Skip to comments.Pope on divine love vs. erotic love
Posted on 01/04/2006 7:31:11 AM PST by klossg
Pope Benedict XVI may try to "save eros," in the first encyclical of his papacy, Chicago's Cardinal Francis George told the Chicago Sun-Times.
George expects the new pope will try to explain that erotic love, eros, and unconditional love, agape, are both inherently good in God's eyes in his encyclical titled "Deus, Caritas Est," Latin for "God is Love." An encyclical is a pope's most authoritative document, a pastoral letter circulated to the universal church.
Letter talks about Christ
The cardinal has not yet seen Benedict XVI's encyclical, which is expected to be released by the Vatican within days, but said he has "seen comments" about it. The pope has asked George to deliver an address about the major themes of the encyclical to a gathering of the pontifical charity organization Cor Unum in Rome at the end of the month, according to Colleen Dolan, the cardinal's spokeswoman.
Benedict XVI's first encyclical will likely "talk about Christ, which is a good thing for a pope to talk about in his first encyclical. John Paul II did that," George said. "And he is going to talk about the relationship between love and truth, between agape and eros."
Agape (pronounced "ah-gah-pay") is a Greek word, referring to unconditional love, the kind Catholic doctrine teaches God has for humankind. Eros was the Greek god of love, and his name has come to refer to sexual love or desire.
In the mid-1900s, Anders Nygren, a Lutheran bishop from Sweden, published a book called Eros and Agape, in which he concluded that agape is the only truly Christian kind of love.
"In a kind of Lutheran fashion, he distinguished between agape, the love of God in us, which is good; and eros, which is our own erotic life and desire, which turns us away from God," George said. "He said that in English 'love' is ambiguous and you have to distinguish between these two. And you do.
"What the pope is going to do is to try to save eros. That is to say that our own human love, our desires, are good in themselves. . . . The distinction between agape and eros is not a clean one. In fact, one influences the other and therefore both should be considered good. But we are sinful creatures, so they can be misused."
A pope's first encyclical is seen as setting the tone for the rest of his papacy. Pope John Paul II, who died in April, published 14 encyclicals during his 27-year pontificate.
What will it mean if Benedict XVI tackles the issue of erotic love versus divine love?
"It might be part of his overall program of trying to not let things become purely secularized and devoid of religious connection," the Rev. Donald Senior, president of Chicago's Catholic Theological Union, said by phone from Rome on Monday night.
'Purifying the church'
Senior is there for a meeting of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, which was led by Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, before he became pope in April.
"He has spoken about, in a couple of his statements already, a 'soulless materialism,' so trying to integrate human experience with the divine is really fundamental to him," Senior said.
"It may be that he's worried about a picture of human love or sexuality that is devoid of any connection to the divine. And in a strange way, it may be part of his response . . . to the clergy abuse crisis.
"He talked about 'purifying the church.' Maybe this is part of his way of doing it," Senior speculated.
The pope, who is said to have begun work on his first encyclical last summer, is a scholar of St. Augustine, who famously had a hard time reconciling erotic and divine love.
"Maybe he's going to try to repair Augustine a bit," Senior said, adding that he has not seen the encyclical and had expected it to be solely about Christology, or the study of Christ.
The pontiff's "focus is so much more dogmatic. Nevertheless, he does have a very emotional way of speaking. In his homilies and stuff, people have been noting that they're all very rich in imagery and much more affective than cerebral," Senior said. "Bavarians are very sentimental and romantic."
I stand corrected.
I guess he's cashing in on
Ann Darrow and Kong . . .
Eros love, acted upon between husband and wife - good.
Eros 'love', acted upon by one person with other persons based on 'feelings' that are impacted by silly things, such as the guy forgot to change his socks - bad.
It's a very interesting article. Thanks!
not like a movie
but more like God intended
ask Christopher West
Miles expected to find Augustine hating the body because that was the prejudice she and people like you start from. She was astonished to find the opposite. Her conclusion: Augustine always valued the body but the more he dug into the meaning of the Incarnation the greater his love of the body grew. Miles is not conservative Catholic but a liberal feminist.
I'm tired of people who have never actually read a work of Augustine and understood it dumping on Augustine as a misogynist, body-hater, predestinarian etc. Benedict XVI has read Augustine carefully, along with just about ever other significant theologian in the Christian tradition. You might actually learn something from him about Augustine if you dropped your prejudgments. Augustine doesn't need to be lectured to by Benedict XVI or by you and Benedict XVI is not lecturing to him or correcting him. So what gives you the authority to lecture to both of them?
Nygren's book is a crock. He misreads Catholicism right and left out of Reformation and secular/modern polemics. Moreover, most well-read Lutheran and Reformed theologians recognize that Nygren caricatured things, set up a straw-man Catholic eros in order to knock it down. Anyone who has read Augustine carefully recognizes that the very center of his entire theolgy is caritas, the Latin equivalent of Agape, but that he does not pit eros against agape. They are distinct but not inimical. Nygren could not see his way to keep them from being at least in part inimical. That was his fatal error. He distorts eros as much as he distorts agape.
I doubt that. What I don't doubt is that Protestants who set up straw-man caricatures of Catholicism to knock down, like your post, and presumably Nygren's book, does, aren't helping anyone to "just get along".
When you say stuff like this, and identify eros with Catholicism and agape with Protestantism, you're just setting up a tired Reformation polemic that contains no agape and vanishingly little truth, to boot.
On what does Nygren base his assumptions regarding the Catholic view of love?
Are you Lutheran? I am Catholic, btw.
Let us rid humanity of imposters.
We had a minister in a church in CA, that continually preached on this subject. The man was struggling with the fact that his wife divorced him because she didn't want to be a minister's wife and he just couldn't get past it. I was so tired of hearing about agape love.
Sinkspur, I could kiss you! (Blush. Note to my everlovin' husband Don-o: I mean, like, on the cheek, y'know?)
Defending honorable sexual love from shamefaced, starched-pajamas Manicheism/Jansenism on the one hand, and from let-it-all-hang-out-and-lick-our-balls-on-the-front-lawn junk-sex libertinism on the other...
Good sex, good times, good people, good marriages: in defense of all this, one would gladly give one's life!
It's so strange (wonderful strange)that the Catholic Church ends up being one of the main institutions in the 20th Century defending human rationality, that is, the human capacity (and duty) to seek out and know the truth; and one of the main institutions in the 21st century, defending honorable, natural, sexual love.
And ---- it hurts me to say it --- but it's while our stomachs are still turning over from the revelations, over the past 3 years especially, of wayward priests performing perverted homosexual acts on male youths. Goes the show the truth of the old saying, in relation to both (good) sex and (good) Church: The worst is the corruption of the best.
And for God's sake, you don't have to agree with me. Read JPII and Ratzinger on Augustine and caritas and eros and tell me where Nygren has it right and they have it wrong. Read Augustine on desiderium (desire) and it's proper role. Augustine, Gregory the Great, all the masters of Western theology insisted that desiderium, eros was good. It was inferior to caritas/agape, yes, but good. Jansenists and Buddhists are the ones who claim that desire is in itself evil and must be annihilated. Nothing could be further from Augustine or Gregory or the entire Western Catholic tradition. Desire is God-given. Ultimately the eros/desire imprinted in us is of God and toward God. When we give in to that eros/desiderium/yearning for God truly instead of misdirecting it entirely toward the creatures God made (idolatrous eros but for that reason not-true-eros at all), we sin and follow cupiditas rather than caritas. True caritas simply orients eros/desiderium toward it's true object, God. The two should work in harmony. That they don't is because of how we misuse them and it's called sin. All sin is a misuse of the naturally good eros/desire for God implanted deep within each of us.
You'd know this if you read De doctrina Christiana on use and enjoyment. True, God-given eros is a road to heaven that we travel here on earth. We need the road to get to heaven but if we turn the road itself into the goal, we'll never reach the destination it leads to, namely, caritas. Instead, we would then detour into idolatry.
Nygren accused Catholics of making eros into an idol, of getting off the road to caritas because of eros. He was just flat wrong about what Catholicism did in it's history. He was right about caritas as the ultimate goal, but that's exactly what Augustine taught and Nygren was wrong to claim that Augustine taught something else. He was wrong about the role played by eros in Catholic theology of the Middle Ages. I spent thirty years studying medieval monastic theologians. I noticed that eros/desiderium is central to their caritas theology but that caritas is superior. I researched where they got this from and discovered it came from Agustine via Gregory the Great and others. Read Jean Leclercq's book, The Love of Learning and Desire for God (1961) if you don't believe me.
I've just given you, in these three posts on this thread what I expect to be the guts of Benedict's encyclical. How can I do that? Because I know the tradition. It's very deep, very clear and I'll be very surprised if Benedict doesn't restate it something along the lines I've just outlined. It has implications for all of Christian society. It's exactly what JPII was doing with his "civilization of love" that applied caritas to everything from sexuality to politics to economics. Read his Love and Responsibility and you'll see how eros fits seamlessly into the phenomenological analysis of love, in the stages of attraction and desire which are good but incomplete if they do not lead on to spousal love which is his term for caritas.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!