today we will reflect on the Song of Songs, with the aim of better understanding
the sacramental sign of marriage.
about love, proclaimed by the Song of Songs, cannot be separated from the
language of the body. The truth about love enables the same language of the
body to be reread in truth. This is also the truth about the progressive
approach of the spouses which increases through love. The nearness means also
the initiation into the mystery of the person, without, however, implying its
violation (cf. Sg 1:13-14, 16).
The truth about the increasing nearness of the spouses through love is developed
in the subjective dimension "of the heart," of affection and sentiment. This
dimension allows one to discover in itself the other as a gift and, in a certain
sense, to "taste it" in itself (cf. Sg 2:3-6).
Through this nearness the groom more fully lives the experience of that gift
which on the part of the female "I" is united with the spousal expression and
meaning of the body. The man's words (cf. Sg 7:1-8) do not only contain a poetic
description of his beloved, of her feminine beauty on which his senses dwell,
but they speak of the gift and the self-giving of the person.
The bride knows that the groom's longing is for her and she goes to meet him
with the quickness of the gift of herself (cf. Sg 7:9-13) because the love that
unites them is at one and the same time of a spiritual and a sensual nature. It
is also on the basis of this love that the rereading of the significance of the
body in the truth comes to pass, since the man and woman must together
constitute that sign of the mutual gift of self, which puts the seal on their
2. In the Song of Songs the language of the body becomes a part of the single
process of the mutual attraction of the man and woman. This attraction is
expressed in the frequent refrains that speak of the search that is full of
nostalgia, of affectionate solicitude (cf. Sg 2:7) and of the spouses' mutual
rediscovery (cf. Sg 5:2). This brings them joy and calm, and seems to lead them
to a continual search. One has the impression that in meeting each other, in
reaching each other, in experiencing one's nearness, they ceaselessly
continue to tend toward something. They yield to the call of something that
dominates the content of the moment and surpasses the limits of the eros, limits
that are reread in the words of the mutual language of the body (cf. Sg 1:7-8;
2:17). This search has its interior dimension: "the heart is awake" even in
sleep. This aspiration, born of love on the basis of the language of the body,
is a search for integral beauty, for purity that is free of all stain. It is a
search for perfection that contains, I would say, the synthesis of human
beauty, beauty of soul and body.
In the Song of Songs the human eros reveals the countenance of love ever in
search and, as it were, never satisfied. The echo of this restlessness
runs through the strophes of the poem:
"I opened to
my lover—but my lover had departed, gone.
I sought him but I did not find him;
I called to him but he did not answer me" (Sg 5:6).
you, daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my lover—
What shall you tell him?
that I am faint with love" (Sg 5:9).
3. So then some strophes of the Song of Songs present the eros as the form of
human love in which the energies of desire are at work. In them, the awareness
or the subjective certainty of the mutual, faithful and exclusive belonging is
rooted. At the same time, however, many other strophes of the poem lead us to
reflect on the cause of the search and the restlessness that accompanies the
awareness of belonging to each other. Is this restlessness also part of the
nature of the eros? If it were, this restlessness would indicate also the
need for self-control. The truth about love is expressed in the awareness of
mutual belonging, the fruit of the aspiration and search for each other, and in
the need for the aspiration and the search, the outcome of mutual belonging.
In this interior necessity, in this dynamic of love, there is indirectly
revealed the near impossibility of one person's being appropriated and
mastered by the other. The person is someone who surpasses all measures of
appropriation and domination, of possession and gratification, which emerge from
the same language of the body. If the groom and the bride reread this language
in the full truth about the person and about love, they arrive at the ever
deeper conviction that the fullness of their belonging constitutes that mutual
gift in which love is revealed as "stern as death," that is, it goes to the
furthest limits of the language of the body in order to exceed them. The truth
about interior love and the truth about the mutual gift in a certain sense
continually call the groom and the bride—through the means of expressing the
mutual belonging, and even by breaking away from those means—to arrive at
what constitutes the very nucleus of the gift from person to person.
Following the paths of the words marked out by the strophes of the Song of
Songs, it seems that we are therefore approaching the dimension in which the
eros seeks to be integrated, through still another truth about love. Centuries
later, in the light of the death and resurrection of Christ, Paul of Tarsus will
proclaim this truth in the words of his Letter to the Corinthians:
"Love is patient; love is kind.
Love is not jealous; it does not put on airs; it is not snobbish.
Love is never rude; it is not self-seeking; it is not prone to anger; neither
does it brood over injuries.
Love does not rejoice in what is wrong but rejoices with the truth.
There is no limit to love's forbearance, to its trust, its hope, its power to
Love never fails" (1 Cor 13:4-8).
Is the truth about love, expressed in the strophes of the Song of Songs,
confirmed in the light of these words of Paul? In the Song we read, as an
example of love, that its "jealousy" is "relentless as the nether world" (Sg
8:6). In the Pauline letter we read that "love is not jealous." What
relationship do both of these expressions about love have? What relationship
does the love that is "stern as death," according to the Song of Songs, have
with the love that "never fails," according to the Pauline letter? We will not
multiply these questions; we will not open the comparative analysis.
Nevertheless, it seems that love opens up before us here in two perspectives. It
is as though that in which the human eros closes its horizon is still opened,
through Paul's words, to another horizon of love that speaks another language,
the love that seems to emerge from another dimension of the person, and which
calls, invites, to another communion. This love has been called "agape"
and agape brings the eros to completion by purifying it.
So we have concluded these brief meditations on the Song of Songs, intended to
further examine the theme of the language of the body. In this framework, the
Song of Songs has a totally singular meaning.