More ToB Essays

Essay for Chapter 3 — The Ideal Love

Set me as a seal on your heart, as a seal on your arm; For stern as death is love, relentless as the nether world is devotion; its flames are a blazing fire. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it. (Sg 8: 6 – 7)

Genesis 2:24 reads, “That is why man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.” St. Paul quotes this passage in his letter to the Ephesians. Verses 22 to 33 of the fifth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is addressed to wives and husbands, and reads thus:

Be subordinate to one another out of reverence to Christ. Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of his wife just as Christ is the head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without any wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. So [also] husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are
members of his body.

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church. In any case, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and the wife should respect her husband.

There is a threefold analogy here; that of the communio personarum, the Trinity, and of the Bride and Bridegroom — that is, Christ and His Church. By the communio personarum by which man images God, man can come to have an understanding of the mysteries of the unity of the Trinity, and of the Church to the Lamb. The unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and of the Bride and the Bridegroom, are enfleshed in the human Sacrament of Matrimony.

Though Ephesians 5: 22 – 33 was directed towards the human relationship between man and woman, we can learn from these verses about the relationship between God the Father and the God Son, as well as the Bride and the Bridegroom. The first point addressed is subordination. A wife is to be subordinate to her husband; the Church is to be subordinate to the Lamb; the Son is to be subordinate to the Father. The second point addressed is sacrifice. A husband is to love his wife as his own flesh, putting her always before himself, and doing everything in his power to protect her purity, that she might be “holy and without blemish.” This illustrates the Father’s love for the Son, and also Christ’s love for the Church, the latter of which St. Paul refers to directly. The third point is one that applies only to the human relationship, and that is the matter of responsibility. A wife is to be subordinate to her husband; he is then responsible for leading her, and will answer to Christ should he lead her astray. The reason this applies only to the human relationship is because in the other cases, both Christ and the Father are, in a word, Truth, and, by nature, cannot lead anyone astray.

The prophets sought to give the people of Israel an understanding of the depth of the love of God for His people by illustrating that love in terms of human relationships — for example, in Ezekiel, Israel, with its inconsistent faithfulness to the Lord, is likened to a faithless spouse. These portrayals of the relationship between the Lord and His Bride, Israel, are found throughout the Old Testament — in Hosea and Tobit, for example — but perhaps no portrayal is so beautiful as in the Song of Songs.

His Holiness, John Paul II, dedicated three of his Wednesday Audiences on the Theology of the Body to the examination of the Song of Songs, also known as the Song of Solomon. He says that, “It is not possible to reread [the Song of Songs] except along the lines of what is written in the first chapters of Genesis.” In a letter to the Bishops, Cardinal Ratzinger says that, in the Song of Songs, “In the words of a most human love, which celebrate the beauty of the human body and the joy of mutual seeking, God’s love for his people is also expressed.” If it is said that the Bible is the Lord’s Love Letter to His people, then perhaps it could be said that in the Song of Songs, we see what He wishes for the unity between Himself and His Church to be.

The Song of Songs tells of an ideal human love, that is, Love as it was experienced by Adam and Eve before the Fall. While the communio personarum does image the Trinity, the more obvious analogy here is that of the ideal relationship of husband and wife in the communion of persons, and the ideal relationship between Christ and His Church. The Song of Songs speaks of pure desire, fidelity, faith, constant vigilance, and the practice of chastity. JPII says, “What was expressed in the second chapter of Genesis (vv. 23-25) in just a few simple and essential words, is developed here in a full dialogue, or rather in a duet, in which the groom’s words are interwoven with the bride’s and they complement each other.”

The Song of Songs is divided into the following parts: Love’s Desires, Love’s Boast, Love’s Inquiry, Love’s Vision, Love’s Union, A Tryst in the Spring, Loss and Discovery, Regal State of the Bridegroom, The Charms of the Beloved, The Lover and His Garden, A Fruitless Search, The Charms of the Lost Lover, Discovery, again The Charms of the Beloved, Love’s Meeting, The Beauty of the Bride, again Love’s Desires, again Love’s Union, Homecoming, True Love, Chastity and Its Welcome, The Bride and Her Dowry, and Life Together.

Bride and Groom continually praise each other’s bodies with purity and with the wonderful understanding that their bodies make visible their souls, and so in praising each others bodies, they praise the spiritual aspect of each others’ beings as well as the physical aspect. They express an ardent longing for each other that has been tempered with patience and the practice of chastity. In the passages addressing the Bride’s seemingly long and fruitless search for her groom, she remains faithful, and continues to reserve herself for her Bridegroom alone. (It is noted in my Bible that the temporary disappearance of the Bridegroom seemed to be a deliberate test of the Bride’s fidelity.) As she waits for her Groom to come to her, the Bride takes care to guard against the temptations which threaten to disturb the security of true love, and at the end, tells how her vigilance is rewarded by the Groom in his welcome of her. Perhaps the most important point that is illustrated by the Song of Songs is that the Bride and Groom view themselves as gifts to one another, and both are guided by a desire to give of themselves, as Adam and Eve were in their nakedness without shame, before the Fall.

In his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoings but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” The Song of Songs does not mince words. Truly, it illustrates this passage perfectly, offering a most captivating perspective on the ideal love.



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