Tuesday, December 17, 2002


On this day St. Florian is honoured. This is not the Austrian St. Florian who is patron of Poland and of many fire brigades. This St. Florian was one of 60 Christians massacred in Palestine by the Mohammedans about the year 638. (ref: Engelbert's "Lives")

The first of the "O" antiphons are used for the Magnificat at Vespers this evening, marking the last 8 days of Advent.

The explanation below was written a few years ago by Bill East and posted on a mail list. (I think I remember which one; but I'd rather be vague than wrong.) I am presuming his permission to reprint since I don't have a current address for him. (The citation given for Mr. Shiel's article seems to be no longer valid. I've left it as it occurs in the original in the event it is a temporary problem.) I have some of his other "O" antiphon explanations for the coming days, but, alas, not for every day.

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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

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

"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

"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[1]

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[2]
The antiphon is evidently based on the Vulgate Book of Wisdom, the Sapientia
Salamonis (8,1) ashiel.html - fn3[3], 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[4]

[end of quotation]

Those who wish to know more can find Mr Shiel's article, as aforsaid, at


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