Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Patristic Commentary on the Song of Solomon - Part I

Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!

The Risen Christ greeting St. Mary Magdalene, telling her: "Do not hold me" (Icon courtesy of used with permission)
The Song of Songs, or Song of Solomon is an incredible book that is often unappreciated or misinterpreted. I hope to have a series of posts (though not necessarily in order) including some interpretations of the Fathers on this grace-filled, prophetic and spiritually uplifting book.

St. Gregory Dialogos, in his lengthy introduction to this great book, makes it evidently clear that though most of the book utilizes very vivid imagery, all of it is only meant to express divine eros and truth; this has nothing to do with carnal love:

"We must transcend this language that is typical of the passions so as to realize that virtuous state in which we are unable to be influenced by the passions. As the sacred writings employ words and meanings, so a picture employs colors and subject matter; it is excessively foolish to cling to the colors of the picture in such a way that the subject painted is ignored. Now if we embrace the words that are expressed in exterior terms and ignore their deeper meanings, it is like ignoring the subject depicted while focusing upon the colors alone...

When we listen to language belonging to the human way of life, we must distance ourselves from ordinary men lest by listening to what is said in a human way, we perceive nothing about the divinity that we ought to be hearing. Paul did not desire his disciples to be ordinary men when he said to them, "For when envy and contention are among you, are you not ordinary men?" (1 Cor 3:3-4) The Lord as well did not consider his disciples to be ordinary men when he said, "Who do men say that the Son of Man is?" (Mt 16:13) When they told him what ordinary men had said, he immediately added, "Who do you say that I am?" (Mt 16:15) Now by saying "men" first and then adding "you," he distinguished between ordinary men and his disciples; to be sure, by teaching them divine things he was making them superior to ordinary men. The apostle states, "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has passed away." (2 Cor 5:17) We are aware that in our resurrection the body is joined to the spirit in such a way that everything which was controlled by the passions is taken up into the power of the spirit. And so it is fitting for someone who follows God to imitate his own resurrection every day. At the time of anyone's resurrection there will be nothing that is able to be influenced by the passions in his body. And so, let such a one at the present time have nothing that is able to influenced by the passions in his heart. Let such a one also be a new creation according to the interior man and trample whatever is uttered from the past, examining the language of former times solely for the fuel of his renewal."

As we are in the Paschal season, I include with a short quote from St. Ambrose of Milan in which he interprets the following verses in the light of Christ's Resurrection:

"Arise, my darling,
my beautiful one, and come with me.

See! The winter is past;
the rains are over and gone.

Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
is heard in our land."
(Song of Songs 2:10-12)

“Arise, come, my dearest one.” that is, arise from the pleasures of the world, arise from earthly things and come to me, you who still labor and are burdened, because you are anxious about worldly things.

Come over the world, come to me, because I have overcome the world. Come near, for now you are fair with the beauty of eternal life, now you are a dove, that is, you are gentle and mild, now you are filled entirely with spiritual grace...

“Winter is now past”; that is, [Pascha] has come, pardon has come, the forgiveness of sins has arrived, temptation has ceased, the rain is gone, the storm is gone, and the affliction. Before the coming of Christ it is winter. After his coming there are flowers. On this account he says, “The flowers appear on earth.” Where before there were thorns, now flowers are there. “The time of pruning has come.” Where before there was desert, the harvest is there. “The voice of the dove is heard in our land.”
-St. Ambrose of Milan, "On Isaac, of The Soul"

Christ is risen from the dead, by death, trampling down upon death, and to those in the tombs, bestowing life!
Truly the Lord is risen!

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