Redeeming the Erotic: John Paul II’s Reading of the Song of Songs

The Song of Songs is the biblical book about love between man and woman, a poetic dialogue or duet between bride and bridegroom of intense erotic power. It is the single most frequently commented text in the Christian tradition, although it has received comparatively little attention in recent Catholic theology. It has traditionally been read as a symbol of our deepest longing, union with God, the bridegroom par excellence. In his Theology of the Body, John Paul II reads the Song of Songs with a particular purpose in mind. He reads it as throwing light on the sacramental sign of marriage. The sacramental sign of marriage consists, on the one hand, in the words of the marriage vow, “I take you...” which implicitly contains the other person’s words, “I give myself to you;” it consists, on the other hand, in the physical mutual giving and taking in sexual union, which consummates the vow.

As a sacramental sign of the New Covenant, this sign effectively communicates the redemptive power of Christ. The lecture will present John Paul II’s reading of the Song of Songs and show its practical consequences for the redemption of eros in the relation between man and woman.

BIO: Dr. Michael Maria Waldstein has been Max Seckler Professor of Theology at Ave Maria University since 2008. In 1988 he began teaching at the University of Notre Dame where he received tenure in 1996. From 1996 until 2006 he served as the founding president and associate professor of New Testament at the International Theological Institute in Gaming, Austria, and from 2006-2008 as its St. Francis of Assisi Professor of New Testament.

He holds a B.A. from Thomas Aquinas College, a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Dallas, an S.S.L. summa cum laude from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, and a Th.D. from Harvard University in New Testament and Christian Origins.

His published works include a critical edition of the four Coptic manuscripts of the Gnostic Secret Book of John and a new translation of John Paul II’s Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body as well as articles on the Gospel of John, Gnosticism, St. Thomas Aquinas, John Paul II and Hans Urs von Balthasar.