Wisdom and Hilda of Whitby

By Greg Jones

The concept of God’s wisdom in late Jewish and early Christian Scripture is one with feminine overtones: the female name Sophia actually comes from the Greek word for wisdom. Similarly, Gloria is both a female name and a Latin word meaning the shining light of God’s presence. This resonates with me, as a son whose mother it was taught him about the Gospel, and brought me to church faithfully each Sunday at St. Columba’s in the mid-1970’s.

To me there is something indeed “feminine” about the Spirit of God – as well as an obviously maternal dimension to the ever-abiding, ever-caring, ever-comforting presence of the God who gives us both first and second birth. This is what I teach to my parishioners, my friends, and my youngsters. This is what I will teach my daughters.

Importantly, I teach this not merely because it is my personal preference theologically, but because it is a part of the full Christian tradition, and rooted in the Scriptures themselves.

Consider the following verse from Wisdom of Solomon 7:22-25: “There is in [Wisdom] a spirit that is intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle, mobile, clear, unpolluted, distinct, invulnerable, loving the good, keen, irresistible, beneficent, humane, steadfast, sure, free from anxiety, all-powerful, overseeing all, and penetrating through all spirits that are intelligent, pure, and altogether subtle. For wisdom is more mobile than any motion; because of her pureness she pervades and penetrates all things. For she is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty.”

I am reminded thus of the example of Saint Hilda of Whitby, whose feast day is November 18. She is the 7th century abbess in whose monastery was held the famous Synod of Whitby. For many Anglicans, the Celtic period ends in our tradition around the time of the Synod of Whitby. Hilda assented to the decision of the Synod of Whitby that Roman forms should replace Celtic ones, despite her Celtic Christian background. Her faith and wisdom guided her to make a compromise for the sake of the maximum degree of unity in the Christian household.

Bede writes that Hilda was deeply and widely revered for her wisdom and care for her own flock. He writes: “So great was her prudence that not only ordinary folk, but kings and princes used to come and ask her advice in their difficulties and take it. Those under her direction were required to make a thorough study of the Scriptures and occupy themselves in good works.”

The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones (‘Greg’) is rector of St. Michael’s in Raleigh, N.C. A husband and father, Jones is also the author of Beyond Da Vinci (Seabury Books, 2004), and the bass player in indie-rock band The Balsa Gliders – whose fourth studio release is available on iTunes. Jones is a graduate of Sidwell Friends School, the University of North Carolina, and General Theological Seminary – where he serves as a General Convention-elected trustee. He blogs at fatherjones.com.

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