Merton and Sophia  

Posted by Joe Rawls in

On today's commemoration of Thomas Merton we look at a passage from Hagia Sophia, a long prose poem he completed in the spring of 1961. References to "Sophia" occur in the Wisdom books of the Hebrew Scriptures and also crop up frequently in the patristic literature and other writings of the Christian East. Intellectually, it is a very slippery concept but has often been used to label God's "feminine aspect".

At this stage in Merton's life he was trying to acknowledge more fully his own feminine side. Several years earlier he had a vivid dream in which he encountered a young Jewish girl whose name was Proverb. It is clear from journal entries that he regarded this young woman as a personification of Wisdom or Sophia. About a year later he was visiting his friend, the artist Victor Hammer, when he noticed an unfinished drawing (reproduced above). Hammer had begun the project as a Madonna and Child, but became stuck when he no longer knew who the female figure placing the crown on the young male was. Without hesitation, Merton said, "She is Hagia Sophia, Holy Wisdom, who crowns Christ."

The excerpt from the poem is found on pp 258-259 of Merton and Hesychasm (Bernadette Dieker and Jonathan Montaldo, eds, Fons Vitae 2003). Pp 234-254 contain a very informative explanatory essay by Susan McCaslin.


Sophia, the feminine child, is playing in the world, obvious and unseen, playing at all times before the Creator. Her delights are to be with the children of men. She is their sister. The core of life that exists in all things is tenderness, mercy, virginity, the Light, the Life considered as passive, as received, as given, as taken, as inexhaustibly renewed by the Gift of God. Sophia is Gift, is Spirit, Donum Dei. She is God-given and God Himself as Gift. God as all, and God reduced to Nothing: inexhaustible nothingness. Exinanivit semetipsum. Humility as the source of unfailing light.

Hagia Sophia in all things is the Divine Life reflected in them, considered as a spontaneous participation, as their invitation to the Wedding Feast.

Sophia is God's sharing of Himself with creatures. His outpouring, and the Love by which He is given, and known, held and loved.

She is in all things like the air receiving the sunlight. In her they prosper. In her they glorify God. In her they rejoice to reflect Him. In her they are united with Him. She is the union between them. She is the Love that unites them. She is life as communion, life as thanksgiving, life as praise, life as festival, life as glory.

Because she receives perfectly there is in her no stain. She is love without blemish, and gratitude without self-complacency. All things praise her by being themselves and by sharing in the Wedding Feast. She is the Bride and the Feast and the Wedding. The feminine principle in the world is the inexhaustible source of creative realization of the Father's glory. She is His manifestation in radiant splendor! But she remains unseen, glimpsed only by a few. Sometimes there are none who know her at all.

This entry was posted on Friday, December 10, 2010 at Friday, December 10, 2010 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


Post a Comment