Prudence or Truth: O Sapientia Reconsidered

by Digitalnun on December 17, 2013

Today’s O antiphon is

O Sapientia, quæ ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiæ.

I have translated this, rather ploddingly, as

O Wisdom, who come forth from the mouth of the Most High,  filling the universe from end to end and holding all things together in a strong yet gentle manner: come to teach us the way of truth.

Why ‘truth’, not the more literal ‘prudence’? Partly, I think, because I’m a slightly crazed word-fiend. Prudence is connected with foreseeing, taking care for the future; and once Christ has come, the future is already here — our hope is fulfilled. Partly, I confess, because ‘prudence’ had rather a bad reputation under Gordon Brown. It is now associated with failed economic policies and a rather dour, mid-Victorian kind of dutifulness that has little to do with God. On the other hand, I recall that in my first class in moral theology the instructor became almost lyrical in her description of prudence, ‘the mother of all the virtues’ as St Benedict would say. Yet I still hesitate to use the word here because I think the English ‘prudence’ does not convey the force of the Latin ‘prudentia’.

If we look at some of the scriptural passages behind this antiphon, e.g. Isaiah 11.2–3 and Isaiah 28.29, I hope my choice of ‘truth’ becomes more understandable. The Saviour for whom we long is Truth himself, the one in whom we hope, who will free us from all the shabby lies and half-truths that have divided mankind from the beginning. He is the pure and unsullied Wisdom that comes from above. He will teach us to be what those who follow the Lamb must be, ‘in whose mouths no lie is found’. He holds all things in unity; and in that unity there can be no shadow of falsity or untruth.

Eccentric? Perverse? Possibly. But we pray the antiphons here in Latin, which means we can avoid  disputes over translation. If you would like to hear the antiphon being sung, go here (scroll to the bottom of the page, Flash required). For reflections on this antiphon in previous years, I suggest you use the search box in the sidebar. There are also entries in our discontinued blog, Colophon.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

3 comments

Thank you for your words of wisdom.

by Frances on Tuesday, 17 December, 2013 at 10:06 am. #

An alternative translation for ‘prudentiae’ would be ‘providence’, of which ‘prudentia’ is another form. It has the merit of being more accurate and also throwing the spotlight onto God and his plan for us. I’m afraid I am an old fusspot when it comes to translation!

by Ruth on Tuesday, 17 December, 2013 at 10:12 am. #

I am wondering tentatively if the ‘via prudentiae’ is the discernment that picks its way to truth through life’s complexities, taking us from Wisdom to Truth, a fine usque ad finem.

by pauline on Tuesday, 17 December, 2013 at 12:36 pm. #


Wikio - Top Blogs - Religion and belief