THE COMMERCIUM OF THE KISS WHO SAVES: A STUDY OF THOMAS THE CISTERCIAN’S COMMENTARY ON THE SONG OF SONGS
Catherine Rose Cavadini
This dissertation is a theological study of the twelfth-century commentary on the Song of Songs by Thomas Cisterciensis entitled In Cantica Canticorum. It contextualizes Thomas's style, method, and message within the broader history of Song of Songs interpretation, draws out what is more particulary "Cistercian" about Thomas the Cistercian's interpretation, and what is unique about his vision of the Song's meaning. In order to accomplish each of these tasks, we will take up the motif that the author himself most prizes: the admirabile commercium. The admirabile commercium is a long-standing, patristic summary of Salvation History. This theological concept sums up Christ's act of redemption from his Incarnation to his Passion and Resurrection as the "exchange" that occurs between divinity and humanity. More commonly, we hear this phrase: God became human so that humans might become divine. In the history of Song of Songs interpretation, beginning with Origen, the "kiss" of Song of Songs 1:1 is read as this "exchange," or commercium. Although earlier exegetes did not color this "kiss" as the commercium, but as the embrace of the Incarnation, and later as the amplexus Christi. Thomas Cisterciensis, then, takes
the traditional understanding of the commercium and reads the “kiss” of 1:1 both as the “exchange” of redemption and the monk’s individual, spiritual experience of the amplexus Christi. By following this novel spin on a traditional motif throughout Thomas’s lengthy commentary, we draw a picture of Thomas’s vision of the Song of Songs as the story of the commercium of the Kiss Who Saves.
The dissertation is composed of four chapters. The first discusses the style, method, and content of Thomas’s In Cantica Canticorum as a sermon-commentary. The bulk of the discussion is a comparison of Thomas’s commentary with Bernard of Clairvaux’s Sentences. Chapters Two and Three respectively discuss the Bridegroom and the Bride, depicted by Thomas as Christ and the Church. Chapter Four completes our preacher’s picture with an emphasis on Thomas’s use of liturgical texts and on the liturgy as the place of the Bride and Bridegroom’s ongoing commercium.