Monday, January 30, 2006

Clairity's Place on "The Marriage of Eros and Agape

I had planned to offer a reflection on Pope Benedict XVI's first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est. Then I discovered the joy of the blogosphere: there's always someone else that does a better job!

Clairity says, far more eloquently than I, what needs to be said regarding the Pope's encyclical.

In some lines which seem very familiar to those of us who read Fr. Giussani, the Pope wrote:
We have come to believe in God's love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.
This event is rooted historically in the Jewish experience of God's solicitude and preference for his people and is culminated in Christ's coming to us, gift of the Father, offering Himself on the Cross to unite all human beings to God definitively. The response to a love that is given to us is to return this love to God and neighbor. In contrast to an image of God associated with violence, the Pope wished to "speak of the love which God lavishes upon us and which we in turn must share with others."

The first part goes straight into an analysis of human love: "The Unity of Love in Creation and in Salvation History." The first headlines on this encyclical indicated surprise that the Pope was not speaking on those thorny "conservative" issues. Instead, Pope Benedict, as teacher, goes to the heart of the matter. Our whole notion of love needs to be overhauled.

He starts with language first, our way of communicating and ultimately thinking of everything, including the most vital subject of relationships. The problem is the one of tension between eros and agape. Eros is that phenomenon of falling in love, of ecstasy, which can be overpowering. In some way, in such an experience we can feel we lose ourselves and achieve a happiness which goes beyond our temporal limits. It can also be a trap. In literature, eros is sometimes portrayed as an illness when it becomes obsessive and destructive, as with Proust's "Captive" or Maugham's Of Human Bondage. Agape, the preferred word for the early Christians, seemed to distance itself from the former self-seeking type of love in favor of one which seeks a union in sacrifice for the other.

The Pope takes on Nietzsche's accusation that Christianity had poisoned eros, relegating it to the category of sin. He traces eros back to the fertility cults in the pagan religions and temple prostitution. The Jewish people were forbidden this kind of idolatrous and exploitive practice. Love was a choice made by God for a people, and the covenant was the way to live in faithful relationship with Him. The commandments they were given are rooted in the creation of the world, to restore the relationship between the person and God and by consequence the relations between individuals. The Pope underlined that we are made body and soul, and any view that denies one or the other is ultimately dehumanizing and degrading. Instead love implies more.
Do yourself a favor: Go read her entire post. You can thank me later!

Why are you still here?