was a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, VA. He received a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from Santa Croce University in Rome. He was a former Chair of Systematic Theology at Mount St. Mary's Seminary, and a retired and visiting professor at the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College. He writes regularly at littlemoretracts.wordpress.com.