Summary: Indeed, the deepest meaning of the Song of Songs is the celebration of the love of God, the Bridegroom, for His faithful people, seen as the dark beauty, the Bride.
Thursday of 3rd week in Advent 2017
The beautiful Song of Solomon, or Song of Songs, is on the surface a long love song, or compilation of love songs. It celebrates the love of husband and wife, the longing of one for the other, and the joy that can come from a loving and fruitful marriage. But the Fathers of the Church saw so much more in the Canticle, and this insight is reflected in the juxtaposition of this short snippet from that song with the Gospel reading about the Visitation of the pregnant Mary to the pregnant Elizabeth. Indeed, the deepest meaning of the Song of Songs is the celebration of the love of God, the Bridegroom, for His faithful people, seen as the dark beauty, the Bride.
Saint Ambrose writes ‘”Winter is now past”; that is, [Christ’s Passover] 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.”’ So with the coming of Christ, and especially after His Passion, Death and Resurrection, there is a springtime of eternal life, which we celebrate in the Eucharistic banquet. That banquet is the re-presentation of the eternal banquet in heaven, the wedding feast of the Lamb.
What did the Protestant reformers think of the Song of Songs? Please recall that the Protestant revolution was as much a political rebellion against the Holy Roman Empire and the political influence of popes like Alexander and his successor Julius II as it was a religious revolt. Without the political chicanery and the seizure of Church property by princes and dukes and kings, the revolution would have failed. So we shouldn’t be surprised at Luther’s interpretation of the Song. As with many other Scriptures, he departs radically from the writings of the Fathers.
Luther argues that “the simplest sense and real character” of the Song of Songs is that it is an allegory for the divine gift of secular government. Moreover, he says that this divine gift is in “need of restoration from apostate forces” [meaning Catholic forces and the pope] “that had rendered it subservient to ecclesial authorities.” (Jarrett A Carty Review of Politics 73:3)
Luther knew that his theology was revolutionary, was a break with the tradition of the Church, so he needed protection for his changes, protection that Church authorities would not give outside his little area of north Germany. But he knew also that there were many rulers who chafed at the rule of the Emperor and especially the financial demands of the papacy. They were also usually in desperate need of cash. So he argued “for a strict separation” of the kingdom of Christ, which was spiritual, from the kingdom of the world. “Popes and priests had no business with human law”; “secular authorities had no authority in the affairs of the church.” The obvious exception for him was when the church resisted Martin Luther. Then the “secular magistrate could conduct affairs in the spiritual realm as. . .emergency bishop.”
Of course, neither today’s lesson from the Song of Songs nor the Gospel reading about Mary’s helping of Elizabeth are about politics. Both are about human and divine love, about service, and about living in communion with each other. Let’s all pray for those who have wandered from the Catholic faith, and for those who are tempted to disrupt the fabric of our belief. And, too, let’s pray that secular authorities begin to listen to the words of Christ and restructure our society in ways compatible with Christ’s law of love.