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VERSE 1. What will ye see in the Shulamite, but the companies of camps? How beautiful are thy feet with shoes, O prince’s daughter! the joints of thy thighs are like jewels; the work of the hands of a cunning workman.
The Bridegroom replies in place of his Spouse to those who so earnestly insist on her turning towards them, as though not pleased that they should interrupt the innocent pleasure she was enjoying in his company, as he had frequently testified to them before by desiring them not to wake her. He says, therefore, Why do you so earnestly beseech my Bride to return that you may behold her? What will you see in her now that she is one with me, except as it were the companies of an army in camp? She has the grace and beauty of a company of young virgins, for the chaste kiss which I have bestowed upon her has infinitely increased her purity. She has at the same time the strength and terror of an army, because she is associated with the Holy Trinity and is made partaker of the divine attributes, who are in arms to fight and destroy all the enemies of God in her behalf?
O Prince’s daughter! O Child of God! exclaim the young maidens, thy steps are fair both within and without; those within are very beautiful, because she may continually advance in God without any cessation of her rest. It is the enchanting beauty of this advance that it is a true rest, which hinders in nothing her progress, and a veritable progress, which does not 110in the least interfere with her rest; on the contrary, the greater the rest the greater the progress, and the swifter the progress the more tranquil the rest. The steps without are also full of beauty; for she is well ordered, being conducted by the will of God and led in the order of His providence. How beautiful are thy feet with shoes! every step being taken in the will of God, from which they never depart. The joints of the thighs indicate the admirable order of her actions, which take place with an entire subordination of the inferior to the superior part and of the superior to God. He is the cunning workman who has melted and shaped this soul in the furnace of Love.
2. Thy navel is like a round goblet which wanteth not liquor; thy belly is like a heap of wheat set about with lilies.
By the navel is intended the capacity of the soul to receive or the passive disposition which is extended and increased to an infinite degree, since she has been received into God; not solely for her own reception of divine communications, but also that she may conceive and bring forth many children to Jesus Christ. It is round, because it receives much but can contain nothing, receiving only to disperse. It is at the same time both fitted to receive and prompt in distributing, herein partaking of the qualities of the Bridegroom. It is continually full of liquor derived from the fountain head of Divinity, and the choicest graces are bestowed upon her for the benefit of others. Her belly is like a heap of wheat; for as that sprouts, grows, bears fruit and feeds the hungry, so her spiritual fecundity is abundant in similar excellencies. It is surrounded with lilies as a mark of the absolute purity of the whole.
3. Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins.
It would be a small matter for the Spouse to bear children to the Bridegroom, if he gave her nothing for their nourishment; the Bridegroom therefore here speaks of her breasts, to show that she is not only a mother, but a nurse. In truth, not only has 111she abundant nourishment for her children, but her breasts are always full, though they are incessantly emptied, and there is not an instant when some one is not making some demand upon them. Though they are thus constantly drawn they do not decrease, but on the contrary, their fulness increases with the graces they furnish, so that the measure of their supply is the measure of their fulness. They are very justly compared to the young twin roes, that we may understand that she derives what she dispenses wholly from God; for as the young roes depend upon their mother’s breast, so the Spouse is always attached to Him from whom she receives whatever she communicates to others.
4. Thy neck is as a tower of ivory; thine eyes like the fish-pools in Heshbon, which are in the gate of the daughter of the multitude; thy nose is as the tower of Lebanon, which looketh toward Damascus.
The neck signifies strength; it is of ivory, because the purity of strength consists in being in God, and for this reason the strength of the Spouse is absolutely pure. Her strength is a tower where the soul is sheltered from every danger, and whence she discovers the approach of her enemies. The understanding is referred to as the eyes, and when this faculty is lost in God it is become a fish-pool, a source of every blessing and a remedy for every ill. God employs the mind which has been willingly given up for His sake, in a thousand great undertakings that are useful for the good of the neighbor. These pools are at the gate of the daughters of the multitude. This child of the multitude is no other than the imagination and fancy, which disturb and injure the clearness of the mind before the mystical division is effected. But now this is no longer the case, for she is no longer inconvenienced by the frivolous and impertinent intrusion of the senses; God having, as it were, set up a door between the spirit and the senses. The nose is the symbol of prudence, which is become like the tower of Lebanon, because it is strong and impregnable, being the very providence and prudence of God, bestowed upon the soul in consideration of its 112simplicity, by which it has lost all human prudence. This celestial prudence looks but one way: it sees nothing but the divine movement of Providence, and all its foresight consists in receiving what comes from moment to moment. O Prudence destitute of prudence! how dost thou surpass the prudence of men, even the most prudent!
5. Thine head upon thee is like Carmel, and the hair of thy head like the King’s purple, bound by the water courses.
The superior part is like a mountain elevated into its God; and the hair, which represents all the gifts with which she has been favored, belongs so entirely to God that the Spouse has no longer any claim upon it. If she has any good or any possession, all belongs to Him; they are the property of the Bridegroom, so that all the adornments and embellishments of the superior part are the royal purple, since it is a partaking of the same ornaments wherewith the King is arrayed. But this purple is yet attached to the water courses, both to perfect the brilliancy of its color by the graces which descend from Heaven for it, and because it is in the soul as in a channel of distribution, which receives without resistance all the graces of her God, but suffers them all at the same time to run back into Him, without retaining any for herself; or rather, which only serves as a canal to give free passage to the rivers of grace that they may flow down to water the spiritual gardens.
6. How fair and how pleasant art thou, O Love, for delights!
God beholding in His Spouse His own perfections (reflected as in a faithful mirror), is enchanted with His own beauty contemplated in her, and exclaims, How fair and how pleasant art thou in My beauty, and how glorious is My beauty in thee! Thou art all My delight as I am the delight of My Father. For, representing Me to the life, as in a costly mirror, which produces no distortion in the objects held before it, thou givest Me an 113infinite pleasure. Thou art fair and enchanting, for thou art clothed with all My perfections. But if thou art My delight, I am also thine, and our pleasures are common to both.
7. This thy stature is like to a palmtree, and thy breasts to clusters of grapes.
Thy stature, that is, thy whole soul, is like to a palmtree, by reason of its uprightness. The favors with which I have loaded thee have not bent thee toward thyself; on the contrary, like a beautiful palm, thou art never more erect than when most heavily laden. The female palmtree has two peculiarities; one, that it is more upright the more fruit it bears, and the other that it will not bear at all except under the shadow of the male. In the same way this lovely soul has two peculiarities; one, that she never inclines in the least towards herself for any grace that she may have received of God; the other, that she cannot perform the slightest action, however insignificant, of herself, but does all things under the shadow of the Bridegroom who causes her to do everything in its season. Her breasts are beautifully likened to clusters of grapes. As the grape, though full of juice, receives none of it for herself, but yields it all to him that presses it; so this soul, the more she is oppressed and persecuted, becomes more and more benevolent and bountiful to those that evil entreat her.
8. I said, I will go up to the palmtree, and I will take hold of the fruit thereof; and thy breasts shall be as clusters of the vine, and the smell of thy mouth like that of apples.
The young virgins having heard the comparison made by the King of Glory, and transported with a desire to partake of the graces of the Spouse, cry out with one voice, or rather, one, expressing the feelings of the rest, exclaims, I will go up to the palmtree, I will take hold of the fruits thereof; I will become a pupil of this mistress of perfection, and if one so wise and so rich will condescend to become a mother to me, I will be her daughter, that I may experience the effects of the anointing of 114the Bridegroom, which is in her.4646Such results follow because God dwells in her. As iron touched by a magnet will attract other pieces of iron, so the soul which is the temple of God attracts other souls by a hidden virtue. They are often let into a state of prayer and recollection by simply entering her presence, and feel more inclination to remain silent than to speak. God then uses this means to communicate Himself to souls, a mark of the purity of these unions and affections—Justifications, i. 83. The fruit of her words will be to me like a cluster of grapes of an exquisite sweetness, and the purity of her teaching will embalm me in its perfume.
9. Thy throat is like the best wine, fit for my beloved to drink, and to be dwelt upon with delight by his lips and teeth.
The young daughter of Zion continues in praise of the Spouse; by her throat she intends the interior of the soul, which is the best wine, for it is perfectly fluid and runs into God with out being
hindered by any obstacle in its own consistence.4747
Liquors easily receive whatever figure or boundaries we desire to make them assume, because they have no consistence or solidity
in themselves to restrict or interfere with their yielding character. Pour a fluid into a vessel and you will see it rest,
quietly bounded by the lines that limit the vase and assuming perfectly its exact shape. It has no form or figure of its own,
but only that of the vessel in which it is contained.
Such, however, is not the natural pliancy of the soul. It has its own set form and sharp outline, the former due to its habits and inclinations, and the latter to its will in self, and when it refuses to come forth from these we say that it is hard, that is obstinate and wilful. I will take the stony heart out of their flesh saith the Lord God (Ez. xi. 19), that is, I will take away their stiffneckedness.
Wood, iron and stone must feel the wedge, the hammer and the fire before they will change their form, and so must it be with a heart that resembles them in its hardness and insusceptibility to divine impressions and remains entrenched in its own will and fortified by the inclinations which follow in the train of our corrupted nature. A heart on the other hand that is plastic, soft and yielding, is called a melted or liquefied heart.—St. Francis of Sales, on the Love of God. Book vi., ch. 12. It is a wine for God’s drinking, for He receives the soul into Himself, changing and transforming her into Him; He makes her His pleasure and delight. He forms and reforms her, causing her more and more to disappear and to be more and more wonderfully transformed in Him. It is truly worthy to be the beverage of God, for she alone is capable of making it, and it is 115also worthy of the soul, since that is its sovereign good and final end.
10. I am my beloved’s, and His desire is towards me.
The Spouse, being assured of the truth of the assertions of the virgins, confesses and even confirms it. Ever since the ardent love of my Well-beloved has wholly devoured me, I have been so lost in Him that I can no longer find myself, and I can say, with a more interior truth than ever before, that I am my Beloved’s, since He has changed me into Himself; so that as He cannot any longer cast me off, I no longer fear any separation from Him.
O Love! Thou wilt no more repulse such a soul as this! and it may be said that she is confirmed in love forevermore, since she has been perfected by the same love and changed into Him. The Well-beloved now beholding nothing in His Spouse which is not absolutely of and for Him, can neither turn away His desire nor His looks from her, as He can never cease to behold and love Himself.
11. Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field; let us lodge in the villages.
The Spouse can no longer fear anything, since everything has become God for her, and she finds Him equally in all things. She has no longer anything to do with means nor with being shut up and guarded; she has entered into a glorious participation of the immensity of God. Everything that is said of this ineffable union is understood, with all the essential differences between the Creator and the creature, though with a perfect unity of love and of mystical reflux into God alone. She no longer fears losing Him, since she is not only united to Him, but transformed into Him. Hence it is that she invites Him to go forth from the enclosure of the house or of the garden. Come, my love, she says, let us go over the world to conquer for Thee; there is now no place either too small or too large for me, since my place is God himself, and wherever I am, I am in my God.116
12. Let us get up early to the vineyards; let us see if the vine flourish, if the flowers bring forth fruit, and the pomegranate has blossomed; there will I give thee my breasts.
She invites her Bridegroom to go everywhere, for she is now full of activity. And, as God is forever acting without and constantly at rest within, so this soul, confirmed within in perfect rest, is also exceedingly active without. What she did awhile ago defectively,4848It would have been a serious defect in the soul, if, when she should have remained entirely passive she had chosen to act, for in this way she would have hindered the operations of God; she would have been acting from her own activity, when God required her to be perfectly passive, that she might die to all self-originated influences. Now, through her continued passivity, she has become like soft wax, or a perfectly manageable instrument in the hands of God, with which He does as He will. She has then reached the only true passivity in its perfection, an active passive state, in which her actions are no longer self-originated, but are wholly due to the gentle and loving influences of the Holy Spirit within.—Justifications, i. 114. she now does in perfection. It is no longer herself nor her fruits which she contemplates, but she sees everything in God. In the field of the church she beholds a thousand things to be done for the glory of the Bridegroom, and at these she labors with all her strength, according to the occasions presented by Providence, and in the whole extent of her calling.
But explain thyself, O lovely Spouse; what meanest thou by giving thy breasts to thy Bridegroom? Is it not He that renders them fruitful and fills them with milk? Ah! she means that being in perfect liberty of spirit and enlargedness of soul, since she has no longer any selfish mixture in laboring for His glory, she will give Him the whole fruit of her breasts, and will cause Him to drink the milk with which He fills them. He is their beginning and also their end, into which she desires that they shall be emptied.
13. The mandrakes give a smell, and at our gates are all manner of pleasant fruits, new and old, which I have laid up for thee, O my Beloved.
Admirable oneness! All things are common between the Bridegroom and the Spouse. As she has nothing that belongs 117to herself, the possessions of the Bridegroom become common to her also. She has no longer any property or any interests but His, and hence she says that young and advancing souls, the mandrakes, give a smell; it has reached even to us. All that I have, my Well-beloved, she says, is Thine, and all Thine is mine. I am so stripped and spoiled of all things, that I have preserved, given, and laid up for Thee all manner of pleasant fruits, all sorts of excellent actions and productions, whatsoever they may be, without a single exception. I have given Thee all my works, both the old which Thou didst perform in me from the beginning, and the new which Thou effectest by me from moment to moment. There is nothing which I have not surrendered to Thee; my soul, with all its powers and operations; my body, with its senses and everything that it can do. I have consecrated the whole to Thee, and as Thou hast given them to me to keep, permitting me the use, I preserve them wholly for Thee, so that both as to the property and the use, all things are Thine only.
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