Mary: The Dwelling Place of Wisdom in Body and Soul

COMMENTARY: Part 3 in a Register series on the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, sixth-century icon from St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai.
Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, sixth-century icon from St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai. (photo: Wikipedia)

The Old Testament “patron saint” of wisdom was, as we noted last time, King Solomon. Given his choice of all the goodies the world offers, Solomon chose wisdom and was both commended by God for it and rewarded with an answer to his prayer.

As we also saw, the thing that marks out wisdom in the Jewish tradition is an emphasis on incarnating the heavenly in the things of earth. So Proverbs shows us wisdom as a sort of co-worker with God, working at his side to build the universe:

“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. When there were no depths, I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth; before he had made the earth with its fields, or the first of the dust, of the world. When he established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master workman; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the sons of men” (Proverbs 8:22-31).

Not surprisingly, then, Solomon is also portrayed as a kind of proto-natural historian and scientist who was interested not only in the things of God, but also in birds, beasts and the world around him, as well as a Master Builder, undertaking a huge number of giant public-works projects. The crown of these is the Temple, which is itself a sort of icon of the universe God created, just as the universe God creates is described in Genesis 1 in language that recalls the Temple.

Solomon comes as close as anybody under the Old Covenant can to bringing heaven to earth in visible form.

And he fails. Within a few chapters of being dubbed the wisest man who ever lived, Solomon is marrying lots of pagan wives, worshipping their gods, acting like Pharaoh toward the people of Israel, driving them like the slaves who built the great monuments of Egypt and earning a judgment from God that guarantees the end of his kingdom as a united nation.

The point of the story is that wisdom, as great and glorious a thing as it is, is not enough. The gift that is wisdom, like the gift that is life, does not suffice without the gift who is Wisdom and the gift who is Life. For wisdom, in the end, is not a thing or a concept, but a person. In confirmation, we are given, not a thing, but a Person: Jesus, who is the Wisdom and the Life of God.

This is why one of the honorifics we give Mary is “Seat of Wisdom.” In her, we see united in reality what Solomon could only unite in a sort of shadow or sign: the dwelling place of wisdom in both body and soul.

As the perfect disciple, she treasured the gift of wisdom in her heart and ruminated upon the mysteries she experienced. But, in addition to meditating, she enfleshed that Wisdom in her “Yes” to God. And so Wisdom became flesh and dwelt among us. Wisdom literally sat on her lap; and she became his throne even as he, in complete humility, humbled himself to nurse at her breast.

When we are confirmed, we are to likewise bear Jesus to the world by faith expressed in concrete works of love made flesh.

Mark Shea is a Register blogger and columnist.

Part 1 of his series can be found here.