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St Jerome (c. 320-420):
On The Song of Songs, From the treatise Against Jovinian

30. I pass to the Song of Songs, and whereas our opponent thinks it makes altogether for marriage, I shall show that it contains the mysteries of virginity. Let us hear what the bride says before that the bridegroom comes to earth, suffers, descends to the lower world, and rises again. "We will make for thee likenesses of gold with ornaments of silver while the king sits at his table." Before the Lord rose again, and the Gospel shone, the bride had not gold, but likenesses of gold. As for the silver, however, which she professes to have at the marriage, she not only had silver ornaments, but she had them in variety--in widows, in the continent, and in the married. Then the bridegroom makes answer to the bride, and teaches her that the shadow of the old law has passed away, and the truth of the Gospel has come. " Rise up, my love my fair one, and come away, for lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone." This relates to the Old Testament. Once more he speaks of the Gospel and of virginity: "The flowers appear on the earth, the time of the pruning of vines has come." Does he not seem to you to say the very same thing that the Apostle says: "The time is shortened that henceforth both those that have wives may be as though they had none"? And more plainly does he herald chastity: "The voice," he says, "of the turtle is heard in our land." The turtle, the chastest of birds, always dwelling in lofty places, is a type of the Saviour. Let us read the works of naturalists and we shall find that it is the nature of the turtle-dove, if it lose its mate, not to take another; and we shall understand that second marriage is repudiated even by dumb birds. And immediately the turtle says to its fellow: "The fig tree hath put forth its green figs," that is, the commandments of the old law have fallen, and the blossoming vines of the Gospel give forth their fragrance. Whence the Apostle also says, "We are a sweet savour of Christ." "Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. O my dove, thou art in the clefts of the rock, in the covert of the steep place. Let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely." Whilst thou coveredst thy countenance like Moses and the veil of the law remained, I neither saw thy face, nor did I condescend to hear thy voice. I said, "Yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear." But now with unveiled face behold my glory, and shelter thyself in the cleft and steep places of the solid rock. On hearing this the bride disclosed the mysteries of chastity: "My beloved is mine, and I am his: he feedeth his flock among the lilies," that is among the pure virgin bands. Would you know what sort of a throne our true Solomon, the Prince of Peace, has, and what his attendants are like? "Behold," he says, "it is the litter of Solomon: threescore mighty men are about it, of the mighty men of Israel. They all handle the sword, and are expert in war: every man hath his sword upon his thigh." They who are about Solomon have their sword upon their thigh, like Ehud, the left-handed judge, who slew the fattest of foes, a man devoted to the flesh, and cut short all his pleasures. "I will get me," he says, "to the mountain of myrrh;" to those, that is, who have mortified their bodies; "and to the hill of frankincense," to the crowds of pure virgins; "and I will say to my bride, thou art all fair, my love, and there is no spot in thee." Whence too the Apostle: "That he might present the church to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing." "Come with me from Lebanon, my bride, with me from Lebanon. Thou shalt come and pass on from the beginning of faith, from the top of Sanir and Hermon, from the lions' dens, from the mountains of the leopards." Lebanon is, being interpreted, whiteness. Come then, fairest bride, concerning whom it is elsewhere said "Who is she that cometh up, all in white?" and pass on by way of this world, from the beginning of faith, and from Sanir, which is by interpretation, God of light, as we read in the psalm: "Thy word is a lantern unto my feet, and light unto my path;" and "from Hermon," that is, consecration: and "flee from the lions' dens, and the mountains of the leopards who cannot change their spots." Flee, he says, from the lions' dens, flee from the pride of devils, that when thou hast been consecrated to me, I may be able to say unto thee: "Thou hast ravished my heart, my sister, my bride, thou hast ravished mine heart with one of thine eyes, with one chain of thy neck." What he says is something like this--I do not reject marriage: you have a second eye, the left, which I have given to you on account of the weakness of those who cannot see the right. But I am pleased with the right eye of virginity, and if it be blinded the whole body is in darkness. And that we might not think he had in view carnal love and bodily marriage, he take once excludes this meaning by saying "Thou hast ravished my heart, my bride, my sister." The name sister excludes all suspicion of unhallowed love. "How fair are thy breasts with wine," those breasts concerning which he had said above, My beloved is mine, and I am his: "betwixt my breasts shall he lie," that is in the princely portion of the heart where the Word of God has its lodging. What wine is that which gives beauty to the breasts of the bride, and fills them with the milk of chastity? That, for-sooth, of which the bridegroom goes on to speak: "I have drunk my wine with my milk. Eat, O friends: yea, drink and be drunken, my brethren." Hence the Apostles also were said to be filled with new wine; with new, he says, not with old wine; because new wine is put into fresh wine-skins, and they did not walk in oldness of the letter, but in newness of the Spirit. This is wine wherewith when youths and maidens are intoxicated, they at once thirst for virginity; they are filled with the spirit of chastity, and the prophecy of Zechariah comes to pass, at least if we follow the Hebrew literally, for he prophesied concerning virgins: "And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof. For what is his goodness, and what is his beauty, but the corn of the elect, and wine that giveth birth to virgins?" They are virgins of whom it is written in the forty-fifth psalm: "The virgins her companions that follow her shall be brought unto thee. With gladness and rejoicing shall they be led: they shall enter into the King's palace."
31. Then follows: "A garden shut up is my sister, my bride: a garden shut up, a fountain sealed." That which is shut up and sealed reminds us of the mother of our Lord who was a mother and a Virgin. Hence it was that no one before or after our Saviour was laid in his new tomb, hewn in the solid rock. And yet she that was ever a Virgin is the mother of many virgins. For next we read: "Thy shoots are an orchard of pomegranates with precious fruits." By pomegranates and fruits is signified the blending of all virtues in virginity. "My beloved is white and ruddy"; white in virginity, ruddy in martyrdom. And because He is white and ruddy, therefore it is immediately added "His mouth is most sweet, yea, he is altogether lovely." The virgin bridegroom having been praised by the virgin bride, in turn praises the virgin bride, and says to her: How beautiful are thy feet in sandals, O daughter of Aminadab," which is, being interpreted, a people that affereth itself willingly. For virginity is voluntary, and therefore the steps of the Church in the beauty of chastity are praised. This is not the time for me like a commentator to explain all the mysteries of virginity from the Song of Songs I have no doubt that the fastidious reader will turn up his nose at what has already been said.


Source: St. Jerome: Letters and Select Works, tr. W. H. Fremantle. Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. 2, Vol. VI (Edinburgh, 1892).
The full text of this work may be found on-line at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library

Etext file created for a class by Scott Mcletchie [], and used by permission here.

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