O Wisdom, O Holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.
It is that time of year again and I can hardly believe it. December Seventeenth ushers in the beginning of the “O Antiphons.” These last seven days of the Advent season are marked by the seven antiphons prayed before the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) in the Church’s Liturgy of the Hours at evening prayer (vespers). These short snippets of prayerful anticipation and prophecy continue to be something I look forward to every winter as we call to mind, live out and anticipate the coming of the Lord. As has been my tradition each Advent in recent years, I offer a short reflection each day.
Typically, when considering the governing of creation, it is the Holy Spirit that comes to mind. One thinks of the ruah of God bringing order to the tohuwabohu (the cosmic “chaos”) of the first creation account in Genesis or the ruah of God that is the breath of life given to both humanity and all creation in the second account. Yet, today’s Marian antiphon focuses on the wisdom and word of God. These terms are, like the spirit or ruah mentioned above, symbols of Divine Immanence traced back to the Hebrew Scriptures and adopted to refer to Christ after the Incarnation.
But that’s what makes the antiphon somewhat odd, at least at first glance — Isn’t it the spirit that governs creation? Isn’t it the spirit that leads all of creation back to God, what we more casually call salvation? What does the word, the dabar, the logos have to do with that?
Perhaps this is an opportunity to consider what Irenaeus of Lyons talks about in his Trinitarian theology when he discusses the spirit and the word as the “two hands of God” (Adversus Haereses 5.17.4). For Irenaeus, drawing on Scripture, creation is always the act of the Triune God. To assert this necessarily requires explication about the role of the Second and Third personae of the Trinity: Son and Spirit. In other words, you cannot talk about creation without, at the same time, somehow talking about all three personae of the Trinity. Irenaeus’s reflection on the Son’s (word/logos/dabar) action in the act of Creation plays what we might call a cardinal role and strongly echoes today’s O Antiphon:
For the Creator of the world is truly the Word of God: and this is our Lord, who in the last times was made human, existing in this world, and who in an invisible manner contains all things created, and is inherent in the entire creation, since the Word of God governs and arranges all things; and therefore He came to His own in a visible manner, and was made flesh, and hung upon the tree, that He might sum up all things in Himself (AH 5.18.3).
This is not a novel concept, for the famous Christological hymn in the Letter to the Colossaians proclaims this Christocentricity of Creation and Salvation, the exitus and reditus of God’s Divine Action.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers — all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace throughout he blood of his cross (Colossians 1:15-20).
While Irenaeus presents this reflection on the role of Christ at the center of creation and the creative act of God in a clear and Trinitarian frame, it carries on through the Christian tradition — particularly in the medieval Franciscan school exemplified in the thought of Bonaventure and John Duns Scotus.
Today, as we begin the annual “O Antiphonal Christmas Countdown,” we are given the chance to reflect on what the coming of the Lord means not just in terms of the Incarnation and earthly life, but in the cosmic scope of God’s loving action, intention, and plan. Creation, Incarnation, and Salvation are not individual, discrete doctrines, but aspects of a richly interrelated whole that give us particular glimpses into who God is and what God desires for all creation.
Christ, the wisdom and word of God, stands at the center of creation, through him all is brought into existence and unto whom all will return to God. There is much to celebrate in these dark days of wintery Advent, for unto us a child is born — God-with-us from the beginning and until the end.