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Mary as Wisdom Personified

We can see the "Wisdom" of Proverbs personified as fulfilled in the life and person of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Tim Staples

In today’s first reading for the Optional Memorial of St. Louis de Montfort, we read these powerful words from St. Paul applied to our Blessed Lord:

He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30).

As is the case with Scripture generally speaking, there are multiple levels of meaning to this text. Christ is more than just wise, just, and holy; he is wisdom, justice (Gr., dikaiosune, “righteousness”), holiness, and redemption. In this article, I want to focus on wisdom.

When Paul penned these words, he was drawing on a wealth of Old Testament Scripture that spoke of Wisdom mysteriously personified. Paul was telling us the most perfect fulfillment of these texts is found in the person of Jesus Christ. Proverbs 8:10-9:1 is a classic example (see also Wis. 7:7-14):

Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold; for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her. I, wisdom, dwell in prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion. By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just. . . . The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. . . . Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth. . . . When he established the heavens, I was there. . . . He who finds me finds life and obtains favor from the  Lord; but he who misses me injures himself; all who hate me love death. . . . Wisdom has built her house.

On one level, St. Paul is bringing out Christ’s divinity. Wisdom is revealed to be eternal. “When [God] established the heavens, I was there.” John 1:1 immediately comes to mind: “In the beginning was the Word.” Wisdom here is a symbol of our divine and eternal Lord. Moreover, the text seems to symbolize under the veil of the Old Testament the eternal “begetting” of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, wherein the Second Person was “brought forth” not in time, but from all eternity in the eternal filial procession of the Son from the Father. Thus, in a strict sense, Christ alone—along with the other two persons of the Holy Trinity—can be said to be wisdom itself.

On another level, we can also see this wisdom personified as being fulfilled in the life and person of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The third-person personal pronoun leaps out for one thing. Wisdom is a “she”! Yes, the Hebrew word for wisdom is feminine (Chokhmah), but this seems to be more than just grammar. This is a descriptor of a woman who possesses wisdom on a unique scale among all of God’s creatures: “For he who finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord.” Who among women could fit the bill other than she who is “most blessed of all women,” the Mother of God (Luke 1:42)?

In my book, Behold Your Mother, I point out that Elizabeth’s declaration, “blessed are you among women,” is a Hebraism that means “you are most blessed among all women” (pp. 86-87). Thus, Mary’s immaculate conception follows. Her “blessedness” would far surpass that of Eve, who was created without sin. And just as Eve’s sinfulness led to death for all of her children, Mary’s sinlessness led to life for all of her children.

Thus, Mary’s “fullness of wisdom” would seem to flow from her “fullness of grace,” given to her in preparation for her unique calling to be the Mother of God. And this is a role that did not cease with the Incarnation. Enter two more ever-so-old and ever-so-new titles of the Blessed Virgin: Seat of Wisdom and Virgin Most Prudent. (See the Litany of Loreto.)

Like all the fifty-five titles of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Litany of Loreto, Seat of Wisdom is rooted in Scripture. Here’s 1 Kings 10:18-20:

The king also made a great ivory throne and overlaid it with the finest gold. The throne had six steps, and at the back of the throne was a calf’s head, and on each side of the seat were arm rests and two lions standing beside the arm rests, while twelve lions stood there, one on each end of a step on the six steps. The like of it was never made in any kingdom.

Similar to the Ark of the Covenant of Exodus 25, which finds its fulfillment in the Blessed Virgin (see 2 Sam. 6:9,11 and Luke 1:43,56,etc.), where an inanimate object finds its fulfillment in being brought to life—literally—this seat (or throne) of the wisest king to have ever lived finds its fulfillment to have come to life as well . . . in the mother of God, the Seat of Wisdom. This “seat” is more than a chair to sit in; this seat teaches wisdom to Wisdom.

Virgin Most Prudent is very much related to Seat of Wisdom. Religious art depicting Mary as Sedes Sapientiae always depicts the child Jesus seated on Mary’s lap, usually on a throne. In fact, when Pope St. John Paul II commissioned the Jesuit Marko Ivan Pupnik to create a mosaic icon of Mary, Seat of Wisdom in the year 2000, he depicted Jesus not just seated on Mary’s lap, but, from that posture, learning Sacred Scripture from Mary. Wisdom himself is being taught by the “Virgin Most Prudent.”

It boggles the mind.

Because of St. Joseph’s intimate role in protecting and raising the Savior, he is generally understood to have possessed grace and wisdom that far surpassed all men’s (other than Mary’s and those of “the man, Jesus Christ”). Yet Scripture reveals Mary’s knowledge and wisdom to surpass even his:

And [Jesus] said to them, “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And [Joseph and Mary] did not understand the saying which he spoke to them . . . and his mother kept all these things in her heart (Luke 2:50-51).

Neither understood perfectly, but Mary “kept all these things in her heart,” indicating a unique wisdom beyond Joseph’s. In fact, I would argue that as “Queen of Angels,” Mary’s wisdom and understanding surpass those of all of God’s creatures combined. But that is beyond the scope of what I can do here.

A final thought: In that same text from Luke, Mary (and Joseph) is implied to have commanded Jesus to leave the temple where he had been confounding the wisest Jewish scholars of the day. And he was twelve. Then Scripture says:

And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them. . . . And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor (Gr. “charity,” “grace”) with God and man.

In obeying the Virgin Most Prudent, Christ, who is wisdom, grew in grace and wisdom. What can we say of Mary other than what Scripture says? “The like of [her] was never [seen] in any kingdom.”

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