A Comment on the Song of Songs

The Facts

-The Song of Songs is the most lengthy description of erotic love in all of Scripture, and yet it does not so much as suggest marriage or bearing children. It does not even mention the moral law. The closest one gets is an admonition “to not awaken love until it is ready”, which is the antiphon or chorus or central message (SoS 2;7; 3:5 ; 8;4).

-Several of the passages are difficult to read except as descriptions of fornication, and none need to be read in a way that rules this out.

-The Song of Song nowhere mentions God, the Law, the Holy Ones.

-Biblical literalism or fundamentalism reads the Song allegorically as spontaneously as it reads Genesis literally. The Douay version even gives chapter headings explaining how the contents of some chapter are simply and elliptical or convoluted way of trying to speak about Christ (here the text sheweth the Love of Christ for his Church…). Even if this is true, it leaves the central question completely untouched: why describe such a relationship as sex with no reference to marriage, children, morality, or even God?

-Why is the Song of Songs a wisdom book? The designation has a clear reference to the matter of Job, Proverbs, Psalms, Wisdom, Sirach, etc. The Song seems just thrown in. Leaving aside whether Solomon wrote it, what is Solomonic about it?

-There is and has been no society that can appropriately discuss the Song. Modest societies will we scandalized by the explicit sexuality and will rush to allegorize way too quickly; and societies like our own that are more comfortable discussing the explicit sex will be scandalized by its complete lack of reference to any moral structure.

The Theory

The Song of Songs describes a state of love as absolute and completely justified in itself. In absolute contradiction to Plato, it refuses to see love as a contingent good that stands in need of  being fulfilled by that which is good in itself. Love is God.


But it isn’t and can’t be so now for us. It can only be so when God has made a complete communication of his own existence to us. Saying “Love is God” now is only true for God and the saints.

Love has a historical character and is divided between the time of viators and the time of the eschaton. Note that when Christ says “in heaven they are neither married nor given in marriage” he is responding precisely to a description of marriage which is treating it so far as it is a vehicle for inheritance, the continuance of the family line, and even as a remedy for the mortality of spouses. It is because of this element in marriage that it has a necessary tie to procreation and exclusivity.* But Scripture and experience are clear that there is another element in love as well.

We can’t just distill out this element of love since its historical character is integral to it. Nevertheless, erotic love is the easiest for us to visualize or understand as an absolute. To take it in this way is, in our present state, immoral, and so the Song uses sex with no reference to morality as a way to speak of eschatological love. Seen from this angle, the problem with the Sexual Revolution is that it wants the absolute too soon – in the words of the Song it wants “to awaken love before it is ready”.

*The exclusivity of marriage follows an analogous reason to the one given for private property – just as property is usually treated better if it is tended by one who owns it, children do better when they are raised by those who generate them. But private property will not remain in the life to come. Monogamy also gets another note of meaning as a sign and sacrament of the unity of Christ and his Church.


  1. GeoffSmith said,

    August 19, 2015 at 1:33 pm

    I tend to think of it as multi-layered.

    For instance, one could read it as the woman in Solomon’s harem seeking the love of a true Israelite man. Thus, the idea is that the harm done under Solomon in bringing the people back into idolatry and on into exile is being undone by a romance coming from a true Israelite (the Lord). But because this is a love poem with a message about the kings, it still functions as erotic poetry written by somebody who understands courtship, flirting, and romance. So it could be wisdom literature for single or married people as well as a picture of erotic love as, in itself, praiseworthy, as well as an allegorical picture of Israel under exile being wooed by the Lord.

  2. Andrew said,

    August 19, 2015 at 6:55 pm

    How is lust separate from the type of erotic married love described in the Song?

  3. Dante Aligheri said,

    August 19, 2015 at 11:37 pm

    On this topic, I found Robert Jenson’s commentary on the Song of Songs absolutely invaluable.

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