Concluding Unscientific Postscript

There is no conclusion to the history of love. On the other hand, after wading through just a few of the innumerable stories and philosophical and theological reflections on love, it may be possible to provide a perspective under the rubric of Kierkegaard's suggestive phrase: ''Concluding Unscientific Postscript.''

Throughout the above pell-mell rush through a few millennia of views on love I have used the terms ''eros'' and ''agape'' as conceptual entrees to sort through the fundamental Hellenistic and biblical sources informing Western reflections. Now I have much greater appreciation of C. S. Lewis's reflection in the ''Introduction'' to his The Four Loves: ''I was looking forward to writing some easy panegyrics of the first sort of love [God's ''Gift-love''] and disparagements of the second [Plato's ''Need-love'']. And much of what I was going to say still seems to me to be true.'' But, Lewis continues, ''I cannot now deny the name love to Need-love. Every time I have tried to think the thing out alone those lines I have ended in puzzles and contradictions. The reality is more complicated than I supposed.''

''The reality is more complicated than I supposed.'' It occurs to me now that another paradigm may also serve as a clue to the relationship of need and gift to love. Perhaps we could think of the interaction of the twin sources of our culture's views on love in terms of a tale of two banquets. The two banquets are Plato's Symposium and the biblical accounts of the Messianic banquet including Jesus's last supper. The former celebrates love as the means for transcendence, for ascent from this world of illusion, disappointment, and death to the world of ideas, the ''real'' world of beauty and the good. The consequent orientation to life is eudaemonism - the drive for happiness, for well-being. The latter celebrates love as imminent relationships in this world in the midst of failure and death. In Isaiah, God's ''everlasting covenant,'' his ''steadfast, sure love for David'' is the basis for inviting the poor to a joyful banquet. ''Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price'' (Isa. 55:1-3). The banquet is inclusive. ''The Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear'' (Isa. 25:6). The examples can be multiplied from the manna of the Exodus to the oil and bread of Elisha to the feedings of the multitudes in the New Testament. The theme of food runs throughout the Gospel of Luke. Here too the banquet is inclusive. ''The Son of Man has come eating and drinking'' and is called ''a glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'' (Luke 7:34). God is the host of the banquet from the Passover celebration to the Last Supper symbolized in the words ''for you'' and ''for many.'' The Last Supper banquet is both the echo of Israel's Passover celebration of deliverance from bondage and the conclusion to the ''first of his [Jesus's] signs,'' the changing of water into wine - some 180 gallons! - at the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11). The consequent orientation to life is eucharistia - thanksgiving - that extends to and includes others.

More often than not, artists are able vividly to portray and evoke what historians and theologians pile up words to express and attempt to explain. Nowhere, I think, has the banquet image been more beautifully portrayed than in Isak Dinesen's (Karen Blixen, 1885-1962) short story ''Babette's Feast'' and its much discussed film version. Babette, a famous Parisian chef, in flight for her life from a revolt that has killed her husband and son, is almost literally washed up upon a small Scandinavian village of Lutheran Pietists. Taken in by the daughters of the deceased pastor, Martine and Philippa (named for the Reformers Martin Luther and Philipp Mel-anchthon), Babette becomes their maid. After 14 years in the community of aging Pietists, the faithful remnant of the pastor's ministry, Babette learns she has won 10,000 francs in the French lottery. When the daughters contemplate commemorating the 100th anniversary of their father's birth, Babette convinces them to allow her to prepare a celebration dinner. Unbeknownst to the sisters, Babette spends all her money to prepare one of her famous meals from her past life as chef at the Cafe Anglais in Paris, meals described as ''a kind of love affair which one no longer distinguishes between bodily and spiritual appetite or satiety!'' Dinesen invokes one biblical banquet image after another as she tells this story: manna, the wedding at Cana, exotic wines with every course, the 12 guests, and the piece de resistance of the meal - cailles en sarcophage (quails in pastry shells) - that evokes both the manna of the Exodus and Jesus's three days in the tomb. The participants, each burdened with the regrets and sins accumulated through long lives, are transformed by the gratuitous presence of such abundance of food, wine, and love. Toward the end of the banquet, an outsider to the small group, General Loewenhielm, who in his youth had fallen in love with Martine but had left her for a successful worldly career rose and gave a speech:

''Man, my friends,'' said General Loewenhielm, ''is frail and foolish. We have all of us been told that grace is to be found in the universe. But in our human foolishness and short-sightedness we imagine divine grace to be finite. For this reason we tremble. . . . But the moment comes when our eyes are opened, and we see and realize that grace is infinite. Grace, my friends, demands nothing from us but that we shall await it with confidence and acknowledge it in gratitude. Grace brothers makes no conditions and singles out none of us in particular; grace takes us all to its bosom and proclaims general amnesty. See! that which we have chosen is given us, and that which we have refused is, also and at the same time, granted us. Ay, that which we have rejected is poured upon us abundantly. For mercy and truth have met together, and righteousness and bliss have kissed one another!''

The dialogues and conflicts over love in Western culture are reflected in General Loewenhielm's speech. Is it not ''perhaps too rarely considered,'' asks Josef Pieper, ''that even the very first stirrings of love contain an element of gratitude? But gratitude is a reply; it is knowing that one has been referred to something prior, in this case to a larger frame of universal reference____''

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