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"Personification of Wisdom (Σοφία, Sophia) at the "Celsus Library in "Ephesus (2nd century).

Sophia (σοφία, "Greek for ""wisdom") is a central idea in "Hellenistic philosophy and "religion, "Platonism, "Gnosticism and "Christian theology.

In Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christianity, "Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) is an expression for the second person of the Holy Trinity (as in the dedication of the church of "Hagia Sophia in "Constantinople). References to "Wisdom" (Sophia) in the Old Testament translate "Hebrew "Chokhmah.


Greek and Hellenistic tradition[edit]

Greek σοφία(Sophia) is the abstract noun of σοφός "clever, able", from the same Indo-European root as Latin sapere "to taste; discern", whence sapientia.[1] The noun σοφία as "skill in handicraft and art" is "Homeric, and in "Pindar is used of both "Hephaistos and of "Athena.

Before "Plato, the term for "sound judgement, intelligence, practical wisdom" (etc.), such qualities as are ascribed to the "Seven Sages, was "phronesis (φρήν "mind"), while sophia referenced technical skill. The term φιλοσοφία (philo-sophia, "love of wisdom" is coined only at the time of "Plato, following his teacher, "Socrates. This understanding of philosophia permeates Plato's dialogues, especially the "Republic. In that work, the leaders of the proposed utopia are to be "philosopher kings: rulers who are friends of sophia or Wisdom. Socrates himself was dubbed "the wisest [σοφώτατός] man of Greece" by the "Pythian Oracle. Socrates defends this verdict in his "Apology to the effect that he, at least, "knows that he knows nothing. Socratic "skepticism is contrasted with the approach of the "Sophists, who are attacked in "Gorgias for relying merely on "eloquence. "Cicero in De Oratore later criticized Plato for his separation of wisdom from eloquence.[2] Sophia is named as one of the four "cardinal virtues (in place of "phronesis) in "Plato's "Protagoras.

"Philo, a "Hellenised Jew writing in Alexandria, attempted to harmonise Platonic philosophy and Jewish scripture. Also influenced by "Stoic philosophical concepts, he used the Greek term "logos, "word," for the role and function of Wisdom, a concept later adapted by the author of the "Gospel of John in the opening verses and applied to Jesus Christ as the Word (Logos) of God the Father.[3]

"In Gnosticism, Sophia is a feminine figure, analogous to the "soul but also simultaneously one of the feminine aspects of "the Godhead. Gnostics held that she was the "syzygy of "Jesus Christ (i.e. the "Bride of Christ), and "Holy Spirit of the "Trinity. She is occasionally referred to by the "Hebrew equivalent of Achamōth (Ἀχαμώθ, Hebrew חכמה "chokhmah) and as Prunikos (Προύνικος).

Christian theology[edit]

Icon of Divine Wisdom София Премудрость Божия) from St George Church in "Vologda (16th century)

"Christian theology received the Old Testament personification of Divine Wisdom (Hebrew "Chokhmah, "LXX Sophia, "Vulgate Sapientia). The connection of Divine Wisdom to the concept of the "Logos resulted in the interpretation of "Holy Wisdom" (Hagia Sophia) as an aspect of "Christ the Logos.[4]

The clearest form of the identification of Divine Wisdom with Christ comes in "1 Corinthians 1:17-2:13. Yet, even there Paul's impulse is to explain "God's hidden wisdom" not so much as the person of Christ himself, but rather as God's "wise and hidden purpose from the very beginning to bring us to our destined glory" (1 Cor. 2:7). In other words, when Paul calls Christ "the wisdom of God", even more than in the case of other titles, God's eternal plan of salvation overshadows everything.[4]


At times the "Church Fathers named Christ as "Wisdom". Therefore, when rebutting claims about Christ's ignorance, "Gregory of Nazianzus insisted that, inasmuch as he was divine, Christ knew everything: "How can he be ignorant of anything that is, when he is Wisdom, the maker of the worlds, who brings all things to fulfilment and recreates all things, who is the end of all that has come into being?" (Orationes, 30.15). "Irenaeus represents another, minor patristic tradition which identified the Spirit of God, and not Christ himself, as "Wisdom" ("Adversus haereses, 4.20.1–3; cf. 3.24.2; 4.7.3; 4.20.3). He could appeal to Paul's teaching about wisdom being one of the gifts of the "Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:8). However, the majority applied to Christ the title/name of "Wisdom".

Reconstruction of the "Hagia Sophia basilica (section)

"Emperor Constantine set a pattern for Eastern Christians by dedicating a church to Christ as the personification of Divine Wisdom.[4] In "Constantinople, under "Emperor Justinian, "Hagia Sophia ("Holy Wisdom") was rebuilt, consecrated in 538, and became a model for many other "Byzantine churches. In the Latin Church, however, ""the Word" or "Logos came through more clearly than "the Wisdom" of God as a central, "high title of Christ.

In the theology of the "Eastern Orthodox Church, Holy Wisdom is understood as the "Divine Logos who became "incarnate as "Jesus "Christ;[5] this belief being sometimes also expressed in some Eastern Orthodox icons.[6] In the "Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church, the exclamation Sophia! or in English Wisdom! will be proclaimed by the "deacon or "priest at certain moments, especially before the reading of scripture, to draw the congregation's attention to sacred teaching.

There is a hagiographical tradition, dating to the late 6th century,[7] of a Saint Sophia and her three daughters, "Saints Faith, Hope and Charity. This has been taken as the veneration of allegorical figures from an early time, and the group of saints has become popular in Russian Orthodox iconography as such (the names of the daughters rendered as Вѣра, Надежда, Любовь). The veneration of the three saints named for the three "theological virtues probably arose in the 6th century.[8]


"Wisdom hath builded her house" (Премудрость созда Себе дом, Novgorod, 16th century).

The Christological identification of Christ the Logos with Divine Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) is strongly represented in the iconographic tradition of the "Russian Orthodox Church. A type of icon of the "Theotokos is "Wisdom hath builded Her house" (Премудрость созда Себе дом), a quote from Proverbs 9:1 ("Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars") interpreted as prefiguring the incarnation, with the Theotokos being the "house" chosen by the ""hypostatic Wisdom" (i.e. "Wisdom" as a person of the "Trinity).

Christian mysticism[edit]

In Russian Orthodox mysticism, Sophia became increasingly indistinguishable from the person of the Theotokos (rather than Christ), to the point of the implication of the Theotokos as a "fourth person of the Trinity". Such interpretations became popular in the late 19th to early 20th century, forwarded by authors such as "Vladimir Solovyov, "Pavel Florensky, "Nikolai Berdyaev, and "Sergei Bulgakov. Bulgakov's theology, known as ""Sophianism", presented Divine Wisdom as co-existent with the Trinity, operating as the feminine aspect of God in concert with the three masculine principles of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It was the topic of a highly political controversy in the early 1930s and was condemned as heretical in 1935.[5][9]

Within the "Protestant tradition in "England, "Jane Leade, 17th-century "Christian mystic, "Universalist, and founder of the "Philadelphian Society, wrote copious descriptions of her visions and dialogues with the "Virgin Sophia" who, she said, revealed to her the spiritual workings of the Universe.[10] Leade was hugely influenced by the "theosophical writings of 16th century "German Christian mystic "Jakob Böhme, who also speaks of the Sophia in works such as The Way to Christ (1624).[11] Jakob Böhme was very influential to a number of "Christian mystics and religious leaders, including "George Rapp and the "Harmony Society.[12]


Sophia is not a "goddess" in classical Greek tradition; Greek goddesses associated with wisdom are "Metis and "Athena (Latin "Minerva). By the "Roman Empire period, it became common to depict the "cardinal virtues and other abstract ideals, as female "allegories. Thus, in the "Celsus Library in "Ephesus, built in the 2nd century, there are four statues of female allegories, depicting wisdom (Sophia), knowledge ("Episteme), intelligence ("Ennoia) and valour ("Arete). In the same period, "Sophia assumes aspects of a goddess or angelic power in "Gnosticism.

In "Christian iconography, "Holy Wisdom or Hagia Sophia was depicted as a female allegory from the medieval period. In Western (Latin) tradition, she appears as a crowned virgin; in "Russian Orthodox tradition, she has a more supernatural aspect of a crowned woman with wings in a glowing red colour. The virgin martyrs "Faith Hope and Charity with their mother Sophia are depicted as three small girls standing in front of their mother in widow's dress.

"Allegory of Wisdom and Strength is a painting by "Paolo Veronese, created circa 1565 in "Venice. It is a large-scale allegorical painting depicting Divine Wisdom personified on the left and "Hercules, representing Strength and earthly concerns, on the right.

Modern reception[edit]

Statue of Sophia in Sofia, Bulgaria

A goddess Sophia was introduced into "Anthroposophy by its founder, "Rudolf Steiner, in his book The Goddess: From Natura to Divine Sophia[13] and a later compilation of his writings titled Isis Mary Sophia. Sophia also figures prominently in "Theosophy, a spiritual movement which Anthroposophy was closely related to. "Helena Blavatsky, the founder of Theosophy, described it in her essay What is Theosophy? as an esoteric wisdom doctrine, and said that the "Wisdom" referred to was "an emanation of the Divine principle" typified by "...some goddesses—Metis, Neitha, Athena, the Gnostic Sophia..."[14]

Since the 1970s, Sophia has also been invoked as a goddeess in "feminist Wicca and related currents of feminist spirituality.[15] The 1979 installation artwork "The Dinner Party features a place setting for Sophia.[16]

There is a "monumental sculpture of Holy Wisdom depicted as a "goddess" in "Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria (the city itself is named after its "Saint Sofia Church).[17]) The sculpture was erected in 2000 to replace a statue of "Lenin.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Pokorny (1959) s.v. sap-, sab- "to taste, savvy, perceive".
  2. ^ Herrick, James (2005). The History and Theory of Rhetoric: An Introduction. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. p. 103. "ISBN "0-205-41492-3.
  3. ^ "Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985. "John" p. 302-310
  4. ^ a b c On Sophiology and "Wisdom Christology" in general: "Gerald O'Collins, "Christology: A Biblical, Historical, and Systematic Study of Jesus. Oxford:Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 35-41 R. E Murphy, The Tree of Life: An Exploration of Biblical Wisdom Literature. New York City: Doubleday (2002); A. O'Boyle, Towards a Contemporary Wisdom Christology. Rome: "Gregorian University Press (1993); "G. O'Collins, Salvation for All: God's Other Peoples. Oxford: OUP (2008), pp. 54–63, 230–247.
  5. ^ a b "Pomazansky, Protopresbyter Michael (1963), Orthodox Dogmatic Theology: A Concise Exposition (Eng. Tr. "Hieromonk "Seraphim Rose) (in j in Russian), Platina CA: St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood (published 1994), pp. 357 ff, "ISBN "0-938635-69-7  Text available online
  6. ^ "OCA - Feasts and Saints". Retrieved 2012-08-30.  Artist Olga B. Kuznetsova - various icon. "Private collection - Saint Sophia the Wisdom of God, 27х31 sm, 2009 year". Retrieved 2012-08-30.  "Orthodox icons, Byzantine icons, Greek icons - Religious icons: Holy Sophia the Wisdom of God". 2012-07-20. Retrieved 2012-08-30. 
  7. ^ V. Saxer, "Sophia v. Rom" in: Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche vol. 9 (1993), 733f.
  8. ^ Ekkart Sauser (2000). "Fides, Spes und Charitas: hl. Märtyrerinnen". In Bautz, Traugott. Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL) (in German). 17. Herzberg: Bautz. col. 381. "ISBN "3-88309-080-8. 
  9. ^ "Orthodoxwiki states this also as heresy". Retrieved 2012-08-30. 
  10. ^ Hirst, Julie (2005). Jane Leade: Biography of a Seventeenth-Century Mystic. 
  11. ^ "Jakob Böhme, The Way to Christ (1622)
  12. ^ Arthur Versluis, "Western Esotericism and The Harmony Society", Esoterica I (1999) pp. 20-47
  13. ^ "Steiner, Rudolf (2001). The Goddess: From Natura to the Divine Sophia : Selections from the Work of Rudolf Steiner. Sophia Books, Rudolf Steiner Press. p. 96. "ISBN "1855840944. 
  14. ^ "What is Theosophy?". Retrieved 2012-08-30. 
  15. ^ Books relating to the contemporary pagan worship of the goddess Sophia include: Sophia, Goddess of Wisdom, by Caitlin Matthews, The Cosmic Shekinah by Sorita d'Este and David Rankine (which includes Sophia as one of the major aspects of the goddess of wisdom), and Inner Gold: Understanding Psychological Projection by Robert A. Johnson.
  16. ^ "Place Settings". Brooklyn Museum. Retrieved on 2015-08-06.
  17. ^ "The Church of St Sophia, Sofia, Bulgaria". 


External links[edit]

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