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Sophia, The Feminine Personification of Wisdom


Sophia (Koinē Greek: σοφία sophía "wisdom") is a central idea in Hellenistic philosophy and religion, Platonism, Gnosticism and Christian theology. (The Ancient Greek word Sophia [σοφία, sophía] is the abstract noun of σοφός [sophós], which variously translates to "clever, skillful, intelligent, wise". These words share the same Proto-Indo-European root as the Latin verb sapere, whence sapientia [lit. “wisdom,” “discernment,” “memory”].) Originally carrying a meaning of "cleverness, skill", the later meaning of the term, close to the meaning of Phronesis ("wisdom, intelligence"), was significantly shaped by the term philosophia (φιλοσοφία, lit. '"love of wisdom”) as used by Socrates and Plato. In the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, the feminine personification of divine wisdom as Holy Wisdom (Ἁγία Σοφία Hagía Sophía) can refer either to Jesus Christ the Word of God (as in the dedication of the church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople) or to the Holy Spirit. Following 1 Corinthians, the Church Fathers named Christ as "Wisdom of God". In the Latin Church, "the Word" or Logos came through more clearly than "the Wisdom" of God as a central, high title of Christ.


In Proverbs (8:22-3122) Wisdom says of herself: "I, wisdom, was with the Lord when he began his work, long before he made anything else. 23 I was created in the very beginning, even before the world began. 24 I was born before there were oceans, or springs overflowing with water, 25 before the hills were there, before the mountains were put in place. 26 God had not made the earth or fields, not even the first dust of the earth. 27 I was there when God put the skies in place, when he stretched the horizon over the oceans, 28 when he made the clouds above and put the deep underground springs in place. 29 I was there when he ordered the sea not to go beyond the borders he had set. I was there when he laid the earth's foundation. 30 I was like a child by his side. I was delighted every day, enjoying his presence all the time, 31 enjoying the whole world, and delighted with all its people.”


In Christian iconography, a type of icon of the Theotokos is "Wisdom hath builded Her house", 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). Holy Wisdom or Hagia Sophia was depicted as a female allegory from the medieval period.


Philo, a Hellenized Jew writing in Alexandria, attempted to harmonize Platonic philosophy and Jewish scripture. Also influenced by Stoic philosophical concepts, he used the Koine term logos (λόγος, lógos) 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 as the Word (Logos) of God the Father.


Christian theology received the Old Testament personification of Divine Wisdom (Septuagint 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.


The expression Ἁγία Σοφία itself is not found in the New Testament, even though passages in the Pauline epistles equate Christ with the "wisdom of God" (θεοῦ σοφία). The clearest form of the identification of Divine Wisdom with Christ comes in 1 Corinthians 1:17–2:13. In 1 Cor. 2:7, Paul speaks of the Wisdom of God as a mystery which was "ordained before the world unto our glory".


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


In Gnosticism, Sophia is a feminine figure, analogous to the soul, but also simultaneously one of the emanations of the Monad. Gnostics held that she was the syzygy of Jesus (i.e. the Bride of Christ) and was the Holy Spirit of the Trinity. She is occasionally referred to by the Hebrew equivalent of Achamṓth (Ἀχαμώθ; Hebrew: חוכמה‎, ḥokhmāh) and as Proúnikos (Προύνικος).


A goddess Sophia was introduced into Anthroposophy by its founder, Rudolf Steiner, in his book The Goddess: From Natura to Divine Sophia 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…"


Since the 1970s, Sophia has also been invoked as a goddess in Dianic Wicca and related currents of feminist spirituality.


“During the Middle Ages the troubadours of Central Europe preserved in song the legends of this Egyptian goddess. They composed sonnets to the most beautiful woman in all the world. Though few ever discovered her identity, she was Sophia, the Virgin of Wisdom, whom all the philosophers of the world have wooed. Isis represents the mystery of motherhood, which the ancients recognized as the most apparent proof of Nature’s omniscient wisdom and God’s overshadowing power. To the modern seeker she is the epitome of the Great Unknown, and only those who unveil her will be able to solve the mysteries of life, death, generation, and regeneration.” ~ Manly P. Hall



[Most of this information on Sophia taken from Wikipedia websites.]