Monday, January 3, 2011

Rev. Stanley L. Jaki on the "Seat of Wisdom"

The Seat of Wisdom statue on the high altar at Assumption Grotto in Detroit, Michigan
(click for more photos)

From the book, The Litany of Loreto by Rev. Stanley L. Jaki (1924-2009) - reprinted here with permission of Real View Books

Seat of Wisdom
Sedes sapientiae

The seat has since ancient times been the symbol of the place where power and authority reside. In judging and sentencing Jesus, Pilate took his seat as was the custom of all Roman officials whenever or wherever they exercised their judiciary power. Contrary to Pilate's expectations he received a stern reminder from that very Jesus whom he thought he could release or put to death. From Jesus Pilate had to hear he had no such power unless given him from God above and that same God was the accused's Father, who could, if necessary, send legions of angels from heaven to put an end to the supreme farce in judicial history.

Later, the disciples of Jesus, the apostles, were to initiate a phenomenon history had not witnessed beforehand. There arose a network of seats of power, embodied concretely in buildings known as cathedrals, where bishops took their seat in order to speak in the name of Jesus. They did this at times in total defiance of all worldly wisdom. But by and large the bishops stood their ground as one generation, so to speak, followed another. They form as it were a mettle in which one set of links produces the next set, all remaining in unity with the principal of those links, the successor of the Prince of the Apostles.

The world is still baffled by major manifestations of that unearthly judicial authority, such as when a new pope is elected. For two weeks in mid-April 2005 all news items had to take second place to the news emanating from the Vatican, the seat where a pope, John Paul II, had just died and was buried, and a new pope, Benedict XVI, was elected. He took a seat about which he and the Catholics all over the world are firmly convinced that it originally belonged to Peter. As to the world, which witnesses the rapid change of national constitutions and forms of government, it can only be baffled by such an endurance of a judicial organ, which operates by unworldly standards whatever its recurrent worldliness.

The bishop of Rome, the occupant of the seat of Peter, is the cohesive center of thousands of other bishops' seats all over the world. In speaking in union with the bishops of Rome, Catholic bishops proclaim a judicial wisdom which they claim to have inherited from the apostles who in turn were commissioned by Jesus himself to convict, in his very words, the world of justice, of sin, and of judgment (Jn 16:8). The world, however, cannot tolerate this kind of wisdom, nor can eradicate it from history, although this was tried again and again. Napoleon did not think that its prisoner, Pius VII, could ever wrench the weapons from his soldiers' hands. What the Pope could not do, the Russian winter did, to the astonishment of the world. Stalin, who mockingly asked about the Pope's divisions, is today a sad memory. Two thousand years have already shown that the occupants of Peter's seat can stick to their purely spiritual guns, so to speak, and whenever the world defies their words, ultimately it is Rome that comes out victorious from the encounter. Such is the proof that the wisdom of the cross is more powerful than the wisdom of the world.

It is in this perspective alone that the meaning of the invocation, "Seat of wisdom, pray for us," can be grasped in its depth. One will scratch only the surface of Mary's wisdom by any other approach to it. Surely, she had to be immensely wise by human standards. The true origin of her son had to be concealed to all worldly eyes, beginning with those of her neighbors in Nazareth. In fact her eyes were partly beclouded vis-à-vis the mystery as well as the wisdom of the Incarnation. This in spite of the fact that from the start she was terrified by the magnitude of the task entrusted to her. Shortly after the birth of her son, she was indeed given a very hard lesson in a superior wisdom when Simeon warned her that her son would be destined to the salvation and ruin of many in Israel.

For such was and still is the wisdom of God. Little if anything of this was hinted in the effusive praise given to wisdom in the so-called Wisdom Books of Israel. One of them, the Book of Wisdom, contains passages in which wisdom is described as being one with God from the beginning and indeed personified. Many, naively enough, took those passages for a reference to the Holy Spirit. In their enthusiasm they often failed to note that a few chapters later unwisdom or plain folly was also personified.

One cannot, of course, hold wisdom in sufficiently high regard.  Wisdom, so elusive to define, has to be the guide of ordinary life day in and day out.  But in that very life one cannot avoid encountering huge contradictions.  In spite of all efforts to make it a smooth affair, life on earth remains an affair full of tragedies, above all the tragedies of sin. "Who understands sin?" exclaims the Psalmist and rightly so.  Only the beam of supernatural light can cope with the reality of sin, indeed of its very origin and of its resolution provided by God, the God of salvation history. 

Salvation comes from the Jews, said Jesus pointedly. Paul said the same in reference to the most incomprehensible of all facts, the Jewish rejection of the salvation of Israel.  The only answer Paul could give was what later on became the capsule formula of the celebration of the Easter mystery.

There the Church sings the Exultet, in praise of the "felix culpa." The song echoes Paul's celebration in his Letter to the Romans of the unfathomable riches of God's wisdom, which allowed sin to happen so that grace might come superabundantly.

Whatever the first man's endowment of supernatural grace together with its preternatural accessories, such as freedom from ignorance, from ill-will, from suffering, and from death, far more abundant is the grace delivered through the New Dispensation. For that grace is an incorporation into Christ, the Son of God, through being baptized into his death.  In order to die He had to have a body, which only an immaculately spotless Virgin could provide for Him.

Therein lies the foundation of the wisdom of Mary, the Seat of Wisdom.  On her part that wisdom is a total identification with the wisdom of the Cross which is a scandal for the Jews and a laughing stock for the pagans.  But for the believer it has to be strength and power of God himself.  The faithful cannot ponder enough the magnitude of the task in front of him.  Wisdom wants to be turned into a perfect house, one with seven columns. In raising that house, one has to ponder continually the issues on hand, indeed the conflicts that mark each and every human life.  The Virgin Mary herself did so in response to Simeon's words.  May she assist us in her immensely wise ways so that we may never mistake the wisdom of the world for the wisdom of God.

A simple rule in judging things wisely is to side with the rulings of that Seat or See, which throughout its history kept extolling ever more emphatically the excellence of Mary, who gave to the world bodily the wisdom and power of God.

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The obedient are not held captive by Holy Mother Church; it is the disobedient who are held captive by the world!
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