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Other passages from the Song of Songs are considered with relation to the present subject, and St. Ambrose exhorting the virgin to seek for Christ, points out where He may be found. A description of His perfections follows, and a comparison is made between virgins and the angels.
44. Take, then, O Virgin, the wings of the Spirit, that you may fly far above all vices, if you wish to attain to Christ: “He dwelleth on high, but beholdeth lowly things;”32023202 Ps. cxiii. 5, 6. and His appearance is as that of a cedar of Lebanon, which has its foliage in the clouds, its roots in the earth. For its beginning is from heaven, its ending on earth, and it produces fruit very close to heaven. Search diligently for so precious a flower, if perchance you may find it in the recesses of your breast, for it is most often to be enjoyed in lowly places.
45. It loves to grow in gardens, in which Susanna, while walking, found it, and was ready to die rather than it should be violated. But what is meant by the gardens He Himself points out, saying: “A garden enclosed is My sister, My spouse, a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed;”32033203 Cant. iv. 12. because in gardens of this kind the water of the pure fountain shines, reflecting the features of the image of God, lest its streams mingled with mud from the wallowing places of spiritual wild beasts should be polluted. For this reason, too, that modesty of virgins fenced in by the wall of the Spirit is enclosed lest it should lie open to be plundered. And so as a garden inaccessible from without smells of the violet, is scented with the olive, and is resplendent with the rose, that religion may increase in the vine, peace in the olive, and the modesty of consecrated virginity in the rose. This is the odour of which the patriarch Jacob smelt when he heard his father say: “See the smell of my son is as the smell of a field which is full.”32043204 Gen. xxvii. 27. For although the field of the holy patriarch was full of almost all fruits, the other brought forth its crops with greater labour, the latter flowers.
46. To work, then, O Virgin, and if you wish your garden to be sweet after this sort, enclose it with the precepts of the prophets: “Set a watch before thy mouth, and a door to thy lips,”32053205 Ps. cxli. [cxl.] 3. that you, too, may be able to say: “As the apple-tree among the trees of the wood, so is my Beloved among the sons. In His shadow I delighted and sat down, and His fruit was sweet to my palate.32063206 Cant. ii. 3. I found Him Whom my soul loved, I held Him and would not let him go. My beloved came down into His garden to eat the fruit of His trees.32073207 Cant. iii. 4, 16. Come, my Beloved, let us go forth into the field.32083208 Cant. vii. 11. Set me as a signet upon Thine heart, and as a seal upon Thine arm.32093209 Cant. viii. 6. My Beloved is white and ruddy.”32103210 Cant. v. 10. For it is fitting, O Virgin, that you should fully know Him Whom you love, and should recognize in Him all the mystery of His Divine Nature and the Body which He has assumed. He is white fittingly, for He is the brightness of the Father; and ruddy, for He was born of a Virgin. The colour of each nature shines and glows in Him. But remember that the marks of His Godhead are more ancient in Him than the mysteries of His body, for He did not take His origin from the Virgin, but, He Who already existed came into the Virgin.
47. He Who was spoiled by the soldiers, Who was wounded by the spear, that He might heal us by the blood of His sacred wounds, will assuredly answer you (for He is meek and lowly of heart, and gentle in aspect): “Arise, O north wind, and come, O south, and blow upon My garden, that My spices may flow out.”32113211 Cant. iv. 16. For from all parts of the world has the perfume of holy religion increased, and the limbs of the consecrated Virgin have glowed. “Thou art beautiful, O my love, as Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem.”32123212 Cant. vi. 4. So it is not the beauty of the perishable body, which will come to an end with sickness or old age, but the reputation for good deserts, subject to no accidents and never to perish, which is the beauty of virgins.
48. And since you are worthy to be compared not now with men but with heavenly beings, whose life you are living on earth, receive from the Lord the precepts you are to observe: “Set Me as a signet upon thine heart, and as a seal upon thine arm;”32133213 Cant. viii. 6. that clearer proofs of your prudence and actions may be set forth, in which Christ the 371Figure of God may shine, Who, equalling fully the nature of the Father, has expressed the whole which He took of the Father’s Godhead. Whence also the Apostle Paul says that we are sealed in the Spirit;32143214 Eph. i. 13. since we have in the Son the image of the Father, and in the Spirit the seal of the Son. Let us, then, sealed by this Trinity, take more diligent heed, lest either levity of character or the deceit of any unfaithfulness unseal the pledge which we have received in our hearts.
49. But let fear secure this for the holy virgins, for whom the Church first provided such protection, who, anxious for the prosperity of her tender offspring, herself as a wall with breasts as many towers,32153215 Cant. viii. 10. increases her care for them, until, the fear of hostile attack being at an end, she obtains by the care of a mother’s love peace for her vigorous children. Wherefore the prophet says: “Peace be on thy virtue, and abundance in thy towers.”32163216 Ps. cxxii. [cxxi.] 7.
50. Then the Lord of peace Himself, after having embraced in His strong arms the vineyards committed to Him, and beholding their shoots putting forth buds, with glad looks, tempers the breezes to the young fruits, as Himself testifies, saying: “My vineyard is in My sight, a thousand for Solomon, and two hundred who keep the fruit thereof.”32173217 Cant. viii. 12.
51. Above it is said: “Sixty strong men round about its offspring, armed with drawn swords, and expert in warlike discipline,”32183218 Cant. iii. 7, 8. here there are a thousand and two hundred. The number has increased, where the fruit has increased, for the more holy each is, the more is he guarded. So Elisha the prophet showed the hosts of angels who were present to guard him; so Joshua the son of Nun recognized the Captain of the heavenly host. They, then, who are able also to fight for us are able to guard the fruit that is in us. And for you, holy virgins, there is a special guardianship, for you who with unspotted chastity keep the couch of the Lord holy. And no wonder if the angels fight for you who war with the mode of life of angels. Virginal chastity merits their guardianship whose life it attains to.
52. Why should I continue the praise of chastity in more words? For chastity has made even angels. He who has preserved it is an angel; he who has lost it a devil. And hence has religion also gained its name. She is a virgin who is the bride of God, a harlot who makes gods for herself. What shall I say of the resurrection of which you already hold the rewards: “For in the resurrection they will neither be given in marriage, nor marry, but shall be,” He says, “as the angels in heaven.”32193219 S. Matt. xxii. 30. That which is promised to us is already present with you, and the object of your prayers is with you; ye are of this world, and yet not in this world. This age has held you, but has not been able to retain you.
53. But what a great thing it is that angels because of incontinence fell from heaven into this world, that virgins because of chastity passed from the world into heaven. Blessed virgins, whom the delights of the flesh do not allure, nor the defilement of pleasures cast down. Sparing food and abstinence in drink train them in ignorance of vices, seeing they keep them from knowing the causes of vices. That which causes sin has often deceived even the just. In this way the people of God after they sat down to eat and drink denied God.32203220 Exod. xxxii. 5. In this way, too, Lot knew not, and so endured his daughters’ wickedness.32213221 Gen. xix. 32, 33. So, too, the sons of Noah going backward covered their father’s nakedness, which he who was wanton saw, he who was modest blushed at and dutifully hid, fearful of offending if he too saw it.32223222 Gen. ix. 22. How great is the power of wine, so that wine made him naked which the waters of the deluge could not.
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