Irenaeus Song of Songs-libre

irenaeus contribution to the song of songs
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  Published in  Irenaeus and His Traditions  (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2012), 81-88. 1 I RENAEUS Õ   C ONTRIBUTION TO E ARLY C HRISTIAN I  NTERPRETATION OF THE S ONG OF S ONGS   K  ARL S HUVE  The title of this paper may strike the reader as odd, for Irenaeus neither cited nor alluded to the Song of Songs Ð at least as far as our extant evidence goes. What I hope to demonstrate, however, is that the bishop of Lyons had an important role to play in establishing the contextual framework according to which the Song would be interpreted  by subsequent Christian exegetes. In so doing, I am contesting a trend in contemporary scholarship that attributes the rise in early Christian interest in the Song, which began in the early third century, to a growing ascetic impulse that sought to erase, through various interpretive strategies, the literal force of Old Testament nuptial texts. 1  Through the first two centuries of the Common Era, the Song of Songs was not cited by any Christian authors. It is virtually alone among the biblical books in this regard. Beginning with a citation of a single verse ( Song 4:8) in TertullianÕs  Adversus  Marcionem  (4.11.8), the landscape begins to change as we approach the third century. Hippolytus is the first to write a commentary on the Song of Songs, although this survives complete only in two Georgian manuscripts, which are based upon an Armenian translation of the srcinal Greek. 2  It is Origen, however, who, as he so often does, defines the terms according to which the Song will be read for centuries. He penned no less than three works on the subject Ð a lost commentary from his youth, and a commentary and two homilies dating to his time in Athens and Caesarea 3  Ð in each instance reading the Song as a dramatic enactment of the desirous longing of the corporate Church and individual soul for the saving union with the Word of God. 4  Victorinus of Poetovio is the only other third century writer to compose a commentary on 1  This theme is explored at length in Elizabeth A. Clark,  Reading Renunciation: Asceticism and Scripture in Early Christianity  (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999). 2  There is, additionally, a lengthy Armenian fragment of chapters 24 and 25 and several Greek fragments from a paraphrase of HippolytusÕ exegetical works. For a brief introduction and Latin translation, see Georges Garitte, TraitŽs dÕHippolyte sur David et Goliath, sur le Cantique des cantiques et sur lÕAntŽchrist: version gŽorgienne  (CSCO 263; Louvain, 1965), esp. pp. i-iv. 3  The evidence for an early work (or works) on the Song comes from a letter of Jerome and the  Philocalia  of Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nyssa. There is, however, a slight discrepancy as to whether Origen composed one or two ÔtomesÕ: contrast JeromeÕs Ô  scripsit  É in Canticum Canticorum libros X etalios tomos  II, quos super scripsit in adulescentia Õ ( ep. 33.4; CSEL 54, p. 257) with the claim in the  Philocalia , Ô e)k tou= ei)j to\ )  =Asma mikrou= to/mou o(  \n e)n th= neo/thti e) /grayen Õ (7.1; SC 302, p. 326). The Commentary , so Eusebius tells us, is in ten books, with the first five written in Athens, and the remaining five completed upon his return to Caesarea (  HE   6.32.1-2). This would place its composition around the years 245-7. Regarding the  Homilies , Jerome had access to two alone, and there is no other mention of them in Antiquity that would indicate how many Origen delivered. It is traditionally estimated that they were delivered in the years following 245, on the basis of EusebiusÕ remark that Origen did not allow his diale/ceij  to be until he was older than sixty years of age (  HE 6.36.1). J. Christopher King, Origen on the Song of Songs as the Spirit of Scripture: The BridegroomÕs Perfect Marriage Song   (Oxford: OUP, 2005), 10-11, in my view, successfully refutes the equation of diale/ceij  with homilies, and argues persuasively for placing his preaching on the Song several years before the composition of the Commentary , to the years 241-2. 4    Hom. In Cant.  1.1; Comm. In Cant.  praef.  Published in  Irenaeus and His Traditions  (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2012), 81-88. 2 the Song, 5  but he is followed in the fourth and fifth centuries by Gregory of Nyssa, Nilus of Ancyra, Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Gregory of Elvira, and Apponius. 6  How can this increase in the prominence of the Song in early Christian discourse  be explained? Much of the attention has, unsurprisingly, focused on Origen. And, again unsurprisingly, much of it has been critical and tinged with cynicism. 7  Indeed, remarking on the subject of Origen and sex requires little nuance or deftness of touch. What else, other than an allegorical reading, would we expect from a man who, according to Eusebius, castrated himself in a youthful fit of piety? 8  As Stephen Moore has argued, Ôthe Song simply could not be what it seemed to be. That would have been unthinkableÉ The allegorical interpretations of the Song sprang from disinclination, discomfort, or downright disgust on the part of pious male exegetesÕ. 9  The growing ascetic majority, so the argument goes, constructed a reading of the Song meant to undermine Ð rather than uphold Ð the goodness of marriage and sexual union. Origen Ð and, by extension, the tradition Ð has had his share of defenders. Most recently, J. Christopher King has mounted an elaborate theological defense, focusing upon OrigenÕs nuptial theology 10  and his hermeneutic of the ÔbodilessÕ text. 11  He  proposes that Origen maintains a Ôsymbolic coherenceÕ between earthly union and its 5  His commentary is now lost, but Jerome makes mention of it in  De Viris Illustribus  74 (PL 23:683B-C): ÔThese are his writings: Commentaries on Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Habakuk, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and the Apocalypse of John, a work against all heresies, and many othersÕ. 6  Gregory of Nyssa,  In Cancticum Canticorum , in W. Jaeger (ed.), Gregorii Nysseni Opera  6 (Leiden: Brill, 1986); Nilus of Ancyra, Commentarius in Canticum Canticorum , in M-G GuŽrard (ed.),  Nil dÕAncyre. Commentaire sur le Cantique des Cantiques  (SC 403; Paris: Cerf, 1994); Theodoret of Cyrrhus,  Explanatio in Canticum Canticorum , in Opera Omni  (PG 81: 27-214); Gregory of Elvira, Tractatus de Epithalamio , in E. Schulz-FlŸgel (ed.), Gregorius Eliberritanus: Epithalamium sive Explanatio in Canticis Canticorum  (Freiburg: Herder, 1994); Apponius,  In Canticum Canticorum Expositio , in Vregille and Neyrand (ed.), Commentaire sur le Cantique des Cantiques  (SC 420; Paris: Cerf, 1997). 7  Looking back over the complex and contested history of Song interpretation, William Phipps, ÔThe Plight of the Song of SongsÕ,  JAAR  42/1 (1974), p. 82 remarks, ÔIt is one of the pranks of history that a poem so obviously about hungry passion has caused so much perplexity and has provoked such a plethora of bizarre interpretationsÕ. He laments that the obvious, plain meaning of the Song has been so thoroughly obscured  by centuries of misguided interpreters, beginning with Origen, whose fear of the erotic forced them to ÔconvertÕ this Ôpassionate paeanÉinto what was thought to be harmless mysticismÕ (p. 87). In the same vein Harold Rowley, ÔThe Interpretation of the Song of SongsÕ, in The Servant of the Lord and Other  Essays on the Old Testament   (London: Lutterworth Press, 1952), p. 232, remarks,   ÔThe view I adopt finds in it nothing but what it appears to be, loversÕ songs, expressing their delight in one anotherÉAll other views find in the Song what they bring to itÕ. Indeed, even scholars working self-consciously from a Ôpost-modernÕ perspective have been influenced by this rhetoric of repression, most notably New Testament scholar Stephen Moore (Stephen D. Moore, ÔThe Song of Songs in the History of SexualityÕ, Church  History  69/2 [2000]) in his recent queer reading of the Christian history of Song interpretation. He playfully argues that male exegetes tried to avoid the SongÕs sexuality but unwittingly embraced it, only not as an erotic encounter between a woman and a man, but rather, because they took upon themselves the role of Bride, as one between two men. 8    HE   6.8. 9  Moore, ÔHistory of SexualityÕ, p. 332. 10  King,  Marriage Song  , pp. 89-133. 11  King,  Marriage Song  , pp. 51-56, lucidly demonstrates that OrigenÕs Ôcarefully constructed terminology  points to a real distinction between  gramma  Ñthe fixity, structure, and form of the written textÑand  s™ma  Ñthe fixed and limited understanding found in, and in a sense imputed to, the  gramma  by the materialistic habitus  that is our mind's second natureÕ (p. 55). The Song thus has a ÔliteralÕ sense, but the spiritual meaning is immediately and entirely transparent to it.  Published in  Irenaeus and His Traditions  (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2012), 81-88. 3 Ôcorresponding spiritual realityÕ. 12  But lacking in King is any sort of historical   defense of allegorical exegesis of the Song. 13  That is, to what extent did allegorical readings arise out of the matrix of first and second century Christian thought? What images might have  been conjured in the minds of early Christian readers (and hearers) by the story of a courtship between a young king and his bride-to-be? I argue that the early Christian allegorization of the Song is best understood as emerging, quite organically, from a nuptial theological trajectory that affirms, rather than denies, the value of the body and sexuality. I rely on David DawsonÕs observation that the ÔplainÕ sense of a given text is not an objectively available level of meaning, but is rather a construct conditioned by the cultural expectations of the community in which it is read, to argue that spiritual readings of the Song reflect a deeply-engrained understanding of the theological significance of nuptial imagery and not a fear of the erotic. 14  In this account, Irenaeus can be said to make a significant contribution to the  patristic tradition of Song exegesis, even though he never cited the text and wrote his  Adversus Haerses  decades before the first commentaries were composed. From as early as the deutero-Pauline epistle to the Ephesians (5:22-31), the union of Christ and the Church has been explained on analogy with the union of man and woman in marriage. But, it is not until Irenaeus, as we shall see, that the analogy of human marriage plays a significant role in ecclesiological and soteriological discourse. Irenaeus, moreover, is the first to provide a typological pattern according to which Old Testament nuptial texts are read as a prophetic witness to ChristsÕs redemptive act towards a sinful people. He does this not to repress or downplay the corporeal dimension of marriage, but, quite the opposite, to argue for the essential goodness of embodied existence against an anti-material spirituality. We shall begin by examining the use of nuptial imagery in the Apostolic Fathers and Justin Martyr, before turning to Irenaeus. We have only one rather elusive example in the Apostolic Fathers of nuptial theology, in the pseudonymous 2 Clement  . 15  This homily blends, rather awkwardly, two key (deutero-)Pauline images Ð the Church as the body of Christ and the male-female union as sign of the union of Christ and the Church: ÔI do not suppose that you are ignorant that the living Church is the body of Christ [ o( /ti e)kklh/sia zw=sa sw=ma/ e)stin Xristou= ], for the Scripture says, ÒGod created man male and female [ E)poi/hsen o( qeo\j to\n a/nqrwpon a) /rsen kai qhlu= ] (cf. Gen 1:27)Ó. The male is Christ; the female is the ChurchÕ. 16  The final line echoes the allegorical proclamation of Ephesians 5:32, although  put far more discretely and with Gen 1:27 as the base text rather than Gen 2:24, which 12  King,  Marriage Song  , p. 126. 13  King spends but three pages linking OrigenÕs Song exegesis to trajectories in first and second-century Christian thought (pp. 1-3).   14    Allegorical Readers and Cultural Revision in Ancient Alexandria  (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1992), pp. 7-8, is worth quoting at length: ÔConsequently, although the Òliteral senseÓ has often been thought of as an inherent quality of a literary text that gives it a specific and invariant characterÉthe phrase is simply an honorific title given to a kind of meaning that is culturally expected and automatically recognized by readers. It is the ÒnormalÓ, ÒcommonsensicalÓ meaning, the product of a conventional, customary reading. The Òliteral senseÓ thus stems from a communityÕs generally unself-conscious decision to adopt and promote a certain kind of meaning, rather than from its recognition of a textÕs inherent and self-evident senseÕ. 15  For the Apostolic Fathers, I follow the Greek text of Michael Holmes,  Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations of their Writings  (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1992). Translations are my own. 16   2 Clem.  14.2 (Holmes, p. 120).  Published in  Irenaeus and His Traditions  (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2012), 81-88. 4 explicitly speaks of the joining together of the man and woman. The preacher attempts to resolve the tension between these two images by associating the female with the flesh, which is ChristÕs body Ð Ôshowing us that if any of us guard her in the flesh and do not corrupt her [ e)a/n tij h(mw=n thrh/sh au_th\n en th= sarki\ kai\ mh\ fqei/raj ], he will receive her back again in the Holy SpiritÕ. 17  The payoff of this ecclesiological excursus is an appeal for the restraint of the desires of the body, as Paul Parvis has recently argued,  18  rather than the glorification of the properly-ordered marriage as a signifier for the union of Christ and Church, which is the case in Ephesians 5:21-32. This passage is not unimportant, though, for it attests the growing matrix of Old Testament nuptial texts that come to be employed in ecclesiological discourse. One could perhaps also point to the enigmatic Shepherd of Hermas  as relevant to the present discussion. At the start of the text, Hermas, after being accused by his former mistress before the heavenly court, encounters Ôan old woman, in a great shining garment, holding a book in her handsÕ. 19  Mistaking her for the Sibyl, Hermas is visited by another heavenly agent, who informs him that this woman was in fact the Church, Ôcreated first of all things [ pa/ntwn prw/th e)kti/sqh ]Õ. 20  This text demonstrates that in the early second century the Church could be personified as a woman, but it is notable that any strictly nuptial or erotic dimension is lacking, even though as the visions progress the woman  becomes more comely and beautiful. Justin Martyr shies away from employing nuptial imagery when speaking of the Church, although he is the first Christian, after the author of the epistle to the Hebrews (cf. 1:8-9), to cite Psalm (LXX) 44, the royal/messianic wedding song. He does this six times in the  Dialogue with Trypho ,  21  and in each instance he offers a Christological reading (38.3-5; 56.14; 63.4; 76.7; 86.3; 126.1). This Psalm has an obvious appeal to Justin, for the quite straightforward reason that its protagonist is referred to as Xristo/j and qeo/j (44:7). Justin invokes this Psalm when chastising Trypho at the end of the  Dialogue  for being ignorant of the one whom David calls ÔChrist and the God who is to  be adored [ Xristo\j kai qeo\j proskunhto\j ]Õ. 22  In only one instance does he give an ecclesiological reading of this Psalm, and notably he identifies the Church with the daughter and not the queen: ÔThe Word of God speaks to those who believe in himÉas to a daughter [ w(j qugatri/ ] Ð to the Church established by and sharing in his nameÕ (63.4). 23  The kingÕs desire [ e)piqume/w ] for the beauty of the daughter receives no comment. Although Justin cannot himself be said to articulate any kind of nuptial theology, the Christological interpretation of Psalm 44, which he advances in a number of instances throughout the  Dialogue , sets an important pattern for the interpretation of marriages in the Old Testament. It is, however, only with Irenaeus that we can begin to speak of an ecclesiology and soteriology that takes into account the analogy of the union of man and woman in 17   2 Clem. 14.3 (Holmes, p. 120). 18  Paul Parvis, Ô 2 Clement   and the Christian HomilyÕ, in The Writings of the Apostolic Fathers  (ed. Paul Foster; London: T&T Clark, 2007), p. 39. 19    Herm.  1.2 (Holmes, p. 336). 20    Herm.  1.8 (Holmes, p. 344). 21  I follow the Greek text of Philippe Bobichon,  Justin Martyr: Dialogue avec Trypho, Vol. 1  (Fribourg: Academic  Press , 2003). Translations are my own. 22    Dial.  126.1 (Bobichon, p. 522). 23    Dial.  63.4 (Bobichon, p. 354).
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