Thursday, February 02, 2006

Happy Feast of the Purification of Our Lady!

If your parish wasn't blessing candles, that's just a shame.

Deus Caritas Est is the real deal. I'm only halfway through it (yes, I know, I should appropriate more time for reading), but it's incredible.

Benedict tackles, among many other things, a question that I've come to again and again (with varying degrees of understanding): the relation between eros and agape*. My journals tackle it again and again: is the one to be abandoned for the other? Are they distinct, and can they add to each other? How do they, how should they, intertwine in our human loves? In our love for God?

Of course, Benedict goes and writes exactly what I've been trying to grasp this whole time.

In philosophical and theological debate, these distinctions have often been radicalized to the point of establishing a clear antithesis between them: descending, oblative love—agape—would be typically Christian, while on the other hand ascending, possessive or covetous love —eros—would be typical of non-Christian, and particularly Greek culture. Were this antithesis to be taken to extremes, the essence of Christianity would be detached from the vital relations fundamental to human existence, and would become a world apart, admirable perhaps, but decisively cut off from the complex fabric of human life. Yet eros and agape—ascending love and descending love—can never be completely separated. The more the two, in their different aspects, find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realized. Even if eros is at first mainly covetous and ascending, a fascination for the great promise of happiness, in drawing near to the other, it is less and less concerned with itself, increasingly seeks the happiness of the other, is concerned more and more with the beloved, bestows itself and wants to “be there for” the other. The element of agape thus enters into this love, for otherwise eros is impoverished and even loses its own nature. On the other hand, man cannot live by oblative, descending love alone. He cannot always give, he must also receive. Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift. Certainly, as the Lord tells us, one can become a source from which rivers of living water flow (cf. Jn 7:37-38). Yet to become such a source, one must constantly drink anew from the original source, which is Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows the love of God (cf. Jn 19:34).


The whole encyclical is worth reading, whether you're Catholic or not. Even Barbara was so impressed by the introduction that she asked to bring a copy of it to her Quaker Meeting.

What a Pope we are blessed to have!

*C.S. Lewis writes on agape and eros in The Four Loves, but I find myself rather unsatisfied with the conclusion of that book. I'm not sure I can entirely articulate why, but it strikes me as a little too wary of earthy passion in our love for God. As much as Lewis writes positively about what he calls Need-Love, it seems that he still finds it a bit aesthetically distasteful (see especially the ending, in which he says that the highest must be a purely Appreciative love for God). The abandon and passion of St. Therese's love for God weighs more heavily on me.

No comments: