Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
August 25th, 2015 by Joel Watts

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (and more) on how not to read the Song of Solomon

Capital from the Song of Solomon in Winchester...

Capital from the Song of Solomon in Winchester Cathedral. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is a deep aversion to reading the Songs as “secular,” as if carnality — sexual and physical love is somehow not of the sacred community…

For you must not, accepting the vulgar, superficial interpretation of the words, suppose that the Canticle is an expression of carnal, sexual love.1

Keel goes on to detail how both the allegorizers of Alexandria and the more literally inclined at Antioch simply refused to see in it the profane beauty of the raw passion emitting from the pages.

A later interpreter tried to have it removed from the canon. Thankfully, he was not successful… but Theodore was not the last to attempt such things:

Nevertheless, in academic circles, even the rise of humanism and the Reformation were unable to breach the solid front of typology and allegory. The humanist Sébastien Chateillon, whose intellectual honesty prohibited him from seeing anything but erotic songs in the Song, concluded therefore (like Theodore of Mopsuestia earlier) that the book did not belong in the canon. Because of this view, Calvin forced him to leave Geneva in 1545, saying, “Our chief disagreement concerns the Song of Songs. He [Chateillon] saw it as a lascivious and obscene poem, in which Solomon describes his shameless love affairs.”2

  1. as quoted in Othmar Keel, A Continental Commentary: The Song of Songs (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1994), 8.
  2. Othmar Keel, A Continental Commentary: The Song of Songs (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1994), 10.
Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Leave a Reply, Please!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: