Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A theology of wisdom and word

Damian has asked about a theology of wisdom and word. I can't answer it but I can share some of the paths my quest has taken me along. First, Damian cites Polycarp (Joel),
    I believe that the Logos and the Sophia are uniquely connected, both coming from Jewish speculation about God. I believe, for now, that Wisdom is seen easily as feminine because she is the giver of life, while the pre-incarnate Word is seen as masculine because it is active apart from life. I may better say it such, that Sophia is the unseen creative force, while the logos is God speaking. Two sides of the same coin, whole, unique, of God, and God.
This came from the middle of our discussion on logos and sophia, exploring the notion that they are of opposite gender. But in the end, I preferred Joel's post that they are the two hands of God,
    Theophilus the sixth Bishop of Antioch, preceded Irenaeus by a half a generation, but promoted the same idea – that the Wisdom and Word of God was His hands, as opposed to the develop notion that they were Persons themselves.
Damian''s post concluded with this,
    What I’m curious about, is the concept that Logos/Sophia are connected because their source is speculation concerning the nature of God. Regarding them like this (correctly, I suspect), is in a way regarding them as a precursor to the Kabbalistic understanding of God’s emanations. But what does this speculation as applied to Christ mean for Christians?

    That’s an honest question. I really don’t know, beyond making some point in an argument on gender bias. Does anyone who reads here have a working understanding of this relationship, and what it means for a Christian? Does anyone have a theology of wisdom and word?

First, let me respond and say that one does not talk about gender bias in order to know how to bias a text in terms of gender. One discusses gender bias in order to strip a text of bias and discover its true meaning. It helps if logos and pneuma and some other things are not translated as "he" - it lets in a little light.

Now I would like to offer some other texts on logos (reason) and sophia for consideration. The first is the Allegory of the Cave by Plato. Here is the full text. Socrates concludes,

    This entire allegory, I said, you may now append, dear Glaucon, to the previous argument; the prison-house is the world of sight, the light of the fire is the sun, and you will not misapprehend me if you interpret the journey upwards to be the ascent of the soul into the intellectual world according to my poor belief, which, at your desire, I have expressed whether rightly or wrongly God knows. But, whether true or false, my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual; and that this is the power upon which he who would act rationally, either in public or private life must have his eye fixed.

The next text is the opening lines of the Tao Te Ching,

    TAO (logos) can be talked about, but not the Eternal Tao (logos).
    Names can be named, but not the Eternal Name.

    As the origin of heaven-and-earth, it is nameless:
    As "the Mother" of all things, it is nameable.

    So, as ever hidden, we should look at its inner essence:
    As always manifest, we should look at its outer aspects.

    These two flow from the same source, though differently
    And both are called mysteries.

    The Mystery of mysteries is the Door of all essence.
Dao (tao) is used to translate both logos (word) and hodos (way) from Greek into Chinese and contributes to a great deal of meditation on the relationship between Christianity and Chinese philosophy.

The third text is from 1 Corinthians 2,
    Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.
    The next text is from the Sefer Yetzirah, the Book of Creation,
      1.By means of thirty-two wonderful paths of wisdom YH, YHVH of Hosts, Elohim of Israel, Living Elohim, and Eternal King, El Shadhai, merciful and gracious, high and uplifted, who inhabits Eternity, exalted and holy is His Name engraved. And He created His universe by three signs: by border, and letter, and number
      9. There are Ten Intangible Sefiroth. One: Spirit of Living Elohim,
      blessed and blessed is the Name of Him who lives forever, Voice and Spirit and Word. This is the Holy Spirit (Ruach HaQodesh).
    Although I would love to write about this, I want even more to link to this passage in Tillich,
      Spiritual self-affirmation occurs in every moment in which [humankind] lives creatively in the various spheres of meaning. page 162
    Wade explains further,
      Doubt comes into play and the spiritual life attempts to maintain itself by looking to those areas that doubt has not yet undercut. But this cannot be sustained and to save oneself, says Tillich, people look to something beyond themselves to sustain them – something he calls “transindividual.” (p. 49) Answers are given to the person authoritatively (by the Bible or the Koran, perhaps?) and freedom is sacrificed to regain meaning.

      The result we see all around us: fanaticism. The person who has sacrificed their freedom to this transindividual something becomes consumed with the anxiety it was designed to conquer because to admit doubt becomes a threat to the sustaining of the regained meaning. Such a person can do violence on those who disagree with the authority he or she has accepted. The person threatening this authority has a power over the person trying to sustain it because that latter has to suppress the former and persecute dissent. Think biblical fundamentalists or Islamic extremists.

      The problem becomes most acute when the symbols of the traditional systems lose their power to be understood in the traditional ways. Tillich gives the doctrinal symbols of Christianity as an example of this. “[Humankind’s] being includes [its] relation to meaning,” says Tillich indicating that ontic and spiritual self-affirmation cannot be wholly separated. We are “human only by understanding and shaping reality … according to meanings and values.” (p. 50) This shaping and understanding is present in our most primitive expressions. All meaning and value is potentially present in even our first formations of sentences and therefore meaninglessness and emptiness threaten our very being. It is why, he says, despair over the meaninglessness of life can even lead to one taking one’s own life. “The death instinct is not an ontic but a spiritual phenomenon.” (p. 51) The phenomena feed on themselves and non-being threatens from both sides – the ontic and the spiritual.
    Read the rest of Wade's post here.

    Now some readers will despair for my soul, that I understand logos and sophia as the way in which language is used by God to create the world. Ultimately logos is the fact that the world was created with meaning, and wisdom means that there is a good. Meaning is the ultimate good. But we only perceive these in relation to our human constitution. And by reading broadly we may come to understand our own humanness better.

    We can declare that the universe was made by letters and meaning, but can we really talk about it, or is it only something to be lived? If, the familiar text we know so well, has become unwisdom in the hands of those who have interpreted it to us, then we rest simply on the belief that wisdom still exists in creation, and may be still hidden in the text.

    The human need for meaning may be met in the Christ (word), but it cannot be the Christ of someone else's mediation, created in the image of someone else's humanity. The notion that the logos/tao/davar are first, along with sophia/hokmah, means that meaning is before and has priority over every interpretation that is known to man or woman.

    We can listen to the interpretation of others, but, going back to the allegory of the cave, we must not mistake the human interpretation for the actual meaning of reality. The lesson is that intepretation does not create meaning. Meaning precedes intepretation and not the other way around.

    So, here is a another set of five texts which can influence how we read the Bible.


    J. L. Watts said...

    Wow, Suzanne, what an excellent post. I have read and reread it several times this morning.

    I am indebted to you for starting this conversation which has helped to solidify my own opinion on Sophia/Logos somewhat.

    I'll post something later, but just wanted to say thanks for this post.

    Rev R Marszalek said...

    Thank you Suzanne, very stimulating.