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Seat of Wisdom, Meaning of

Mary, Seat of Wisdom

– Answered by Father Johann Roten, S.M.

Q: What is the meaning of the expression: Mary Seat of Wisdom (Sedes Sapientiae)?

A: The relationship between Mary and Wisdom in the liturgy dates back to the eighth century. Throughout the centuries Wisdom texts have been used in Marian Masses. In the present Lectionary, Proverbs 8:22-31 (Wisdom as Creator), and Sirach 24:1-4, 8-12, and 19-22 are used.

Wisdom sings her own praises, before her own people she proclaims her glory; In the assembly of the Most High she opens her mouth, in the presence of his hosts she declares her worth: "From the mouth of the Most High I came forth, and mist-like covered the Earth. In the highest heavens did I dwell, my throne on a pillar of cloud. (Sir 24: 1-4)

"Then the Creator of all gave me his command, and he who formed me chose the spot for my tent, saying, 'In Jacob make your dwelling, in Israel your inheritance'. Before all ages, in the beginning, he created me, and through all ages I shall not cease to be. In the holy tent I ministered before him, and in Zion I fixed my abode. Thus in the chosen city he has given me rest, in Jerusalem is my domain. I have stuck root among the glorious people, in the portion of the Lord, his heritage. (Sir 24: 8-12)

"You will remember me as sweeter than honey, better to have than the honeycomb. He who eats of me will hunger still, he who thinks of me will thirst for more; He who obeys me will not be put to shame, he who serves me will never fail." All this is true of the book of the Most High's covenant, the law which Moses commanded us as an inheritance for the community of Jacob. (Sir 24: 19-22)

The invocation, Mary Seat of Wisdom, is part of the Litany of Loreto and originated in the eleventh century. St. Augustine was the first one to refer to the Seat of Wisdom. St. Bernard used the expression three times and applied it to Mary with the words Domus divinae Sapientiae (House of Divine Wisdom).

During the Middle Ages the relationship between Mary and Wisdom was further developed. It was fully expressed in a remarkable text by Odo (d.c.1200), a Benedictine Abbot of Battle Abbey:

Philosophy is called the pursuit or love of wisdom. Mary is, therefore, the philosophy of Christians for whoever desires to find true Wisdom must direct his/her love and endeavor to Mary. (Theotokos, 368)

The question is whether the texts from Wisdom Literature can directly be applied to Mary, so that we can say Mary is Wisdom. The majority of theologians interpreted Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament as expression of the Eternal Logos who unites Himself to Mary, His Mother. Proverbs 8 explains Wisdom using divine attributes as 'eternal' and 'creator'. Sirach attributes not only general characteristics of God like 'the creator of the world and His reign in heaven' to Wisdom but also 'the act of begetting from all eternity'. From this follows that Wisdom is the second Person of the Trinity. Mary is the person who through her most intimate relationship is totally receptive to the Wisdom of God so that the Litany of Loreto can call her rightfully Seat of Wisdom.

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