Mystical marriage

Mystical marriage

Mystical marriage is a term equating the intimacy of a mystical relationship, as between a Christian mystic and God, with the natural intimacy between marital partners. The best known examples are the Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine, Saint Teresa of Avila, and Saint John of the Cross.


In the Bible (Old and New Testament), the love of God for man, and in particular his relations with his chosen people (whether of the Jewish synagogue or of the Christian church), are frequently typified under the form of the relations between bridegroom (God) and bride (mortal). A mystical union may easily be travestied by an unsympathetic writer, by emphasizing physical or trivial details of human marriage: the classic example from Greek mythology is the myth of Pasiphaë, whose union with the solar bull was rendered by Hellenic mythographers as an unnatural passion for a specific bull, made possible by a cow-like contraption built by Daedalus, within which Pasiphaë literally consummated her carnal desires. Much was made by disapproving Christian writers like Arnobius of the "rapes" of Zeus (Jupiter).

In Christianity, virginity been considered from the earliest centuries as a special offering made by the soul to its spouse, Jesus Christ. Nothing else seems to have been meant in speaking of the mystical nuptials of Saint Agnes and of St. Catherine of Alexandria, or that of the Blessed Virgin, as Spouse of the Holy Spirit(as she had Conceived Christ, by the Power of the Holy Spirit, in the Gospels according to Sts. Matthew and Luke). These primitive notions were afterwards developed more completely, and the phrase mystical marriage has been taken in two different senses, the one wide and the other more restricted.

(1) In many of the lives of the saints, the wide sense is intended. Here the mystical marriage consists in a vision in which Christ tells a soul that He takes it for His bride, presenting it with the customary wedding ring, and the apparition is accompanied by a ceremony; the Blessed Virgin, other saints and angels are present. This festivity is but the accompaniment and symbol of a purely spiritual grace; hagiographers do not make clear what this grace is, but it may at least be said that the soul receives a sudden augmentation of charity and of familiarity with God, who will thereafter take more special care of it. All this, indeed, is involved in the notion of marriage. Moreover, as a wife should share in the life of her husband, and as Christ suffered for the redemption of mankind, the mystical spouse enters into a more intimate participation in Jesus' sufferings. Accordingly, in three cases out of every four, the mystical marriage has been granted to stigmatics. Dr. Imbert estimated that from the earliest times to the 2àth century history has recorded seventy-seven mystical marriages; they are mentioned in connection with female saints, beatae and venerabiles -- e.g. Blessed Angela of Foligno, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Colette, St. Teresa, St. Catherine of Ricci, Venerable Marina d'Escobar, St. Mary Magdalen de' Pazzi, St. Veronica Giuliani, Venerable Maria de Agreda. Religious art has exercised its resources upon mystical marriage, considered as a festive celebration. That of St. Catherine of Alexandria is the subject of Hans Memling's masterpiece (in St. John's Hospital, Bruges), as also of paintings by Jordaens (Madrid), Antonio da Correggio (Naples and the Louvre) and others; Fra Bartolommeo has done as much for St. Catherine of Siena. (2) In a more restricted sense, the term mystical marriage is employed by St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross to designate that mystical union with God which is the most exalted condition attainable by the soul in this life. It is also called a "transforming union", "consummate union" and "deification". St. Teresa likewise calls it "the seventh resting-place" of the "interior castle"; she speaks of it only in the last treatise she composed five years before her death, when she had been but recently raised to this degree. This state consists of three elements:
* an almost continual sense of the presence of God, even in the midst of external occupations. This favour does not of itself produce an alienation of the senses; ecstasies are more rare. Nor does this permanent sense of God's presence suffice to constitute the spiritual marriage, but is only a state somewhat near to it.
* a transformation of the higher faculties in respect to their mode of operation: hence the name "transforming union"; it is the essential note of the state. The soul is conscious that in its supernatural acts of intellect and of will, it participates in the Divine life and the analogous acts in God. To understand what is meant by this, it must be remembered that in heaven we are not only to enjoy the vision of God, but to feel our participation in His nature. Mystical writers have sometimes exaggerated in describing this grace; it has been said that we think by the eternal thought of God, love by His infinite love and will by His will. Thus they appear to confound the Divine and human natures. They are describing what they believe they feel; like the astronomers, they speak the language of appearances, which we find easier to understand. Here, as in human marriage, there is a fusion of two lives.
* an habitual vision of the Blessed Trinity or of some Divine attribute. This grace is sometimes accorded before the transforming union. Certain authors appear to hold that in the transforming union there is produced a union with the Divine Word more special than that with the other two Divine Persons; but there is no proof that this is so in all cases. St. Teresa gives the name of "spiritual betrothal" to passing foretastes of the transforming union, such as occur in raptures.

ee also

*Bridal theology
*Bride of Christ


*CathEncy|url=|title=Mystical marriage

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