Sunday, May 6, 2012

Pope Pius XII: The Canticle of Love

The following is from a book entitled Dear Newlyweds: Pope Pius XII speaks to Married Couples (ed. James F. Murray, Jr. and Bianca M. Murray). The book is a compilation of addresses given by the Pope in the periodic audiences he held for newly-married couples who were seeking his Apostolic Benediction on their marriages. The book contains 62 addresses to married couples; this is number 20.

20. The Canticle of Love

“God is love,” writes St. John (1 John 4:8). Substantial and Infinite Love, He delights eternally in the contemplation of His own infinite perfection, without desire and without being sated; and since He is the only absolute Being, besides whom nothing exists, if He wishes to call other beings into existence He can do so only by calling them forth from His own perfection. Every creature, a more or less remote derivation of Infinite Love, is therefore the fruit of love and is in being only because of love…But God’s masterpiece is man, and to this masterpiece of love He has given the power to love which irrational creatures do not possess. Man’s love is personal, that is, it is conscious; it is free, placed under the control of his responsible will; and this power of self-determination is as Dante sings:

“The greatest gift that in largess God
creating made, and unto his own goodness
nearest conformed, and that which he doth
prize most highly…”
(Paradios, Canto V, 19-21; Longfellow’s translation)

God, in creating man’s body and soul, had given man all that his human nature required; man’s desires were completely satisfied, but not God’s Will. As a further extension of His love, He gave man a new and superhuman gift: grace; grace which is an inscrutable miracle of God’s love, a marvel whose mystery human understanding cannot probe, and which man has called “supernatural,” humbly confessing that it is beyond his nature.

The fathers, doctors and saints of the Church have written ample treatises concerning this elevation of man to a higher life, but really, the little country boy says it just as well when he recites the sentence from his catechism, “Grace causes man to share in the life of God Himself.” After thousands, or tens of thousands, of years when, among these celestial bodies tirelessly drawn to each other in their measureless orbit of love, man discovers with astonishment the continuous series of creatures scaled above and below him; when scientific inquiry, engineering progress and speculative thought have rendered his intelligence as superior to our modern minds as ours now appears superior to the glimmers of the prehistoric age; then, perhaps, some genius, his soul enamored of God, will know how to translate into human terms something of the prodigality, so far hidden from us, of God’s love for the creatures of His predilection. But when this explorer of the spiritual and physical world, after having reached many sublime heights, stands upon that inaccessible and immaculate peak of grace, he will still find no better words to describe it than those three brief words spoken by the Prince of the Apostles, St. Peter, “Divinae consortes naturae” (Grace makes us “partakers of the divine nature”) (2 Peter 1:4).

If even the affectionately moving beauty of purely natural love is such that the Lord compares it to the eagle teaching its young to fly by hovering above them (Deut. 32:11), human love is incomparably more noble because the spiritual part of man participates in it under the promptings of the heart, that delicate witness and interpreter of the union between the body and the soul which harmonizes the physical impressions of the one with the higher feelings of the other. This fascination of human love has been for centuries the theme inspiring admirable works of genius in literature, music, painting, and sculpture, a theme that is always old yet always new, which the ages have embellished with the most sublime and poetic variations without ever exhausting it.

But what new and unspeakable beauty is added to this love of two human hearts when its song harmonizes with the hymn of two souls vibrating with supernatural life! Here too the mutual exchange of gifts is confirmed; and then, with sensitive affection, with wholesome joys, with impulses of natural tenderness, with the happiness of spiritual union, the two beings in love find themselves together in the most intimate things they have, from the unsounded depths of their faith to the unattainable heights of their aspirations.

Such is Christian marriage, modeled, according to the famous expression of St. Paul, upon the union of Christ with His Church (Eph. 5:22). In both, the gift of self is total, exclusive and irrevocable. In both, the groom is head of the bride, and she is subject to him as to the Lord (Eph. 5:22-23); in both, the mutual gift of self becomes the principle of growth and the source of life.

The eternal love of God caused the world and humanity to spring into being from nothing; the love of Jesus for His Church propels souls to supernatural life; the love of a Christian husband for his wife participates in these two divine acts because, in accordance with the Will of the Creator, man and wife prepare the dwelling place of the soul in which the Holy Spirit will live with His grace. In this way, through the mission providentially assigned to them, husband and wife are really the collaborators of God and His Christ; their very actions have something of the divine, and here too they may be called “Divinae consortes naturae” – partakers of the divine nature.

Should we wonder that these magnificent privileges should imply grave obligations? The nobility of divine adoption imposes on Christian husbands and wives many renunciations and many acts of courage so that the body may not restrict the soul in its ascent towards truth and virtue, and that its weight may not drag it towards the abyss. But since God never asks the impossible, and with the imposition of a precept He grants also the strength for its fulfillment, marriage, which is a great sacrament, brings, along with the duties that may seem beyond human capacity, assistance that is shown to be supernatural.

We are firmly convinced, dear husbands and wives, that this divine assistance will be given you because you fervently asked for it when, at the foot of the altar, you gave your hearts to each other forever.

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