Trajectories through the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers

By Andrew F. Gregory; Christopher M. Tuckett | Go to book overview

5
Wisdom in the Apostolic Fathers and the
New Testament

Frances Young

In many and various ways wisdom appears to be a key concept in the early church. By the time of Augustine, it has spiritual and intellectual connotations, as well as christological significance,1 both of these aspects of wisdom having roots in the Bible and earlier tradition. The figure of personified Wisdom, as described in Proverbs 8, was at the centre of the doctrinal controversy initiated by Arius in the fourth century.2 From the second century on, wisdom figured in Gnostic myths, and so, being contested, was ripe for reclamation or resistance by those claiming to be orthodox. Scholarly literature suggests that in various ways wisdom is important in the New Testament. So it seemed a natural research question to ask: what about wisdom in the texts known as the ‘Apostolic Fathers’? The results were a surprise. It may be that they demand a reassessment of some classic scholarly assumptions.


THE VIRTUAL ABSENCE OF SOPHIA

The word

(‘wisdom’) is absent from the Didache, and its absence from 2 Clement, the Martyrdom of Polycarp, and the Epistle to Diognetus is also worth noting if, as convention would dictate, we count them among the Apostolic Fathers. is almost entirely absent from the letters of Ignatius. Virtually the only occasion when he uses a form of the word is in Smyrn. 1, where God is described as —the one who has thus

1. See my paper, ‘Wisdom in Augustine’s De Doctrina Christiana’, forthcoming in St Patr Also, Carol Harrison, ‘Augustine, Wisdom and Classical Culture’, in S. C. Barton (ed.), Where shall Wisdom be Found? (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1999), 125–37.

2 See my article, ‘Proverbs 8 in interpretation (2): Wisdom Personified. Fourth Century Readings: Assumptions and Debates’, in D. F. Ford and G. N. Stanton (eds.), Reading Texts, Seeking Wisdom (London: SCM Press, 2003), 102–15.

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