Each Couple is like a Garden: A Biblical Perspective

Jean-Pierre Sonnet, SJ

 Jean-Pierre Sonnet, SJ / Church Thought / 9 January 2020

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The Bible begins with the garden planted by God in Eden (cf. Gen 2:8). It ends with the evocation of a garden-city, the heavenly Jerusalem: “In the middle of the city square and on either side of the river, there is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations” (Rev 22:2). Even at its center, the Bible houses a garden, that of the Song of Songs. The “center” in question, it should be specified, is that of the sequence of books in the Catholic tradition, taken from the Greek version of the Old Testament, the Septuagint. At the center of this “book of books,” in the booklet that Rabbi Akiva described as the “Holy of Holies” of the Scriptures, there is a garden with flowing waters and flowering trees.

The phenomenon just described is repeated with regard to the human couple.[1]

The Bible recounts in its opening pages the appearance of the human couple (cf. Gen 2-3), and in its last lines we hear the invitation of the bride to the groom, of the Church to Christ who comes in glory: “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’” (Rev 22:17). The Bible also rings out the entwined voices of the lover and the beloved in the center of its corpus, in the sanctuary that is the Song of Songs: “Ah, you are beautiful, my love!”; “Ah, you are beautiful, my beloved!” (Song 1:15-16).

In the following pages we would like to reflect on this twofold perspective that associates the “mystery” of the garden with that of the human couple. Why does the couple meet in the garden? How is the affinity of the couple and of this living space understood phenomenologically? In what way is the anthropological and cosmic figure of the couple in the garden the bearer of a theological truth? The Song of Songs provides the environment for such a reflection; its pages express explicitly the invitation of the lovers to go to the garden: “Let my beloved come to his garden […]. I come to my garden, my sister, my bride” (Song 4:16-5:1).

In parallel to the exploration of the biblical texts, we will examine the links that unite – as through a network of common roots – two important texts of the teaching of Pope Francis: his encyclical letter Laudato Si’: On the Care of our Common home (2015) and the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia: The Joy of Love in the Family (2016). The human couple considered in this second text has its background and perspective in the first,  with its expressions of the divine design.

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