I blanched because, after almost two years of prayer and study of the biblical passages, I still did not know if the references were simply personified metaphors for divinity or if Sophia was truly another word for the radiant presence of the Holy One.
I was scared to respond: "Yes, I think she is more than metaphor; she is an expression of the presence of God." I still wasn't sure and I didn't want to lead anyone astray. It took me another year to be convinced that both "Sophia" and "God" were names for divinity.
One of the marvelous descriptions of Sophia that convinced me I was not off on some heretical tangent was what Thomas Merton wrote about her in Emblems of a Season of Fury. "The Diffuse Shining of God is Hagia Sophia ... Sophia is Gift, is Spirit, Donum Dei. She is God-given and God Himself as Gift ... sophia in all things is the Divine Life reflected in them."
Another confirmation was seeing how the Book of Wisdom describes Sophia guiding the Exodus people through the wilderness: "She led them by a marvelous road. She herself was their shelter by day and their starlight throughout the night" (Wis. 10:17). This passage was clearly another way of speaking about the faithful God who "went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day ... and a pillar of fire by night" (Exodus 13:21). I was finally convinced that Sophia was truly another way of naming the divine.
How the treasure got lost
Sophia was not always lost. There are at least three major reasons why this treasure has been missing from our spiritual heritage.
The early church knew Sophia well and prayed to her. But many Greek and Egyptian goddess cults still existed at this time, and there was concern among Christians that worship of Sophia would be associated with these cults. Some of the qualities ascribed to the goddesses were similar to Sophia's attributes -- particularly those of the Egyptian goddess, Isis, who was renowned for her wisdom and guidance. Fear of the goddesses was one reason why the early Roman church gradually disconnected from Sophia.
At the same time Gnosticism gained popularity, an early Christian movement whose followers had special devotion to Sophia, crediting her with the creation of the universe. The Gnostics had an immense longing for the interior life and for the hidden things of God.
Eventually they were charged with heresy, not because of their love for Sophia, but because they rejected the material world. In their passion for the interior life, the Gnostics valued only the spiritual and intellectual realms. They taught that Jesus was never incarnated, that salvation was to be attained only through knowledge of the inner self.
This left the early church in a bind: they believed in Sophia , yet rejected Gnosticism. As the church distanced itself from the Gnostics, it also turned away from devotion to Sophia for fear of appearing to approve Gnostic beliefs.
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