Canticle of Canticles

[Rose of Sharon]
The 24th book of the Old Testament as found in the Catholic Bible. It is an allegorical poem which expresses: basically, the predilection of the Lord for the Chosen People; prophetically, the betrothal of Christ with His Church; universally, the love of God for a devoted soul; accommodatively, in the liturgy of the Church, the delight of God in the soul of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Protestant versions call it Song of Solomon or Song of Songs. But Catholics name it “Canticle” rather than “Song” to distinguish it as a liturgical song, and Canticle of Canticles to describe it as the superlative song. It was adapted to choral recitation, and was read in the Jewish liturgy on the octave day of the Passover.

The contents are as follows: The Spouse, languishing for her Lover (chapter 1), is suffused with the delight of Him (2), pursues Him and finds Him, and exults in His grandeur (3); He praises her incomparable beauty (4); the Lover comes, but, before the Spouse opens the bolt of the door, “He had turned aside and was gone”; she delights in the thought of His all-loveliness (5); the Lover dwells on the regal radiance of the Spouse (6); she is mighty and fruitful (7); the Spouse sings the greatness, joy, and abandon of union with her Lover (8).

The Canticle of Canticles was composed by Solomon, in Jerusalem, under Divine inspiration. The earlier interpreters all agreed with the traditional view that Solomon wrote it; and the familiar acquaintance with matters of natural science and with the geographical features of Palestine accords well with the genius of Solomon. No other name could be suggested to replace his. Some philological difficulties raised by late critics are so few and so shadowy that they confirm the older position by their jejuneness. They deride the idea of Solomon parading his amours in such fashion; but Solomon is not parading himself or his wives or his amours. He sings, in allegory, of Divine love and human souls. As to the inspiration of the book, it was not disputed by the Jews, as Rabbi Akiba (1st century) has observed in sweeping rabbinical phrase: “No one in Israel has ever doubted that the Canticle of Canticles ‘defiles the hands.’” All Christian lists of the canonical Scriptures have it noted. Some critics interpret the book as an erotic poem, composed by some Palestinian to celebrate the pursuit by Solomon of a shy Shulemite shepherdess. The imagery thus becomes distorted and the thought grotesque.