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VERSE 1. How beautiful thou art, my love; how beautiful thou art! Thou hast doves’ eyes, besides what is hid within; thy hair is as a flock of goats that appear from Mount Gilead.
Though the Bridegroom cannot yet admit the Spouse to His nuptial bed, which is the bosom of His Father, He nevertheless finds her very fair, yea, fairer than ever. For her faults are no longer flagrant sins, nor scarcely offences; but rather defects in her still hard and contracted nature, which suffers incredible pain in being so enlarged that it may be lost in God. She is then very fair both within and without, and fairer than ever, though she cannot be convinced of it by reason of her recent repulse from being received into God. Hence the Bridegroom assures her that she is very fair, even without that which is concealed from herself, and which is more beautiful than anything that appears externally, or that can be expressed or imagined.70
Thine eyes, by thy fidelity and simplicity, are like those of doves. This quality is both exterior and interior.
The virtue of Simplicity, so highly recommended in the scriptures, causes us to act in respect to God unceasingly, without hesitation; straightforward, without reflections; and supremely, without manifold intentions, motives or designs, with a single eye to the good pleasure of God. When simplicity is perfect, we even commonly act without a thought of it. To act in simplicity with the neighbor, is to act with frankness, without affectation; with sincerity, without disguise, and with liberty, without constraint. These are the eyes and heart of the dove that are dear to Christ.
Thy hair, which represents the affection which springs from thy heart, and which is its ornament, is so separated from earthly things, that it is raised above the most excellent gifts until it arrives at Me. It resembles, in this respect, the goats that appear upon the most inaccessible mountains.
2. Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn, which came up from the washing; whereof every one bears twins, and none is barren among them.
The teeth represent the understanding and memory, which serve to chew and masticate the things we desire to know. These powers have been already purified as well as the imagination and the fancy, so that there is no longer any confusion; they are appropriately compared to sheep even shorn, on account of the simplicity they have acquired by their union with the Divine Persons, where they have been deprived of their excessive inclination and even of their power to reason and to act in a self-reflective and disordered manner, as they formerly did. But though divested of their operations, they are not by that process rendered barren or unfruitful; on the contrary, they bear double fruit, and that exceedingly pure and perfect; for the powers are never more fruitful than when they are lost with reference to the creature and vanished in God their centre.
5. Thy lips are as a scarlet fillet; and thy speech is sweet. Thy cheeks are like a piece of pomegranate, besides that which is hidden within.
The lips represent the will, which is the mouth of the soul, because it presses and kisses with affection what it loves. And as the will of this soul loves only its God, and all its affections are towards Him, the Bridegroom compares it to a scarlet fillet, thus signifying the affections reunited in a single will, which is all love and charity; the whole strength of this will being reunited in its Divine object.
Thy speech, he adds, is sweet; because thy heart has a language that none but I can understand; because it speaks only to Me. Thy cheeks are like a piece of pomegranate, which has many seeds, all contained in a single rind; so thy thoughts are, as it were, reunited in Me alone by thy pure and perfect love; and all that I have thus described is as nothing in comparison with what is yet concealed within thy deepest centre.
4. Thy neck is like the tower of David, builded with bulwarks; a thousand shields hang upon it, all the armor of mighty men.
The neck is the strength of the soul; it is well likened to the tower of David, because all the strength of the soul is in God, who is the house of Jesus Christ and of David. For this great King insists in many places in the Psalms, that God alone is his support, his refuge, his defence, and, above all, his strong tower (Psalm 61), The bulwarks that surround it are the total abandonment the soul has made of itself to God. Trust, faith and hope have fortified it in its abandonment; the weaker it is in itself, the stronger it is in God. A thousand shields hang upon it, to defend it against its innumerable foes, both visible and invisible, the armor of such mighty men that it fears no attack so long as it shall thus remain; for up to this point its state is not yet permanently fixed.
5. Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins, which, feed among the lilies.
The Spouse here receives facility in aiding souls, indicated by her breasts; but she does not yet receive it in all the fulness 72which will subsequently be communicated; it is simply implanted in her as a germ of fruitfulness, the abundance of which is denoted by the young roes that are twins. They are twins because they issue from the same source, even Jesus Christ; they feed among the lilies, because they are fed on the pure doctrine of Jesus Christ and under His example.2121See this passage more fully explained, ch. vii., v. 3.
6. Until the day break and the shadows flee away, I will get me to the mountain of myrrh, and to the hill of frankincense.
The Bridegroom interrupts His eulogy of His Spouse, to invite her to follow Him towards the mountain upon which grows myrrh, and to the hills where frankincense was collected. Until, says He, the day of the new life thou art to receive in My Father, begin to appear, and the shadows which envelop thee in the obscurity of the most naked faith, flee away and vanish, I will get me to the mountain of myrrh; for thou wilt no longer find me except in bitterness and the cross. It will be, nevertheless, a mountain of exceeding sweet savor to me, for the perfume of thy sufferings will rise towards me as incense, and by their means I shall be enabled to enter into rest within thee.
7. Thou art all fair, my love, there is no spot in thee.
Until the soul was wholly immersed in bitterness and crosses, though still fair, she was not all fair; but now that she is prostrate under the load of trouble and affliction, she is all fair, and there is no spot or deformity in her.
She would now be ready for permanent union, if there were not still within her remains of her former harsh, unyielding, bounded and limited nature, which stands in the way of her happiness. It is not a fault in her nor is it even offensive in the sight of God; it is simply a natural defect, derived from Adam, which her Bridegroom will insensibly take away. But, as for herself, though the cross has entirely destroyed her beauty in 73the eyes of men, in those of her Bridegroom she is all fair, and since she has no longer any comeliness of her own, she has become possessed of the true beauty.
8. Come from Lebanon, my Spouse, come from Lebanon, come; Thou shalt be crowned from the top of Amana, from the peak of Shenir and Hermon, from the dens of the lions, from the mountains of the leopards.
The Bridegroom here calls her by the name of Spouse, and invites her to hasten in permitting herself to be destroyed and annihilated, and receive the spiritual marriage. He calls her to her wedding and coronation.
But O Bridegroom! shall I say it? Why so earnestly and so continually invite a spouse to a consummation she so passionately desires? Thou callest her from Lebanon though she is in Jerusalem. Is this because Thou sometimes givest the name of Lebanon to Jerusalem, or wouldst Thou, perchance, by the loftiness of this great mountain, indicate the elevation of the Spouse in thine eyes? She has scarce a step to take before she is united to Thee by an everlasting tie, and when she seems to be approaching Thy bed she is repulsed by sixty strong men. Is there not Cruelty in thus powerfully, though sweetly attracting her towards a treasure which she esteems more highly than a thousand lives, and when she seems on the point of obtaining it, roughly repulsing her? O God! Thou invitest, Thou callest, Thou givest the fitness for the state before conferring the state itself, as we give a slight taste of a delicious drink that we may excite a desire for more. Ah! what suffering dost Thou not inflict upon this soul by the delay of that gift which Thou hast promised her?
Come, My Spouse, He says, for there is but a single step to take before thou wilt be so in reality. Until now, I have called thee My fair one, My Well-beloved, My dove, but never as yet My Spouse. Oh! how sweet is this name! but the reality will be far more pleasant and delightful! Come, He pursues, from the tops of the highest mountains, that is to say, from the purest practice of the most eminent virtues designated by the mountains of 74 Amana, Shenir and Herman, which are near Mount Lebanon. However exalted all this may seem to thee, and however high it may in fact be, thou must come up still higher and overtop everything, that thou mayest enter with Me into the bosom of My Father and there rest, without intermediate and by the loss of every means; for immediate and central union can only be accomplished by ascending far above every created thing. But come also from the lions’ dens, and from the mountains of the leopards; for thou canst arrive at a state so divine only by coming through the most cruel persecutions of men and of devils who are like so many wild beasts. It is now time to rise more than ever above all this, since thou art prepared to be crowned as my Bride.
9. Thou hast wounded my heart, my sister Spouse; thou hast wounded my heart with one of thine eyes and with one tress of thy neck.
Thou art My sister, since we belong to the same Father; My Spouse, since I have already betrothed, thee, and there wants but little before our marriage shall be consummated. My sister, My Spouse! O words of sweetness to a soul in affliction, whose grief overflows because the beauty she adores and by whom she is so tenderly loved, cannot yet be possessed! Thou hast wounded My heart! He says, thou hast wounded My heart! Thou hast inflicted, O Spouse, a double wound; one, by one of thine eyes, as if He would say, that which has wounded and delighted me to thee, is that all thine afflictions, all thine abasements and thy most extreme deprivations have not caused thee to turn thine eye away from Me that thou mightest behold thyself. Thou hast taken no more notice of the wounds2222I have already stated that these wounds are, within, the apparent desertion of the Bridegroom, which is the most agonizing of the soul’s sufferings, and without, the persecuting malice of men and devils.—Justifications, ii. 282. I have caused thee to receive, nor even of those which I myself inflicted, than if they had not been; because thy pure and upright love kept thee so steadily regarding Myself, that it did not permit thee to consider 75thyself nor thine own interest, but solely to contemplate Me with love as thy sovereign object.
But alas! exclaims this afflicted soul, how is it that I have steadfastly regarded Thee when I do not even know where Thou art? She knows not that her look has become so purified, that being ever direct and unreflective, it escapes her notice and does not perceive that she always sees. And besides, when we can see Him no longer, and have forgotten self and every creature,2323During the whole time, of the Bridegroom’s apparent absence, the Spouse is neither occupied with self nor with the creature; she is farther than ever from such unfaithfulness; she thinks she has lost the presence of her Well-beloved—and is not her continual grief for this seeming loss a perpetual presence?—Justifications, ii. 283. we must of necessity behold God, and the interior eye is fixed upon Him alone.2424This fixedness of the interior eye upon God must be unfailingly preserved, though unconsciously; thus the Spouse never forgets her Bridegroom. Remark, too, that the inattention of the Spouse to self, has its sole origin and cause in her unremitting application of her heart to God, and she is thus free from the mistake of those who put Him out of mind that they may sin without restraint,—Justifications, ii. 283.
The other wound thou hast inflicted upon me, continues the Bridegroom, is by one tress of thy neck; by which is plainly meant that every affection of the Bride is concentred in God alone, and that she has lost all her will in His. Thus the abandonment of her entire self to the will of God, by the loss of all separate will, and the integrity with which she clings to God, without any further self-reflections, are the two arrows which have pierced the heart of the Bridegroom.
10. How fair are thy breasts, my sister Spouse! thy breasts are fairer than wine! and the smell of thine ointments than all spices.
The Bridegroom foreseeing all the triumphs that the Bride will accomplish for Him, and how abundant will be the supply of milk from her bosom for the nourishment of innumerable souls, is in an ecstasy of admiration. For it is to be observed, 76that the further the Spouse advances, the fuller become her breasts, the Bridegroom continually replenishing them for her; whereupon He cries out: How fair are thy breasts, My sister, My Spouse! They are more beauteous than wine; for they furnish both wine and milk, one for strong men and the other for babes.
The smell of thine ointments, by which thou drawest souls to Me, infinitely surpasses all spices. There will be in thee an odor that none will recognize except those that be far advanced, but which will then attract such and cause them to run after thee, that they may come to Me, and they shall be brought to Me by thee. This secret perfume will astonish those who are ignorant of this mystery. Nevertheless, their experience will compel them to acknowledge thus; I know not what it is of thee that attracts me; it is an admirable perfume which I cannot resist, and yet I cannot divine what it is. This must be the Unction of the Holy Spirit, which the Lord’s Christ alone can communicate to the Bride.
11. Thy lips, O my Spouse, drop as the honeycomb; honey and milk are under thy tongue; and the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon.
The moment the soul has reached the blessedness of being forever received into her God, she becomes a nursing mother. Fertility is bestowed upon her; she is admitted into the state of the Apostolic life, and from thenceforward her lips continually drop as the honeycomb, for the entertainment of souls. It is only her lips and not her words, for it is the Bridegroom who speaks through His Bride, her lips being allowed Him as the means of uttering the Divine Word. Honey and milk are under the tongue which I have given thee; it is I that place the honey and the milk there, and that cause them to be dispensed for the good of souls according to their need. The Bride is all honey to those who are to be gained by the sweetness of consolations; she is all milk to such souls as have become perfectly simple and childlike. The smell of thy virtues and of the good works with which thou art clothed as with a garment, and which are of 77no account in thy sight, because they are no longer of thyself, is diffused abroad like a sweet smelling perfume.
12. A garden enclosed is my sister Spouse; a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed.
The holy Bridegroom becomes the eulogist of the Bride, for other purpose than that He may manifest to us what He desires we should become in following her example. A garden enclosed is My sister, My Spouse, He declares, shut up without and within. For as there is nothing within her which is not absolutely Mine, neither is there anything without, nor in any of her actions, which is not wholly for Me; she is mistress, neither of any of her actions nor of any other thing whatsoever; she is shut up on every side; there is no longer anything in her for herself nor for any other creature. She is also a fountain, since she is intimately united to Me, who am the spring whence she derives water to replenish the earth; but I keep her sealed, so that not a drop shall escape without My direction, and thus the water that issues thence will be perfectly pure and without the least mixture, as they issue from Myself.
13. Thy plants are a paradise of pomegranates, with the fruits of the orchard; cypress with spikenard.
Thy fertility shall be so enlarged that it shall be like a paradise of pomegranates with pleasant fruits. Union to the source of all, rendering thee useful to all, the Spirit of God will reveal Himself by thee in various places, as we see the pomegranate (which represents souls in the union of love) distributes its sap to every seed that it contains. It is true that the principal sense of this passage concerns the church; but no one would believe the wonderful fruits that a soul thoroughly annihilated would produce in behalf of men, as soon as it was applied to help them. There are fruits of all sorts in this garden, every soul, in addition to the qualities common to all, possessing peculiarities of its own. Thus, one excels in charity, the pomegranate; 78another in meekness, the apple; another is distinguished by suffering and the odor of its good example, the cypress; another distils devotion, recollection and peace, the spikenard; all are assisted by the annihilated Spouse according to their necessities.
14. Spikenard and saffron; calamus and cinnamon with all the trees of Lebanon; myrrh and aloes with all the chief ointments.
He here continues the description of the souls, of whom, as the pure result of His goodness, He has made His Spouse the mother; and while He is rehearsing the good qualities of others, He causes them all to be perceived at the same time in her as the channel by which they are distributed.
15. A fountain of gardens, a well of Living waters, and streams flowing strongly from Lebanon.
This fountain of gardens is the Bridegroom Himself, who is the source of the graces which cause spiritual plants to spring up, flourish, grow and bring forth fruit. The Spouse is like a well of living waters, and these waters descend from the Bridegroom through the Bride, streaming impetuously from the heights of the Divinity, represented by Mount Lebanon, to overflow the whole earth, that is, all those souls who are sincerely desirous of entering into the interior kingdom, and are willing to endure its toils in the hope of enjoying its fruits.
16. Arise, O north wind, and come thou south; blow through my garden, and let its spices flow out.
The Bride invites the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of life, to come and breathe through her, in order that this garden, thus filled with flowers and fruits, may put forth its spicy perfumes for the help of souls. The Bridegroom, too, requires that the resurrection of his Spouse may be hastened, and that she may receive 79new life by the in-breathing of that life-giving Spirit, who will reanimate this annihilated soul, to the end that the marriage may be perfectly consummated.
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