From September 27, 2005 (re-edited):
From Flos Carmeli on September 20:
"I was writing a meditation on a gospel passage this morning when a sobering thought occurred to me. We serve the Lord more by who we are than by what we say. People who see us and know that we are Christians judge both us and the Christ we proclaim by what we do. The look at the concurrence of words and actions to see what it is we proclaim. . . .
“It is said that married couples through the years become more like one another. ( I suspect that is mostly in the bad things so that our annoying habits do not annoy so seriously. ) So, if we seek the Holy Spirit through the marriage of prayer and we keep the blessed trinity company through prayer, surely we will become more like them. Or to take another metaphor, one is judged by the company one keeps. The reason is that one becomes more like the company one keeps--it is a natural human inclination to blend in. What then could be better than to blend into the company of the blessed trinity.”
When I read this post, prompted by Steven Riddle’s meditation on a gospel passage, I thought about the disparate symbolism of a dove in Scripture. Most frequently, the dove is the symbol of the Holy Spirit or of peace. When John the Baptist baptized Jesus, the Spirit descended on Him like a dove and alighted on Him (Matt. 3:16). However, in his homilies on the Song of Songs, St. Bernard of Clairvaux interpreted the dove as symbolic of the Church in verse 2:14: “O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the covert of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is comely.” It was his homily on this passage that I quoted in the past. It was the same passage that prompted the poem by Bl. Hildegard of Bingen, “The Dove Peered In,” also quoted here, and also symbolic of the Church peering into the eternal reality described by St. Bernard. And St. Augustine, quote here, drew from the Gospel in saying that Christians should imitate the dove ("[Jesus said] Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." Matt. 10:16).
Is it thus that the dove can be symbol both of the Holy Spirit and of the Church in that, as we imitate Christ, the Bridegroom, we the Church become more like the Holy Spirit? As the bride and the bridegroom, in many years of love, become more like each other, does the Church become more Christlike, more holy, as we spend time with Him? As we, filled with the Holy Spirit, imitate the dove and become more like Him?
The earlier dove postings are here:
My Dove in the Clefts of the Rock (St. Bernard on Song of Songs 2:14):
"My dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the crannies of the wall" (Sg 2:14). The dove finds safe refuge not only in the clefts of the rock, but also in the crannies of the wall. If we take the "wall" to be not an assembly of stones but the communion of saints, perhaps the crannies of the wall can be seen as the gaps left empty by the angels when they fell, and which are to be filled by men, like ruins to be mended by living stones. That is why the Apostle Peter says, "Come to him, to that living stone, and like living stones be yourselves built into spiritual houses" (I Pt 2:4-5).
* * * * *
It is clear, then, that there are two sorts of contemplation. One is concerned with the life and happiness and glory of the heavenly city, where a great multitude of heavenly citizens is busy with activity, or at rest. The other is directed toward the majesty, eternity, and divinity of the King himself. The first is of the wall, the other of the rock.
The more difficult the hollowing out, the sweeter the taste of the reward. Do not be afraid of Scripture's warning about gazing upon majesty (Prv 25:27). Just bring a pure and single eye (Lk 11:34). You will not be dazzled by the glory, but allowed to look into it (Prv 25:27) -- unless it is not God's glory but your own that you are seeking. Otherwise, each is overwhelmed not by God's glory but his own. When you bend down toward your own glory, you cannot lift up your head to look at his, because you are weighed down by greed.
With that out of the way, let us tunnel confidently in the rock, in which the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden (Col 2:3). If you are still not convinced, hear what the Rock himself says, "Those who do things in me shall not sin" (Sir 24:30). Who will give me wings like a dove so that I may fly away and be at rest (Ps 54:7)? The meek and simple find rest (Mt 11:29) where the deceitful man is oppressed, and the man who is puffed up and desirous of vainglory (Gal 5:26). The Church is a dove, and so she rests. She is a dove because she meekly receives the Word which enters her (Jas 1:21). And she rests in the Word, that is, in the Rock, for the Rock is the Word.
And so the Church is in the clefts of the Rock, and she gazes through them and sees the glory of her Bridegroom. But she is not overwhelmed by glory because she does not claim it for herself. She is not overwhelmed because she is not peering into the majesty of God but belongs to his majesty, yet in wonder, not curiosity. But if ever she is carried away in rapture, it is because the finger of God deigns so to raise man up (Ex 8; Lk 11:20), not the rashness of man insolently pushing its way into the depths of God. For when the Apostle recalls that rapture, he makes excuse for his daring (2 Cor 12:2). What other mortal man would be so presumptuous as to attempt by himself to make a fearful scrutiny of the divine majesty? What insolent contemplative would try to burst into those awesome mysteries? I think that although those who scrutinize majesty are called "invaders," that applies not to those who are carried away but to those who push their way in. And so it is they are overwhelmed by glory."
- St. Bernard of Clairvaux (12th century), Sermon 62, from Bernard of Clairvaux: Selected Works, translated by G.R. Evans, Classics of Western Spirituality, Paulist Press.
Amazon Link for this Book
The Dove Peered In (Bl. Hildegard of Bingen on Song of Songs 2:14):
The dove peered in
through the lattices of the window
white, before its face,
a balm exuded
from incandescent Maximin.
The heat of the sun burned
dazzling into the gloom:
whence a jewel sprang forth
in the building of the temple
of the purest loving heart.
He, the high tower,
constructed of Lebanon wood and cypress,
has been adorned with jacinth and diamonds,
a city excelling the crafts
of other builders.
This swift hart sped
to the fountain of clearest water
flowing from the most powerful stone
which courses with delightful spices.
you who are in the sweetest greenness
of the gardens of the King,
ascending on high
when you have completed the holy sacrifice
with the rams.
This builder shines among you
the wall of the temple,
who longed for the wings of an eagle,
kissing his horse Wisdom
in the glorious fecundity of the Church.
you are the mount and the valley
and in both you seem a high building,
where the goat went with the elephant
and Wisdom was in rapture.
You are strong and beautiful in rites
and in the shining of the altar,
mounting like the smoke of perfumes
to the column of praise.
Where you intercede for the people
who stretch towards the mirror of light
to whom there is praise on high.
- Blessed Hildegard of Bingen
"The Dove Peered In," mid-12th century
translated for the CD package insert for "A Feather on the Breath of God," recorded by Gothic Voices
Amazon Link for this Recording
The Simplicity of the Dove (St. Augustine on Matt. 10:16):
"[Jesus said] Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." Matt. 10:16
St. Augustine of Hippo said this about this verse:
"Now what need is there to commend to you in many words the simplicity of the dove? For the serpent’s poison had need to be guarded against: there, there was a danger in imitation; there, there was something to be feared; but the dove may you imitate securely. Mark how the doves rejoice in society; everywhere do they fly and feed together; they do not love to be alone, they delight in communion, they preserve affection; their cooings are the plaintive cries of love, with kissings they beget their young. Yea even when doves, as we have often noticed, dispute about their holes, it is as it were but a peaceful strife. Do they separate, because of their contentions? Nay, still do they fly and feed together, and their very strife is peaceful. See this strife of doves, in what the Apostle saith, “If any man obey not our word by this epistle, mark that man, and have no company with him.” Behold the strife; but observe now how it is the strife of doves, not of wolves. He subjoined immediately, “Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” The dove loves even when she is in strife; and the wolf even when he caresses, hates. Therefore having the simplicity of doves, and the wisdom of serpents, celebrate the solemnities of the Martyrs in sobriety of mind, not in bodily excess, sing lauds to God. For He who is the Martyrs’ God, is our Lord God also, He it is who will crown us. If we shall have wrestled well, we shall be crowned by Him, who hath crowned already those whom we desire to imitate."
- St. Augustine of Hippo, Sermon No. XIV, on Matthew 10:16, translated by Rev. R. G. MacMullen