The Divine Love
The two treatises De Laude Caritatis and
De Amore Sponsi ad Sponsam

Hugh of St Victor


Translated by A Religious of C.S.M.V.
Edited by Matthew C. Dallman




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THE BRIDEGROOM’S LOVE FOR THE BRIDE

I will get Me to the mountain of myrrh,
     and to the hills of Lebanon,
and I will speak to My bride.
“Thou art all fair, My neighbour,
thou art all fair, My friend;
there is no spot in thee.
Come, O fair one, to Lebanon, from Lebanon.
Come to Lebanon to Lebanon.
Thou shalt come, thou shalt be crowned.
Come from without, within unto thyself.
Thou shalt come, and thou shalt pass over
     to Main Seir and Hermon,
from the lions’ lairs,
from the leopards’ mountain.”


A version of Song of Songs 4:6–8.


I

HIS VISIT TO HER

I will get Me to the mountain of myrrh, and to the hills of Lebanon, and I will speak to My bride.

A Bridegroom is here speaking, who has one who is espoused to Him; He promises that He is going to visit her. Observe, therefore, that this Bridegroom is not always at home; He is wary, perhaps, lest His love lose value; and, because she would more quickly weary of Him, were He always present, He now withdraws Himself, and now again, at a fit time, returns, so that having been missed when He was absent, when He is present He may be more closely held.

Now, at the moment of speaking the aforesaid words, He was away from her. But lest prolonged delay should tent to generate forgetfulness, He is intended to return; therefore He says, I will get Me. He tells Himself what He will do, for what is sweet to do is sweet also to say, and I know not why it is, but we are never loth to speak of anything for which we have a great desire. I will get Me, He says; He goes alone, for a peculiar love admits not one to share its secret. He goes alone, for He Who will not suffer anyone to share His love desires no companion on His journey. But do you want to know Who is this Bridegroom, and who is this bride? God is the Bridegroom, and His bride the soul.

The Bridegroom is at home sometimes, and then He fills the mind with inward joy. At other times He goes away; then He withdraws the sweets of contemplation. But what is there about the soul, that she should thus be called the bride of God? She is the bride, as dowered by the gifts of grace. She is the bride, as linked with Him in a pure love. She is the bride, because by the breath of the Holy Ghost she must be fertilized with the offspring of the virtues.

There is no soul who has not received a betrothal-gift from this Bridegroom.[1] But there are two betrothal-gifts, the general and the particular. The general betrothal-gift consists in the fact of our having been born, of our feeling, perceiving, and judging. The particular one consists in our regeneration, in our having obtained the forgiveness of sins, and received the gifts of grace. And what each individual has, that is for him his betrothal-gift. For the rich man, the wealth whereby he is supported so that the irksomeness of poverty may not grind him down, is his betrothal-gift. For the poor man, it is the poverty that chastens him, lest having plenty he give way to greed. For the strong man, his strength is his betrothal-gift, that makes him tough and able for good works. For him whose health is weak, his weakness is his betrothal-gift, reducing him lest he do wrong. For the foolish person, his gift is his simplicity, that humbles him lest he give way to pride. And whatsoever thing without exception our human weakness in this life endures, this the kind Creator ordains either for the correction of our crookedness, or else to further our advance in virtue. In all things, therefore, we must give Him thanks, so that acknowledging His mercy in every circumstance we may be ever advancing in His love.

I will get Me, He says, to the mountain of myrrh and to the hills of Lebanon, and I will speak to My bride.

Myrrh, which is bitter to the taste and serves to keep dead bodies from corruption, denotes the mortification of the flesh. Lebanon, the name whereof means Whitening, denotes cleanness of heart. This, therefore, is the way by which the Bridegroom comes to the bride. He comes by the mountain of myrrh and the hills of Lebanon, because He first slays the desire of the flesh by abstinence, and then through cleanness of heart He wipes away the ignorance of the mind. And lastly, coming to speech with the bride as it were on the third day, He inflames the soul with longing for Himself. For this reason He rightly spoke the mountain—not the hills—of myrrh, and of the hills—not the mountain—of Lebanon. For we must be steadfast in affliction, and humble when we make progress in virtue; and the height of a mountain signifies the eminence of spiritual courage, and the insignificance of hills sober humility.

Again, His saying mountain in the singular and hills in the plural shows that we lose little by mortification in respect of outward pleasure, whereas the benefit we find in the illumination of our inward mind is manifold.

We take the mountain of myrrh, therefore, as meaning strong resistance to the desire of the flesh; and we take the hills of Lebanon as meaning the illumination of the mind, as against ignorance. The Bridegroom’s speaking we must understand as meaning charity, as opposed to hatred and hardness of heart. Power belongs peculiarly to the Father, wisdom to the Son, charity to the Holy Ghost. For when we sin through weakness, in sinning against power we sin against the Father; when we sin through ignorance, in sinning against wisdom we sin against the Son; but, when we sin through hatred, in sinning against charity we sin against the Holy Ghost. (Cf. Mk 3:28f) Sin committed against the Father and the Son is therefore remitted, here or hereafter; for a person who sins through weakness or ignorance has some excuse for his fault, and so must have some remission of its penalty, either in this life, if he has repented in such wise as to win mercy more easily; or else, if he has persisted in the evil, he will undergo a penalty less hard to bear in the life which is to come. But the offence of those who sin through malice has no such excuse; their punishment therefore is not to be remitted. For if they repent in this life, they will have to bear the pain of making a full reparation; and, if they do not repent, they will be punished with full condemnation in the life to come. Such as these, therefore, obtain remission neither in this life, nor in that which is to come, not because pardon is denied to them, but because full satisfaction is required for full sin.

[1] Hugh has a separate treatise on this theme, De Arrha Animae. An English translation, The Soul’s Betrothal-Gift, by F. Sherwood Taylor, was published by the Dacre Press in 1945.


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