Wisdom’s Fire, Radiant and Unfading. Part III

Wisdom’s Fire, Radiant and Unfading. Part III October 12, 2010

Part I. Part II.

The Divinity, eternal being, makes created being
From Wisdom, ever simple and yet sublime.
The spark from God enters into the realm of becoming:
Establishing what is in eternity as now manifest in time.

God’s nature is discerned in humanity:
Sophia is seen in Sophia.
Our Lover from all eternity,
Has revealed that love in Judea.

The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that there are three persons who share one divine nature. That nature, as we have seen, is Sophia, the Wisdom of God. To understand the Trinity, we must understand that each of the persons of the Trinity hypostasize the Divine Sophia in their own unique fashion. We can therefore look to the persons of the Trinity to understand Divine Sophia better, or we can look to Divine Sophia to better understand the persons. For us here, we will do the latter. This will help us better understand the unity of the Divine persons, so that God is said to be one and not three, even though there are three persons. It is because there is one Uncreated Sophia, one Sophia, which all three persons of the Trinity have and possess as their “I”, that there is one God. Bulgakov explains it by saying that there is one absolute I which the three relational I’s have as their center:

Thus in the one absolute I there exists three I’s, as fully equal centers of I, completely transparent for one another and belonging to the fullness of the reality of this Absolute self-I, of this genuine triune I that has nothing and coposits nothing outside itself – “this one light and three lights,” this triunity. These there hypostases, three personal centers, each of which is an equi-personal I, hypostasizing Divinity, the divine nature. But this equi-personal I never posits itself in separation from the other equi-personal I’s, as unique or even as one of three I’s (which would transforms the trinity into a community or harmony of three – a tritheism); rather, it posits itself in the other I’s, is coposited with them. And there results a unique but also triune divine I, for trinitarity is not only trinity but also unity.[1]

Now, when we see and understand that Sophia is the center which unites the three persons of the Trinity, forming the absolute I, it must of course be understood that, as the essence of God, Sophia is not a fourth hypostasis. It is rather an understanding that the Godhead as One is the one absolute I, the one who, as love, exists as three and yet always one.

Scripture provides significant Sophiological material. When we are trying to understand Divine Sophia, therefore, Scripture serves as our foundation. However, because Sophia is understood both as Divine Wisdom, the essence of God, and as created Wisdom, the created image of God, it can be difficult  to understand what Sophia is when we turn to Scripture if we do not appreciate this double-use of Sophia. When we read its texts, Scripture will discuss eternal Sophia in one sentence, and then immediately talk about created Sophia without any direct indication that such a change of subject has occurred. And yet, when we read it, to make any sense of the words, this is what we must come to see. There are reasons as to why Scripture does this. For example, it is to remind us that the two are related, as prototype is to type. This allows us to contemplate Divine Sophia through our personal understanding of creaturely Sophia, something we should know much easier because we participate in creaturely Sophia. In this contemplation, we must be clear: creaturely Sophia points to Divine Sophia through analogy. Nonetheless, what is important for us here is that when we read Scripture, we must keep in mind that its authors give us a discussion of both Divine Wisdom, Divine Sophia, and created Wisdom, created Sophia, and we must be careful to understand which is meant in a given statement. This, for example, is how one is to go about reading this passage from the Book of Wisdom:

I learned both what is secret and what is manifest, for wisdom, the fashioner of all things, taught me. For in her there is a spirit that is intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle, mobile, clear, unpolluted, distinct, invulnerable, loving the good, keen, irresistible, beneficent, humane, steadfast, sure, free from anxiety, all-powerful, overseeing all, and penetrating through all spirits that are intelligent and pure and most subtle. For wisdom is more mobile than any motion; because of her pureness she pervades and penetrates all things. For she is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; therefore nothing defiled gains entrance into her. For she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness. Though she is but one, she can do all things, and while remaining in herself, she renews all things; in every generation she passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God, and prophets; for God loves nothing so much as the man who lives with wisdom. For she is more beautiful than the sun, and excels every constellation of the stars. Compared with the light she is found to be superior, for it is succeeded by the night, but against wisdom evil does not prevail (Wisdom 7:21-30 RSV).

What can we find out here, if we take the time to explicate this text?[2] Divine Sophia is the creator of all things, the source of their existence; creaturely Sophia is a created emanation of the glory of God, a reflection of Divine Sophia, mirroring what exists in Divine Sophia. What is one and simple in God is manifested in creation as a plurality which joins together into a participated unity. Creation, by its nature, is not simple, and so the reflection of the contents of God’s oneness will not be simple, but compounded.[3]

Other Scriptural texts, as mentioned above, can further our understanding about the relationship between creaturely Sophia and Divine Sophia. Sirach, for example, offers us another Sophiological presentation. “All wisdom comes from the Lord and is with him for ever” (Sir 1:1 RSV). Here we see both Wisdoms being mentioned. The first mentioned here is the Sophia who comes from the Lord (created Sophia) and then we see Sophia who is eternally with God (Divine Sophia). “Wisdom was created before all things, and prudent understanding from eternity” (Sir 1:4 RSV). Creaturely Wisdom is shown to be the first of creation – but, once again, we see that creaturely Sophia is used to point to Divine Sophia, who is the root behind creaturely Sophia: “The root of wisdom — to whom has it been revealed? Her clever devices — who knows them?  There is One who is wise, greatly to be feared, sitting upon his throne” (Sir 1:5-6 RSV). The root of creaturely Sophia is The One, God, who is wise, who is Sophia—Sophia proper, Uncreated Sophia. Again, as with the Book of Wisdom, Sirach gives to us two Sophias; though Sirach points out how created Sophia leads to and points back to Divine Sophia, confirming what we have said above, that is, created Sophia can be used to contemplate Divine Sophia.

We could go through many such texts; the point, however, is clear. God is shown to be Sophia, and yet, creaturely Sophia is the reflection of Divine Sophia. We understand Divine Sophia, in part, because of the way creaturely Sophia mirrors Divine Sophia – thus allowing us to come to some description of Divine Sophia through creation, but we also understand more about Divine Sophia because of revelation. God is at work, revealing Divine Sophia to us, leading us up to her, whom we are called to partake: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:3-4 RSV).[4]

What we also get through these texts is that all things were made through Wisdom, be it creaturely Wisdom or Divine Wisdom.[5] In this way, St John Chrysostom, in his commentary on Proverbs 8, says:

God created me at the beginning of his way to his works (v. 22), that is, God through me everything … cleverly made everything: there is no work that did not share in his wisdom, be it creature, be it command, be it law, be it ordinances, be it anything at all. [6]

St. Augustine, likewise, points out that what is created in time is established in eternity, that what is created points to the eternal truth which is its foundation:

Thus it is that in the eternal truth according to which all temporal things were made we observe with the eye of the mind the form according to which we are and according to which we do anything with true and right reason, either in ourselves or in bodies. And by this form we conceive true knowledge of things, which we have with us as a kind of word that we beget by uttering inwardly, and that does not depart from us when it is born. [7]

Nonetheless, we said we will explore aspects of the Trinity through our Sophiology. Thus, let us return to this. Divine Sophia, which is one and simple, must yet be understood in a Trinitarian sense. That is, God is Trinity. “The universal substance, or absolute unity of the whole, is the essential Wisdom of God (Khocmah, Sofia).  Possessing in itself the latent potentiality of all things, it is itself possessed by God and under a threefold mode.”[8] That is, Sophia cannot be understood as an essence separated from the Trinitarian persons who manifest that essence. “In other words, God possesses His unique and universal substance or His essential wisdom as eternal Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”[9] When talking about Divine Sophia, we must understand Sophia is the contents of Divinity, but is not, in itself, a person; Sophia must not be seen as a person, rather, it is the ousia which is shared by the persons. Sophia is known through the persons, is hypostasized in them:

It is proper for this content to include All, for no limitations are applicable to Divinity; furthermore, this All should be understood not as an aggregate or series of an infinite number of elements of the All but as their organic inner integrity, as integral wisdom in union. This is the all as unity and unity as all, All-Unity. God’s life is this positive All-unity, and the All-unity is God’s nature. In this capacity God’s nature as the absolute content of His life is that which Scripture calls the Divine Wisdom, Sophia (see Prov. 8:22 and parallel texts). Thus, the Divine Sophia is nothing other than God’s nature, His ousia, not only in the sense of power and depth, but also in the sense of self-revealing content, in the sense of the All-Unity. When we speak of God’s Divinity, we have in mind His nature both as the closed depths, the source of life, and as the open depths, life itself; and here the source of life is identical to life itself, even as Ousia and Sophia are identical.[10]

But because each of the persons are different, as presented by their relations, they also hypostasize Divine Sophia differently. The Trinity overcomes individualism by revealing that being itself is communal, is relational. Sophia, as love, leads to Divine Sophia as Trinity, that means, Divine Sophia, though simple and one, is a relational unity and not dead monism. “The self-revelation of the nature of Ousia-Sophia, which is realized through trihypostatic self-revelation and interrelation, is also the self-revelation of Love, for if God is Love, this means that the Holy Trinity is trihypostatic love. In other words, Divine Love is revealed in trihypostatizedness.”[11]

What does this exactly mean? The depths of Divine Sophia are revealed through the Trinitarian persons in their own unique way, and this, of course, primary to each other, and then, as a gift, to us: the Father, unoriginate, presents to us the Son, begotten of the Father, and the Spirit, who proceeds from the Father, revealing through all three the Divine Glory. The Father is revealed to us through the Son and the Spirit, meaning, as Solovyov points out, that it is the work of the Son and Spirit to show us the Father and to encounter the depths of Sophia found in the Father. Solovyov provides us with an analogy which is quite helpful here:

It is in the creative sphere of the Word and the Holy Spirit that the divine substance or essential Wisdom is determined and appears in its proper character as the luminous and heavenly being separated from the darkness of earthly matter. The proper sphere of the Father is absolute light, light in itself, having no relation with the darkness. The Son or the Word is as light manifested, the white ray which lights up external objects, not by penetration, but by reflexion from their surface. Finally the Holy Spirit is the ray which is refracted by the non-divine medium and breaks up and creates in this medium the heavenly spectrum of the seven primordial spirits like the colours of the rainbow.[12]

An important aspect of this analogy which makes it important is that the light imagery leads us to beauty; Divine Sophia, in the being of God, must always be seen as that which is true, beautiful, good, all that is worthy of love – all one in the divine simplicity. This is difficult for us to understand when we look at the world and try to divide it into individuated parts – because the world is a participated unity this is possible, but in the divine reality, the divinity is all that it is without parts, without division. “This consubstantiality of God’s nature is eternally revealed in God as the Divine Sophia, Truth in Beauty, the ideal-real life of God, the divine world.”[13] And it is because it is all, all that is Sophia is found complete in each of the persons of the Trinity. Sophia is the living essence of the Trinity, one and simple, which all persons of the Trinity are in their entirety. Our nominalistic approach to essences causes our confusion, and must be overcome in order to contemplate the divine Sophia:

One must, once and for all, overcome the deadening abstractness that is afraid of realism in thought and prefers the abstract nominalism of ‘properties’ to essences. One must understand that the sophianic All belongs to God’s life, enters into and participates in God’s life, divinely lives.[14]

To grasp the Trinitarian quality of Sophia better, to understand how the persons relate as one Sophia, we must anticipate some of what will be said later when we explore creaturely Sophia. Humanity was and is also created in the image of divine Sophia. “For man resembles God in being wise and just – though, to be sure, man is but changeably so while God stands changelessly both wise and just.”[15] In this way, humanity, in its nature, can also be said to be wisdom. “To all of us falls one heritage – wisdom. All of us inherit of it equally.”[16] Divine Sophia has many derivative forms in creation, one of them being humanity which is why the incarnation is fitting. Humanity, created in the image of Divine Sophia, reveals something of that Divinity. Our one humanity is engendered; while it is not proper to talk about gender in God, it is understandable to see how gender reflects something about God – and this, Sophiologists point out, comes from the relationship between the Son and the Spirit; the two revealing arms of the Father. For the duality of Son and Spirit is reflected in the two genders. But, as Bulgakov points out, it is not just that there are two persons who are the revealing arms of the Father, but that these persons appropriate different aspects of love to the way they reveal themselves in economy. That is, there are two ways love can be experienced: as self-sacrifice for the beloved and as the joyful glory of love returned. The first of these is appropriated by the Son, the second by the Spirit:[17]

The Trinitarian self-revelation in Divine life, or Sophia, contains two inseparable acts: self-depletion, which is the kenosis in birth; and self-inspiration, which is the glory of the procession. In other words, it contains dying and resurrection, self-depleting ideality and self-accomplishing reality. These are the two forms of Love: its sacrifice and its triumph, “perfect joy”: the Father Who has depleted Himself by engendering and the Son, immersed in ideality, Who has depleted Himself by being engendered; and in this and above this there is the life-giving Spirit, the breath of Divine love in its fullness, in its triumph.[18]

Thus we have a dyadic revelation of the Father, and thus, again, we see the foundation for human genders:[19]

The male and female principles in which is imprinted the image of the Divine Sophia, of prototypical humanity, are the differentiation and unity – expressed in the language of creaturely being – of the Logos and the Holy Spirit in Sophia. From the image we ascent here to the Proto-image and understand it. Of course, here we must set aside the specific qualities of the male and female principles according to which they exist in the creaturely world in the images of the male and female genders. One must understand them as images of one and the same spiritual principle, Sophia, in the fullness of its self-revelation, in the image of the Second and Third hypostases.[20]

Thus, Divine Sophia, which contains all things, also contains in itself a way for which genders can be established. In saying this, though, we understand their unity in Divine Sophia also means Sophia transcends these distinctions. What this means is that to properly understand Divine Sophia, through the human image, humanly-Sophia, we need both male and female, and both genders reveal something of the divine in creation. And so to understand the complementary role of the Son and Spirit, the complementary nature of the genders is given. Human nature is itself made in the image of Sophia, and so humanity is itself humanly-Sophia. It is because humanity is also Sophia that it is capable of participating in the divine life, of Godmanhood. “But God’s wisdom, to which the intellect must be united, has neither mode nor manner, neither does it have limits nor does it pertain to distinct and particular knowledge, because it is totally pure and simple. That the two extremes, the soul and divine Wisdom, may be united, they will have to come to accord by means of a certain likeness”[21] This raises the question and role of humanly-Sophia: what exactly it is, what is it in relation to creaturely Sophia, and what is creaturely Sophia’s relation to Divine Sophia? To answer this, we will next turn to creaturely Sophia, which will then help us understand further derivatives of Divine Sophia in creation.


[1] Sergius Bulgakov, The Comforter, 55.

[2] I am simplifying the process here, therefore, showing the kinds of conclusions one can come to, if one takes the time, though some of those conclusions come from things theology knows about God, such as divine simplicity, and what it knows about created, that it cannot be simple because existence is predicated to it.

[3] St. Bonaventure says, “With regard to the wisdom of God, we must hold these truths, namely, that divine wisdom itself most easily comprehends all things good and evil, past, present and future, actual and possible, and in this way things incomprehensible to us and infinite. Yet this comprehension is such that the divine wisdom is in no way diversified in itself, though it gives rise to diverse names,” St Bonaventure, Breviloquium. Trans. Erwin Nemmers (St Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1946), 39.

[4] Another thing hinted at here is the relationship between Sophia and Divine Glory. We see that created Sophia is a representation of that glory. However, as many exegetes point out, Scripture also talks about the uncreated Glory of God, the presence of God. Bulgakov points out how this, Shekhinah, relates to Sophiology:

It is possible, of course, for the sake of simplicity in terminology to fuse this triad of definitions, Ousia=Sophia=Glory, and then express its significance by any one of the three terms at random. But the actual history of dogmatic thought is hostile to such terminological anarchy, for every one of these expressions is associated with a definite shade of meaning. In practice, therefore, we should not restrict the circle of sophiological problems to the single term of Ousia. Such a procedure would be useless when we come to consider the place occupied in the history of dogma by this particular dogmatic precision. On the contrary  it seems much more natural to link the problems of our own time with the term “Sophia” (further amplified by the term “Glory”). Yet still, using an abridged and simplified terminology, we can say this: the divinity in God constitutes the divine Sophia (or glory), while at the same time we assume that it is also the ousia: Ousia=Sophia=Glory.

Bulgakov, Sophia: The Wisdom of God, 33.

What Bulgakov is telling us is that, for the sake of simplicity, we can see how all three are united, but we must remember the nuances which pertain to the meanings of ousia, Sophia and Glory. Glory is about God’s manifestation; ousia is about God’s being, Sophia, as we will see, is the content of that being.

[5] We will explore the way creaturely Sophia participates in the act of creation later.

[6] St John Chrysostom, Commentary on Proverbs in Commentaries on the Sages Volume Two. trans. Robert Charles Hill (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2006), 100.

[7] St Augustine, The Trinity. Trans. Edmund Hill, O.P. (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2002), 277-8.

[8] Vladimir Solovyev, Russia and the Universal Church. trans. Herbert Rees (London: Geoffrey Bles Ltd., 1948), 156.

[9] Ibid., 157.

[10] Sergius Bulgakov, The Lamb of God, 102.

[11] Sergius Bulgakov, The Comforter, 65.

[12] Vladimir Solovyev, Russia and the Universal Church, 168.

[13] Sergius Bulgakov, The Bride of the Lamb. trans. Boris Jakim (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 2002), 38.

[14] Ibid., 39.

[15] Hugh of Saint Victor, The Didascalicon of Hugh of Saint Victor. Trans. Jerome Taylor (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), 55.

[16] Paracelsus, Selected Writings. trans. Norbert Guterman. Ed. Jolande Jacobi (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979), 162.

[17] While all three persons of the Trinity engage self-kenosis and share in the joy, the Son’s mode of hypostatization has appropriated the kenosis for himself as his act of revelation, which is revealed to us in the act of the incarnation and in the cross, while the Spirit has appropriated the joy, which is manifested in the Spirit’s role in the resurrection and at Pentecost.

[18] Sergius Bulgakov, The Comforter, 180.

[19] This of course means that gender is not mere accident.

[20] Sergius Bulgakov, The Comforter, 186.

[21] St John of the Cross, “The Ascent of Mount Carmel” in The Collected Works of St John of the Cross. Trans. Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D and Otilio Rodriguez, O.C.D. (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1991), 201.

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