St Gregory of Nyssa: Have You Heard the Mysteries of the Song of Songs

Feast of St Trypho the Martyr

YOU WHO in accordance with the counsel of Paul have “taken off” the old humanity with its deeds and lusts like a filthy garment (Col. 3:9) and have clothed yourselves by purity of life in the lightsome raiment of the Lord, raiment such as He revealed in His transfiguration on the mountain (cf. Mk. 9:2-3), or, rather, you who have “put on” our Lord Jesus Christ Himself (Gal. 3:27) together with His holy garb and with Him have been transfigured for impassibility and the life divine: hear the mysteries of the Song of Songs. Enter the inviolate bridal chamber dressed in the white robes of pure and undefiled thoughts. If any bear a passionate and carnal habit of mind and lack that garment of conscience that is proper dress for the divine wedding feast, let such persons not be imprisoned by their own thoughts and drag the undefiled words of the Bridegroom and Bride down to the level of brutish, irrational passions; let them not because of these passions be constrained by indecent imaginings and get cast out of the bright cheer of the wedding chamber, exchanging gnashing of teeth and tears for the joy within the bridal chamber (Mt. 22:10-13).

I testify thus as one who is about to treat the mystical vision contained in the Song of Songs. For by what is written there, the soul is in a certain manner led as a bride toward an incorporeal and spiritual and undefiled marriage with God. For He “who wills all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of truth” (1 Tim. 2:4) manifests in this work the blessed and most perfect way of salvation—I mean that which comes through love. . . .

Let us then come within the holy of holies, that is, the Song of Songs. For we are taught by this superlative form of expression that there is a superabundant concentration of holiness within the holy of holies, and in the same way the exalted Word promises to teach us mysteries of mysteries by the agency of the Song of Songs. For although there are many songs within the divinely inspired teaching, through which—from the great David and Isaiah and Moses and many others—we are instructed in noble thoughts about God, from this title we learn that the mystery contained in the Song of Songs transcends these songs of the saints by as much as they stand apart from the songs of profane wisdom. Human nature can neither discover nor entertain anything greater than this for purposes of understanding. This is why, moreover, the most intense of pleasurable activities (I mean the passion of erotic love) is set as a figure at the very fore of the guidance that the teachings give: so that by this we may learn that it is necessary for the soul, fixing itself steadily on the inaccessible beauty of the divine nature, to love that beauty as much as the body has a bent for what is akin to it and to turn passion into impassibility, so that when every bodily disposition has been quelled, our mind within us may boil with love, but only in the Spirit, because it is heated by that “fire” that the Lord came to “cast upon the earth.”

~St Gregory of Nyssa, Homily 1 on the Song of Songs


*This is the opening portion of one of several patristic readings included in Synaxis 6.1: The Symposium Journal, recently released at the 2019 Symposium.

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