Monday, October 26, 2009

Rosa Mystica

Rosa Mystica:
in Outlines of Romantic Theology by Charles Williams

Charles Williams held that the principles of Romantic Theology can be reduced to a single formula: which is, the identification of love with Jesus Christ, and of marriage with his life. This again can be reduced to the single word—Immanuel.”[1] That is to say romantic love between a man and a woman carried out to its normal end in the rite of marriage and married life is a participation in Him who is Love himself. Such love is not the only incarnation of Love, but it is in our experience the most central one. In working the principle out he turns to the very act of the Incarnation and the enfleshment of Love in the womb of the young Virgin. Here he finds the root understanding of Love in human experience.

“We begin then with the Birth and with the Mother of God. And it is with her that the parallel becomes first apparent….It is in its earliest moments rather a delight of contemplation than a desire of union; being its own satisfaction and asking for nothing more. And though this desire is probably necessary, in order that contemplation may become ever more rich and full, the heart is often so shaken by the mere contemplation of the beloved that it is not conscious of anything beyond its own delight. The whole person of the lover is possessed by a new state of consciousness; love is born in him. “They have changed eyes,” says Shakespeare. But in this state of love he sees and contemplates the beloved as the perfection of living things: love is bestowed by her smile; she is its source and its mother. She appears to him, as it were, without human ties of any sort, for she is before humanity, the first-created of God. To her, for example, may be decently applied all the titles of the Litany of Loretto (and it is the business of Romantic Theology to urge and prove that they may justly be so applied).

She is the Mother of Love, purissima most pure, inviolata inviolate, admirablilis admirable; she is the Maid, virgo veneranda venerable virgin, potens powerful, Clemens merciful, she is the mirror of all mystical titles—speculum iustitiae mirror of justice, sedes sapientiae seat of wisdom, causa nostrae laetitiae cause of our joy, domus aurea house of gold, stella matutina morning star, salus infirmorum health of the sick: Unless the identification of marriage love with Christ be accepted, to press the similarity farther would seem profane. But any lover to whom the application of the titles we have quoted seems natural and right may believe from that in the Godhead of Incarnate Love, and may so dare to apply in a very real sense the titles which remain—Mater divinae gratiae Mother of divine grace, Mater Salvatoris Mother of our Savior, Rosa Mystica mystical Rose, Refugium peccatorum refuge of sinners, Regina Prophetarum Queen of Prophets. Not certainly in herself is she anything but as being glorious in the delight taken in her by the Divine Presence that accompanies her, and yet is born of her; which created her and is helpless as a child in her power. However in all other ways she may be full of error or deliberate evil, in the eyes of the lover, were it but for a moment, she recovers her glory, which is the glory that Love had with the Father before the world was. Immaculate she appears, Theotokos God-bearer, the Mother of God.”[2]

Williams presses the idea to its logical conclusion is saying that Dante, speaking of the beatific gaze of Beatrice that her eyes are “the eyes from which Love shot her earlier arrows, the eyes which … have the power to clear his blindness, the eyes which are in heaven so full of love for him, the eyes in which the two-natured Gryphon of Christ is reflected, the eyes of the Florentine girl—there are the eyes which in the end change only into the eyes of the Mother of God. This is the unique and lasting Mystery of the Way.”[3]

Williams carefully retains the humanity of Mary saying “in all other ways she may be full of error or deliberate evil, in the eyes of her lover, were it but for a moment, she recovers her glory which is the glory that Love had with the Father before the world was.” [4] This is in effect an acknowledgement both of her humanity and of the fact that her glory is a derivative glory that comes from Love Himself. The same theme is picked up in his discussion of Dante and Beatrice. Of Beatrice he says, “in the end it is he only at whom her eyes gaze before they plunge into the mystery of God himself. She is a divine thing, but she is also, still and always, the Florentine girl.” [5] It is important to bear in mind that when all is said and done that Beatrice is still and always the laughing Florentine girl. It is that understanding that reveals that this Love is Incarnate Love revealed in very human form. It is in fact Romantic Love enfleshed. Ultimately through the eyes of the Florentine girl Beatrice the eyes of the Mother of God looks, and in and through her the Divine Presence of Love Himself gazes. But this is not a distant, nor even a peculiar thing, but rather the heart experience of every lover who so beholds his love and marvels and the brilliance of her gaze. Through the gaze of my own true love, Mother Mary smiles on me, and through her eyes, the Christ in love beholds me.

[1] Charles Williams, Outlines of Romantic Theology, (Berkeley: The Apocryphile Press, 2005), p. 14
[2] Ibid. p. 15-17
[3] Ibid, “Religion and Love in Dante”, p. 111
[4] Ibid, p. 16-17
[5] Ibid, p. 99