Paul II - Theology of the Body
Love Is Ever Seeking and
General Audience, June 6, 1984
1. Again today we will reflect on
the Song of Songs, with the aim of better understanding the
sacramental sign of marriage.
The truth about love, proclaimed by the Song of Songs, cannot be
separated from the language of the body. The truth about love
enables the same language of the body to be reread in truth. This is
also the truth about the progressive approach of the spouses which
increases through love. The nearness means also the initiation into
the mystery of the person, without, however, implying its violation
(cf. Sg 1:13-14, 16).
The truth about the increasing nearness of the spouses through love
is developed in the subjective dimension "of the heart," of
affection and sentiment. This dimension allows one to discover in
itself the other as a gift and, in a certain sense, to "taste it" in
itself (cf. Sg 2:3-6).
Through this nearness the groom more fully lives the experience of
that gift which on the part of the female "I" is united with the
spousal expression and meaning of the body. The man's words (cf. Sg
7:1-8) do not only contain a poetic description of his beloved, of
her feminine beauty on which his senses dwell, but they speak of the
gift and the self-giving of the person.
The bride knows that the groom's longing is for her and she goes to
meet him with the quickness of the gift of herself (cf. Sg 7:9-13)
because the love that unites them is at one and the same time of a
spiritual and a sensual nature. It is also on the basis of this love
that the rereading of the significance of the body in the truth
comes to pass, since the man and woman must together constitute that
sign of the mutual gift of self, which puts the seal on their whole
2. In the Song of Songs the language of the body becomes a part of
the single process of the mutual attraction of the man and woman.
This attraction is expressed in the frequent refrains that speak of
the search that is full of nostalgia, of affectionate solicitude
(cf. Sg 2:7) and of the spouses' mutual rediscovery (cf. Sg 5:2).
This brings them joy and calm, and seems to lead them to a continual
search. One has the impression that in meeting each other, in
reaching each other, in experiencing one's nearness, they
ceaselessly continue to tend toward something. They yield to the
call of something that dominates the content of the moment and
surpasses the limits of the eros, limits that are reread in the
words of the mutual language of the body (cf. Sg 1:7-8; 2:17). This
search has its interior dimension: "the heart is awake" even in
sleep. This aspiration, born of love on the basis of the language of
the body, is a search for integral beauty, for purity that is free
of all stain. It is a search for perfection that contains, I would
say, the synthesis of human beauty, beauty of soul and body.
In the Song of Songs the human eros reveals the countenance of love
ever in search and, as it were, never satisfied. The echo of this
restlessness runs through the strophes of the poem:
"I opened to my lover—but my lover had departed, gone.
I sought him but I did not find him;
I called to him but he did not answer me" (Sg 5:6).
"I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my lover—
What shall you tell him?
that I am faint with love" (Sg 5:9).
3. So then some strophes of the Song of Songs present the eros as
the form of human love in which the energies of desire are at work.
In them, the awareness or the subjective certainty of the mutual,
faithful and exclusive belonging is rooted. At the same time,
however, many other strophes of the poem lead us to reflect on the
cause of the search and the restlessness that accompanies the
awareness of belonging to each other. Is this restlessness also part
of the nature of the eros? If it were, this restlessness would
indicate also the need for self-control. The truth about love is
expressed in the awareness of mutual belonging, the fruit of the
aspiration and search for each other, and in the need for the
aspiration and the search, the outcome of mutual belonging.
In this interior necessity, in this dynamic of love, there is
indirectly revealed the near impossibility of one person's being
appropriated and mastered by the other. The person is someone who
surpasses all measures of appropriation and domination, of
possession and gratification, which emerge from the same language of
the body. If the groom and the bride reread this language in the
full truth about the person and about love, they arrive at the ever
deeper conviction that the fullness of their belonging constitutes
that mutual gift in which love is revealed as "stern as death," that
is, it goes to the furthest limits of the language of the body in
order to exceed them. The truth about interior love and the truth
about the mutual gift in a certain sense continually call the groom
and the bride—through the means of expressing the mutual belonging,
and even by breaking away from those means—to arrive at what
constitutes the very nucleus of the gift from person to person.
Following the paths of the words marked out by the strophes of the
Song of Songs, it seems that we are therefore approaching the
dimension in which the eros seeks to be integrated, through still
another truth about love. Centuries later, in the light of the death
and resurrection of Christ, Paul of Tarsus will proclaim this truth
in the words of his Letter to the Corinthians:
"Love is patient; love is kind.
Love is not jealous; it does not put on airs; it is not snobbish.
Love is never rude; it is not self-seeking; it is not prone to
anger; neither does it brood over injuries.
Love does not rejoice in what is wrong but rejoices with the truth.
There is no limit to love's forbearance, to its trust, its hope, its
power to endure.
Love never fails" (1 Cor 13:4-8).
Is the truth about love, expressed in the strophes of the Song of
Songs, confirmed in the light of these words of Paul? In the Song we
read, as an example of love, that its "jealousy" is "relentless as
the nether world" (Sg 8:6). In the Pauline letter we read that "love
is not jealous." What relationship do both of these expressions
about love have? What relationship does the love that is "stern as
death," according to the Song of Songs, have with the love that
"never fails," according to the Pauline letter? We will not multiply
these questions; we will not open the comparative analysis.
Nevertheless, it seems that love opens up before us here in two
perspectives. It is as though that in which the human eros closes
its horizon is still opened, through Paul's words, to another
horizon of love that speaks another language, the love that seems to
emerge from another dimension of the person, and which calls,
invites, to another communion. This love has been called "agape" and
agape brings the eros to completion by purifying it.
So we have concluded these brief meditations on the Song of Songs,
intended to further examine the theme of the language of the body.
In this framework, the Song of Songs has a totally singular meaning.
Taken from: L'Osservatore Romano Weekly Edition in English 11 June
1984, page 9
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