Dr. André Villeneuve is a Catholic theologian, biblical scholar, and Associate Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages at Sacred Heart Major Seminary. He received his Ph.D. from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2013, writing his dissertation on the topic of nuptial symbolism in the New Testament and in ancient Jewish writings. Extending from this work, his newest book, Divine Marriage from Eden to the End of Days (2021) has gained critical acclaim throughout his scholarly field as one of “the most important works on the nuptial theme in Scripture” (John Bergsma, Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls). Throughout the book, Dr. Villeneuve takes readers on an illuminative journey through books of both the Old and New Testaments in an exploration of the mystery of God’s love in the Bible and ancient Jewish tradition.
What is your background in studying nuptial symbolism in Scripture and what inspires you to write about this topic?
This book has been a long time in the making. Its genesis goes back to my days as a PhD student at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In many ways, this project reflects my own intellectual and spiritual journey. First, it expresses my love for the great story of Scripture. While most dissertations focus on narrow, ultra-specialized topics, I was determined to write about the whole Bible, drawing out the big picture of salvation history in a way that would capture the interest not only of specialists but of all students of Scripture. Second, the work reflects my love for both Judaism and Christianity—a love that largely grew out of my years living in Jerusalem. My topic, even if primarily focused on Christian theology, digs deep into its Jewish roots. Third, my study of marriage symbolism brings together the ancient and modern worlds. This book draws from the past but does not remain there. It also speaks to modern readers, informing our contemporary understanding of love and marriage in light of the wisdom of the ancients.
I wanted my book to be also of pastoral or catechetical relevance to its readers, informing and edifying their faith. Although the book draws primarily from the Old Testament, the New Testament, and ancient Jewish sources, it also points to a Catholic and sacramental view of marriage as a faithful covenantal bond that fulfills every person’s deepest aspirations for both divine and human love. The book’s exploration of love and marriage touches upon a topic that concerns every human person. Love is the deepest calling of every person. Yet it is no secret that marriage today is in a profound crisis. Perhaps this crisis stems from the fact that modern man has lost sight of the mystery of marriage as deeply rooted in God’s loving designs and revealed in the story of salvation. This book intends to rekindle interest in this wondrous mystery.
Your book explores Biblical examples of the love between God and his people as seen in ancient Jewish interpretive traditions of Scripture. Tell us more about your interest in the Jewish roots of the Catholic faith.
To me this has always been a bit of a no-brainer ever since my conversion to Christ. Jesus was a Jew. He was born, lived, and died as a Jew. He was thoroughly immersed in the Jewish faith, Jewish culture, and Jewish traditions. He prayed Jewish prayers in the synagogue—not Christian prayers in a church. So, if you love Jesus, why wouldn’t you be interested in Judaism?
We can’t really understand Jesus or the Catholic Faith without having at least some foundation in the Old Testament and in Judaism. The world of the Gospels and of the New Testament is the Jewish world of the first century. The more we become familiar with that world, the more we are able to understand and appreciate Jesus’ teachings, mission, and identity.
What principles from the scriptural symbolism explored in your book can be applied today as we think about the love between Christ and ourselves as his Church?
We might say that all of Scripture unveils a nuptial mystery. In some books, like the prophets Hosea and Isaiah, the marriage symbolism is explicit and obvious. But in other books, the connection is more implicit or subtle. By turning to the ancient Jewish interpreters, we learn to read with them the story of salvation as the story of the marriage between God in his people. For example, the rabbis saw the creation of the world as God espousing himself to mankind. They understood the Sinai covenant as God’s betrothal to Israel, and the giving of the law as the marriage covenant between them. They also viewed the Jerusalem Temple and Holy of Holies as a nuptial chamber where God was joined to his people through the ministry of the high priest. And they anticipated the future messianic age as a joyous wedding feast.
The Gospels and other New Testament books constantly borrow and apply these ideas to Jesus and the Church, so that they are portrayed as bridegroom and bride. This means that the point of reference for every marriage—whether the human marriage between husband and wife, or the mystical marriage between Christ and the Church—is found “in the beginning,” at the dawn of human history and in God original covenant with creation. It means that a good and godly marriage must always operate within the bounds of God’s commandments, for as Jesus said, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). It means that marriage is a liturgical, sacrificial, and sacramental reality, called to imitate the sacrificial love of Christ (Ephesians 5:21-33) and anticipating the final wedding feast of the lamb that will be revealed at the end of human history (Revelation 21:1-4). It also means that the entire Christian life reflects the spousal love of Christ and the Church: so baptism, for example, is a type of nuptial bath that precedes the wedding feast of the Eucharist.
Who is this book intended for and what is a key understanding you hope readers take away from your book?
Since the book is a simplified version of my doctoral dissertation, it is still a fairly robust scholarly work. On the other hand, I wanted to make the content accessible to all serious students of Scripture, so that anyone interested in the topic of spousal love in Scripture could benefit from its reading. The key understanding that I hope readers will take away from the book is that all of life is a spousal mystery, whether one is single, married, priest, or religious, and baptized Christians are called to reflect the nuptial dimension of God’s covenant with us.
What courses are you currently teaching at Sacred Heart? In what ways does incorporating topics of ancient Scriptural symbolism inform your work in the classroom?
I’m teaching all the Old Testament courses (Pentateuch, Prophets, Psalms & Wisdom), as well as biblical Hebrew. While I also employ modern methods of biblical research in the classroom, generally the interpretation of the ancients—both Jewish and Christian—tend to be much richer in terms of allegorical, typological, or theological readings of Scripture, providing many opportunities to apply the message of the Bible to our own lives.
You recently joined the faculty at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, what is your impression of the community—faculty, staff, students—so far?
It has been a very good experience so far! The community has been welcoming and friendly. It is wonderful to be able to study Scripture together with seminarians and laypeople who desire to acquire a deeper understanding of God’s word and better apply it in their own lives. In a day and age when there seems to be so much to worry about, it is edifying to see how the word of God equips us to face the challenges of life with courage and joy. I invite the reader to consider joining us in the great adventure of studying Scripture and theology at Sacred Heart!
Dr. Villeneuve’s main areas of interest include the study of Sacred Scripture, the Jewish roots of the Catholic faith, leading pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and fostering the reconciliation of Israel and the Church through the work of Catholics for Israel.
Learn more about Divine Marriage from Eden to the End of Days (2021)
Dr. Villeneuve is also the author of Nuptial Symbolism in Second Temple Writings, the New Testament and Rabbinic Literature: Divine Marriage at Key Moments of Salvation History (2016)