I am dark, but lovely, O you daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon.
Read Chapter 1
Ambrose of Milan
The church, having put on these garments through the laver of regeneration, says in the Song of Songs, “I am black and comely, O daughters of Jerusalem.” Black through the frailty of its human condition, comely through the sacrament of faith. And the daughters of Jerusalem beholding these garments say in amazement, “Who is this that comes up made white?” She was black; how is she now suddenly made white? - "On the Mysteries 7.35"
It is written, “Ethiopia shall stretch out her hand unto God.” In this is signified the appearance of holy church, who says in the Song of Solomon, “I am black and comely, O daughters of Jerusalem”: black through sin, comely through grace; black by natural condition, comely through redemption, or certainly, black with the dust of her labors. So it is black while fighting but comely when it is crowned with the ornaments of victory. - "On the Holy Spirit 2.10.112"
very dark: Black through frality of its human condition, comely through the sacrament of faith. (St. Ambrose)
daughters of Jerusalem: those weak in faith who are called "daughters" to emphasize their weak, feminine-like nature. (Nicholas of Lyra)
Black, of course, with the adversity of hardships but beautiful with the adornment of virtue, indeed as much more beautiful in the sight of interior judgment as the vexations of the foolish are greater. It is as though she were befouled with afflictions. The daughters of Jerusalem to whom this speaks are souls imbued with celestial sacraments, yearning for the dwelling of their heavenly homeland. For, consoling them in their tribulations, holy mother said, “I am black but beautiful, daughters of Jerusalem,” as if she had said more clearly: I appear most vile indeed to the eyes of my persecutors, but I shine with the glorious profession of truth before God. Hence you who recognize that you are citizens of a homeland above must at least be sorrowful in the labors of this exile while you hasten through adversities to the vision of everlasting peace. - "Commentary on the Songs of Songs 1.1.4"
It is said concerning the church of the Gentiles, “I am dark and beautiful, O daughter of Jerusalem.” Why is the church dark and beautiful? She is dark by nature, beautiful by grace. Why dark? “Indeed, in guilt was I born, and in sin my mother conceived me.” Why beautiful? “Cleanse me of sin with hyssop, that I may be purified; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” - "Sermon 124.1"
We read in the Song of Songs of the church which bears the image of the Lord Savior, “I am black and beautiful,” that is, black physically and beautiful in heavenly merits. He demonstrates why he used the word beautiful: as Christ put it, the world was reconciled to God through grace. - "Exposition of the Psalms 44.3"
Altered. Hebrew, "looked upon me "(Protestants) or "darted his rays at me. "(Montanus) (Haydock)
The Church of the Gentiles was quite disfigured before Christ chose it. Persecutors afterwards strove to tarnish its beauty, but in vain.
Vineyard. My face (Calmet) and person I have not regarded, while I was attentive to serve others. (Haydock)
Pastors, who are chosen against their will, sometimes pay so much attention to the welfare of their flock, that they neglect their own interior, and fall into small faults, which Christ will know how to excuse and pardon, Ezechiel xxxiii. 2. (St. Bernard, ser. xxx.) (Calmet)
For we know that in the first days of the church, when the grace of our Redeemer had been preached, some of the Jews believed and others did not. Those who believed were despised by the unbelievers and suffered persecution as though they had been found guilty of taking the way of the Gentiles. Hence the church in their name cries out against those who had not converted: “I am black but beautiful, daughters of Jerusalem.” - "Commentary on the Song of Songs 32"
It adds, “I was dark and beautiful, O daughters of Jerusalem.” I have to confess that I am astonished at how the church is here called dark and beautiful, since it is not possible for what is dark to be beautiful. How can something dark be so beautiful, or something beautiful be so dark? But pay attention to the mystery of the Word and see how elevated is the sense with which the Holy Spirit speaks. The church called herself dark on account of those from the Gentiles who would become believers, all of whom were seen to be blackened with the filthy smoke of idolatry and sepulcher of sacrifices. But they were made beautiful through faith in Christ and the holiness of the Spirit, whom they received. Hence she said, “I was dark” because she had not yet seen herself as the sun. - "Explanation of the Song of Songs 1.23–24"
The bride further speaks to her pupils of an amazing fact about herself in order that we might learn of the bridegroom’s immense love for humankind who added beauty to the beloved [bride] through such love. “Do not marvel,” she says, “that righteousness has loved me.” Although I have become dark through sin and have dwelt in gloom by my deeds, the bridegroom made me beautiful through his love, having exchanged his very own beauty for my disgrace. After taking the filth of my sins upon himself, he allowed me to share his own purity, and filled me with his beauty. He who first made me lovely from my own repulsiveness has showed his love for me.…
The bride says, although the beauty given to me by being loved by righteousness now shines forth, I still realize that in the beginning I was not radiant but black. My former life has created this dark, shadowy appearance. Although I am black, I am now this beautiful form, for the image of darkness has been transformed into beauty.…
Then the text...
“I am black and beautiful, daughters of Jerusalem.” I am a sinner, but even more, I am beautiful, because Christ loved me. “I am black and beautiful, daughters of Jerusalem.” All nations, come and gather and look at me, the beloved. “Do not marvel at my countenance because I am darkened or because the sun’s glance has made me swarthy.” … Nor is it because Christ has despised me, since [Scripture] calls him the true sun, for it says, “And the sun of righteousness will appear to you who fear my name.” - "Treatise on the Song of Songs 4.1–2"
Born, in the first instance, of such parentage we are naturally black. Even when we have repented, so long as we have not scaled the heights of virtue, we may still say, “I am black but comely, O daughters of Jerusalem.” … “For this cause shall a man leave his father and his mother and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be” not as is there said, “of one flesh” but “of one spirit.” Your bridegroom is not haughty or disdainful; he has “married an Ethiopian woman.” When once you desire the wisdom of the true Solomon and come to him, he will avow all his knowledge to you; he will lead you into his chamber with his royal hand. He will miraculously change your complexion so that it shall be said of you, “Who is this that goes up and has been made white?” - "Letter 22.1"