by Father Mike Stubbs
When native speakers of English learn another language, they frequently run into a number of obstacles.
One of those obstacles involves the gender of nouns. Many languages classify all nouns according to gender, while English does not. In linguistics, gender is a grammatical category, which may or may not correspond to the biological nature of the object described by the noun. For example, the German word for maiden — “Mädchen” —is neuter in gender. The French word for table is feminine, even though a table lacks any sexual organs.
In the Hebrew language, the word for wisdom is feminine. Interestingly enough, that also holds true for the word for wisdom in many other languages, such as Greek and Latin. The fact that so many languages agree on this point strikes me as significant. The feminine gender of the word easily suggests the personification of Wisdom as a woman, which we encounter in Sunday’s first reading, Prv 9:1-6.
The reading presents Wisdom as a resourceful and generous woman. She is able to construct a house: “Wisdom has built her house.” She does not act alone, but has charge of “her maidens,” servants or daughters who assist her. She prepares a lavish banquet, to which she issues an open invitation for all: “Let whoever is simple turn in here. . . . Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed!”
The banquet includes meat, which did not figure in the everyday diet of the ordinary person. Meat was usually only served for feasts or special occasions. Similarly, wine cost too much for the ordinary person to drink every day. It was fairly strong and had to be mixed with water. This truly is a lavish banquet, supplied out of the generosity of Lady Wisdom.
Lady Wisdom occasionally appears in the later books of the Old Testament. They describe her as God’s helper in creating the universe (Wis 9:9) and as an attribute of God (Sir 1:1). These descriptions of wisdom, and the personification of Wisdom, prepared the way for the New Testament to present the concept of the Logos, the Word of God, who would be made incarnate in Jesus Christ.
Incidentally, the word “logos” is masculine in gender. That naturally suggests, in place of the personification of Wisdom as a woman, the personification of the Logos, the Word, as a man.
But this is no mere metaphor. It actually happens in Jesus Christ: “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (Jn 1:14).