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In the Old and the New Testament, the love of God for man, and, in particular His relations with His chosen people (whether of the Synagogue or of the Church), are frequently typified under the form of the relations between bridegroom and bride. In like manner, Christian virginity been considered from the earliest centuries as a special offering made by the soul to its spouse, Christ. Nothing else seems to have been meant in speaking of the mystical nuptials of St. Agnes and of St. Catherine of Alexandria. 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 ring, and the apparition is accompanied by a ceremony; the Blessed Virgin, 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, and that He 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 His sufferings. Accordingly, in three cases out of every four, the mystical marriage has been granted to stigmatics. It has been estimated by Dr. Imbert that, from the earliest times to the present, 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 Memling's masterpiece (in the Hospital St. Jean, Bruges), as also of paintings by Jordaens (Madrid), Corregio (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 that last treatise which she composed five years before her death, when she had been but recently raised to this degree. This state consists of three elements:
ST. TERESA, El Castillo Interior (1557); ST. JOHN OF THE CROSS, Cantico espiritual; IDEM, Llama de amor viva; SCARAMELLI, Direttorio mistico (Venice, 1754); RIBET, La mystique divine (Paris, 1895); POULAIN, Des Graces d'oraison (Paris, 1906), tr. The Graces of Interior Prayer (London, 1910); IMBERT, La Stigmatisation (Paris, 1894).