Bridal theology  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Within the Judeo-Christian tradition, bridal theology, also referred to as mystical marriage, concerns the relationship of the believer, or body of believers (church) and God, drawing an analogy with the natural husband/wife relationship.

In the Old Testament of the Bible, God is represented as the Husband. Israel, His people, are the wife; sometimes faithful, sometimes errant.

Isaiah 54:5 — For thy Maker is thine husband; the Lord of hosts is His Name, and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; the God of the whole earth shall He be called.
Isaiah 62:5 — And as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee.

In the New Testament, Jesus is the Bridegroom and Husband. The individual Christian, and the collective body of believers, are His bride, then wife.

Epistle to the Romans 7:4 -- Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to Him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.
Revelation 19:7-9 — Let us be glad and rejoice and give honor to Him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb.

Contents

Bridal Theology in the Old Testament

God represents Himself as being married to His people

Jeremiah 3:14 Turn, O backsliding children, saith the LORD; for I am married unto you:

The Song of Solomon

The most vivid example of bridal theology in the Old Testament scriptures is found in the Song of Solomon, also referred to as the Song of Songs.

The inclusion of this Book in the Jewish scriptures was agreed upon, after debate, in the first century BC.<ref>According to Carl W. ErnstTemplate:Specify</ref> According to Rabbi Akiva:

No one in Israel disputes that the Song of Songs is a divine book. All the world is not worth the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel, for all the Writings are holy, but the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies.Template:Citequote

Christian theologians have long discussed whether the Song of Solomon should be taken as a literal love poem or as an analogy of relationship of God with His Bride. Origen (3rd century AD) wrote three commentaries on the Song of Songs in Greek. Gregory of Nyssa (d. 394), posited that the goal of the Song of Songs is the union of the soul with God. Richard of St. Victor (Middle Ages) wrote a detailed commentary on chapters 3 to 5 of the Song of Songs. Bernard of Clairvaux composed an extensive series of sermons on the text. The English mystic Richard Rolle (d. 1349) wrote a lyrical commentary on the three first verses of the Song.

The Spiritual Canticle of John of the Cross is inspired by the Song of Songs. Saint Teresa of Avila wrote a book on "Concepts of the Love of God" based upon the Song of Songs. The French mystic Madame Guyon published a hastily written interpretation of the text in 1685.<ref>Interpreting the Song of Songs: The Paradox of Spiritual and Sensual Love, Carl W. Ernst</ref>

The New Testament and Jesus the Bridegroom

Marriage metaphors abound in the teaching of Jesus. There are specific mentions of marriage, the bridegroom, the bride; there are also passages where Jesus refers to marriage customs of the day to illustrate His meaning.

In Matthew 22:1-14, Jesus likens the kingdom of Heaven to a marriage.
In Matthew 25:1-13, man’s expectancy of salvation is compared to the wisdom or foolishness of virgins who wait for the bridegroom.

Other New Testament writers allude to the marriage of believers with Jesus. John the Baptist, when announcing the coming of Jesus, calls himself the friend of the bridegroom, but that he is not the Christ. John declares "he that hath the bride is the bridegroom" (John 3:29) implying that Jesus and not he himself is the Messiah.

Paul of Tarsus calls the Church the bride of Christ:

2 Corinthians 11:2 [Paul reminded the church in Corinth that they were married to Jesus.] For I am jealous over you with Godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one Husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.

He also makes the connection between human marriage and spiritual marriage with Jesus:

Ephesians 5:25,27,29-32 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself for it. ... 27 That He might present it to Himself a glorious church. ... 29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the Church: 30 For we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. 31 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. 32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the Church.

John of Patmos repeatedly speaks of the bride and the marriage of the Lamb. The bride is Jerusalem representing the Church and the Lamb is Christ.

Revelation 19:7-9a [The Marriage Supper of the Lamb is the great Heavenly celebration of our marriage to Jesus.] Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to Him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready. 8 And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. 9a And he [the angel] saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb.

Early Christianity

Ambrose of Milan spoke of the individual’s soul conubii foedere copulatur, "joined in bonds of matrimony" to God, and often used the Song in his homilies and liturgical works. Ambrose wrote of the believer’s soul kissing Jesus, his Divine Lover, calling to him and waiting eagerly for his caresses, asking to be awakened from his sleep to be filled with his presence. The wedding night was the culmination of the believer’s individual spiritual union with his Lord.<ref>Daniel P. Moloney in his review of “The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity”, by Leon J. Podles.</ref>

Medieval mysticism

The writings of mystics in the Middle Ages echo the passion of the Song of Solomon and indicate the intimacy which characterised their relationship with their Saviour.

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153)

Bernard of Clairvaux, France, was the compiler of the Rule of the Order of Knights Templar. He wrote eighty-six sermons on the Canticle (Song of Songs). Towards the end of his life Bernard attempted to describe how he himself experienced the coming of the Word – the Bridegroom – to the soul.

You ask, then, how I knew that He was present, since His ways are past finding out? Because the Word is liv-ing and effective, and as soon as ever He entered into me, He has aroused my sleeping soul, and stirred and softened and pricked my heart, that hitherto was sick and hard as stone. He has begun to pluck up and destroy, to build and to plant, to water the dry places and shed light upon the dark, to open what was shut, to warm the chill, to make the crooked straight and the rough places plain; so that my soul has blessed the Lord and all that is within me praised His Holy Name. Thus has the Bridegroom entered into me.<ref>Quoted by Harvey Cox in “A Handbook of Christian Mysticism”, 1986</ref>

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)

Hildegard of Bingen claimed to see visions from a young age. She wrote,

Creation is allowed in intimate love to speak to the Creator as if to a lover. As the Creator loves the creation, so the creation loves the Creator. The whole world has been embraced by this kiss.[1]Template:Citation broken

Gertrude the Great

Gertrude the Great was a nun of the abbey of Helfta in Saxony. Her devotional Exercise of Divine Love, uses the Song of Songs as part of a step by step progression on the road to God. The text admonishes:

At Lauds, pray that you be taught the art of Love; At Prime, that you be led into the school of love with God as a teacher and master; At Terce, that you learn the alphabet with which the Spirit writes his law of love on your heart; At Sext, that you learn to know the Lord not only by syllables but also by theory; At None, that you be accepted into the militia of love and bound by oath; At Vespers, that you march in the armor of love and triumph over evil; At Compline, that you become oblivious to the world and be consummated in loving union with God.Template:Citequote

She continues in a more amorous vein:

Ah! Show me your face and let me contemplate your radiance. Lo, “your face,” which the most beautiful dawn of divinity illuminates, “is pleasant and comely” (6:3). Miraculously, your cheeks blush with “omega” and “alpha” (Apocalypse 1:8). Very bright eternity burns inextinguishably in your eyes. There God’s salvation glows as red for me as a lamp. There radiant charity sports merrily with luminous truth. The scent of life breathes forth from you to me. “Honey and milk drip down from your mouth” (4:11) to me.” [2]Template:Citation broken

John of the Cross

John of the Cross wrote The Spiritual Canticle of the Soul and the Bridegroom Christ in the 16th century.

O you soul, then, most beautiful of creatures, who so long to know the place where your Beloved is, that you may seek Him, and be united to Him, you know now that you are yourself that very tabernacle where He dwells, the secret chamber of His retreat where He is hidden. Rejoice, therefore, and exult, because all your good and all your hope is so near you as to be within you; or, to speak more accurately, that you can not be without it, “for lo, the kingdom of God is within you.” So says the Bridegroom Himself, and His servant, St. Paul, adds: “You are the temple of the living God.” What joy for the soul to learn that God never abandons it, even in mortal sin; how much less in a state of grace! …Courage, then, O soul most beautiful, you know now that your Beloved, Whom you desire, dwells hidden within your breast; strive, therefore, to be truly hidden with Him, and then you shall embrace Him, and be conscious of His presence with loving affection.<ref>Spiritual Canticle of the Soul and the Bridegroom Christ, John of the Cross</ref>

Friends of God

Henry Suso (c. 1295-1366) was a part of the Friends of God, a loosely constituted and informal but wide-spread spiritual and mystical movement. In his written answer to Elizabeth Stäglin who begged to be told more of what God is, he wrote:

Ah, gentle God, if Thou art so lovely in Thy creatures, how exceedingly beautiful and ravishing Thou must be in Thyself. … … Come, daughter, thou hast now found thy God, whom thy heart has so long sought after. Look upwards, then, with sparkling eyes and radiant face and bounding heart, and behold Him and embrace Him with the infinite outstretched warms of thy soul and thy affection, and give thanks and praise to Him, the noble Prince of all creatures.Template:Citequote

One of his contemporaries, Flemish mystic Jan van Ruysbroek (1293-1381), author of the “Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage”, also explored the inward life and described:

The pure soul feels a constant fire of love, which desires above all things to be one with God, and the more the soul obeys the attraction of God the more it feels it, and the more it feels it the more it desires to be one with God.<ref>Quoted by Michael Cox in "A Handbook of Christian Mysticism", 1986Template:Page number</ref>

Developments in the Reformation

Jeanne Marie Bouvier de la Motte Guyon (1647-1717)

Jeanne Marie Bouvier de la Motte Guyon was a French mystic. Her written works include, “The Song of Songs of Solomon.”

VERSE 1. Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth.
THIS kiss, which the soul desires of its God, is essential union, or a real, permanent and lasting possession of its divine object. It is the SPIRITUAL MARRIAGE.
… This, then, is the lofty and intimate union that the Spouse so pressingly demands at the hand of the Bridegroom. She asks it of Him as though she was addressing another; an impetuous sally of love, giving vent to her passion without particular thought as to whom she was speaking. Let Him kiss me, says she, since He can do it, but let it be with the kisses of His mouth; no other union can content me; that alone can satisfy all my desires, and that is what I demand.<ref>Song of Songs of Solomon / Explanations and Reflections having Reference to the Interior Life</ref>

See also



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