“Wisdom, Dominicans, and Bl. Henry Suso” Sirach 4 (2/27/2019)
Fr. Ignatius John Schweitzer, OP
“Wisdom breathes life into her children.” So we heard in our first reading from Sirach. The Dominican Raimondo Spiazzi, whom Fr. John Martin has been translating, claims that it is precisely devout service to Wisdom that marks Dominican spirituality. So we might adapt the words of Sirach and say ‘Wisdom breathes life into her Dominican children.’
Spiazzi’s thesis is very feasible, especially as we scan some Dominican Saints. Thomas Aquinas and Albert the Great did much in terms of philosophical, theological, and mystical wisdom. Pius V and Raymond of Penafort were very much the wise and prudent steward set over the Lord’s household. Catherine of Siena focuses much on First Truth Incarnate and the wisdom of the folly of the Cross.
And very simply the Dominican motto points us to Wisdom, for Veritas is closely linked to Wisdom. And, as the gift of Wisdom builds on charity, we see that Wisdom is a happy blend of Truth and Love.
Today, to help open up our reading from Sirach, I’d like to focus on the Dominican Blessed Henry Suso, who wrote the “Little Book of Eternal Wisdom” and also describes his spiritual marriage with Wisdom in the account of his “Life.”
As Suso recounts it, he first encounters Eternal Wisdom through the Scriptures and some of the rich passages on Wisdom like we heard today. In a way, he simply continues the praises and odes to Wisdom we already find in the Bible. His spiritual marriage with Wisdom simply continues what we find in the Bible.
For instance, Suso cries out, “[Wisdom] shone as the morning star and dazzled as the glittering sun. Her crown was eternity, her attire blessedness, her words sweetness, and her embrace the fulfillment of all desire…Where is the source of all love and charm, [but in Eternal Wisdom]? Whence arise gentleness, beauty, heartfelt joy, and all endearing qualities? Does not all this gush forth from the spring of the naked Godhead? Onward, then, dear heart, mind and spirit, into the endless abyss of all charming things! …Today, as my burning heart desires, I shall embrace you [Eternal Wisdom]!” (69)
The embrace of this spiritual marriage with Eternal Wisdom simply elaborates on what we heard from Sirach about Wisdom, “He who loves her loves life; those who seek her will be embraced by the Lord.”
Yet as we go further in our reading today from Sirach we see something more. We see the “game of love” that Suso and the medieval mystics liked to speak of. The game God plays with the soul in bringing it closer to Himself through alternations of consolation and desolation. Sirach says, “[Wisdom] puts him to the test. Fear and dread she brings upon him and tries him with her discipline…Then she comes back to bring him happiness and reveal her secrets to him and she will heap upon him treasures.”
The “game of love” Wisdom plays with the soul involves consolation and desolation. This is surely true of Suso’s life: Very intense trials. And since Eternal Wisdom is behind it all, Suso learns to joyfully accept it all from the hand of God. And it brings him to a proper detachment from himself.
Perhaps what is most unique in Suso’s approach to Wisdom is that his whole teaching on detachment has its roots in his devotion to Eternal Wisdom. Detachment from oneself, or “releasement,” as Bernard McGinn translates it, frees oneself from self-centeredness, for what God’s wise plan has in store for him.
More radically, wisdom, as concerned with first principles and seeing all things in light of first principles, gives one something of a God’s eye view on things, even one’s self. So Suso says, “Such people’s minds and hearts are so completely lost in God that they somehow have no conciousness of self except by perceiving self and all things in their first origin.” (130) You see, perceiving all things in their first principle, even one’s self. It’s almost a detached, objective, 3rd person perspective on one’s self. Seeing oneself in God’s light, the light of Eternal Wisdom, gives one a proper detachment from himself.
God’s perspective has so predominated one’s conscious life that undue attention to himself fades away. One’s mental life is absorbed in Divine Wisdom, God Himself and God’s own perspective, so that there is a certain releasement from his egoism.
So that’s Suso on Wisdom and hopefully it sheds light on one aspect of the Dominican devout service of Wisdom. Releasement or self-transcendence is simply a result of being caught up and absorbed in wisdom—philosophically, theologically, and mystically. In a devotion to Wisdom, God Himself and God’s broader perspective replaces one’s own, insofar as reason, faith, and the Holy Spirit give us access to it. Yes. ‘Wisdom opens up and breathes life into her children.’