Love in the Modern World

Hell Really Exists

Hell Really Exists

Get Instant Access

Love in the modern world took a number of trajectories. While Wichern and others were striving to respond to the social and economic challenges of their day, their colleagues in philosophy and theology were responding to the intellectual challenges posed by the rise of the sciences, both natural and social. Meanwhile, writers of novels, poetry, plays, and operas were luxuriating in a public market that could not get enough love-stories.

The discovery of religion as a historical human phenomenon, Enlightenment philosophy, and the developing natural scientific method began severely eroding the traditional foundations of religion. If Christianity, and thus its contributions to the understandings and expressions of love, were to survive it would be, according to Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), a Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone. Kant challenged his contemporaries to think for themselves, ''have the courage to make use of your own understanding.'' The courageous person dares to become autonomous. By this, Kant did not mean do whatever you want but rather emancipation from every form of heteronomy, from all laws external to oneself be they parental, societal, ecclesiastical, or religious. True autonomy is ''self-law'' in obedience to the universal law of reason. Love as an affect therefore cannot be commanded, but love understood in Kant's terms as the ''categorical imperative'' (acting on that principle that could be a universal law governing everyone's actions) can be commanded. If you ought, Kant famously stated, then you can.

Duty and reason, however, proved an unsatisfying diet to the succeeding generation. Kant's disinterested benevolence held no promise of bliss for the reaction to the Enlightenment known as Romanticism. The ''disenchantment of the world,'' as Max Weber so famously described the effect of philosophy and science, had to be countered by the re-enchantment of the world through love. That was the self-appointed task of Romanticism. Romanticism is notoriously difficult to define; perhaps its elusiveness is due to its yearning for individual fulfillment that always appeared one step beyond realization. The dynamic power in Romanticism is the conviction that the infinite is present in the finite but that no particular form can contain it. We noticed this dynamic in the Greek eros - and it is probably no accident that this is the period of new appreciation and translation of Plato. The Romantic eros now is not merely directed vertically in ascent, but horizontally as well. The infinite is not only above, it is ahead promising new possibilities. The downside of this perspective is that the infinite also extends down into the demonic depths of the soul. Hence, the ''father'' of existentialism, Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) coined the concept of ''angst'' and penned The Concept of Dread and The Sickness Unto Death.

Kierkegaard also gave voice to the corollary of the Romantic eros in his The Concept of Irony. Tillich discusses the Romantic sense of ''irony'' as the superiority of the infinite to every finite expression, driving beyond each finite expression to another.

The ego is thus free from bondage to concrete situations whether they are the forms of faith, personal relationships, or the various sociological forms of family, church, and politics. Irony may be used to reveal that what was believed to be reality is not that reality. Irony can be a disruptive force with the power to undo texts and readers alike. Within Romanticism there is an ironical elevation of the individual beyond his or her situation in life. In the Athenaeum Fragments, Friedrich Schlegel (1772-1829), one of the leaders of the Romantic Movement, emphasized becoming over being: The ''true essence'' of Romantic is ''that it is always in the process of becoming and can never be completed.'' ''[I]t alone is free and recognizes as its first law that the poetic will submits itself to no other law.'' While this had a certain exhilarating liberation in questioning communal standards, it could also lead to a sense of emptiness by eroding tradition, beliefs, and ethics. Such a consequence occurred with Schlegel himself who converted to Roman Catholicism in search of an authoritative system with given content and form.

Similarly, Schlegel's friend Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg, 1772-1801), who according to Barth ''represents in a uniquely pure way the intentions and achievements of this entire group [of Romantic writers],'' was leaning toward Roman Catholicism by the end of his short life. Novalis' poem ''Hymns to the Night'' expressed his passion and grief over the early death at 15 of his fiancee, Sophie von Kiihn. He himself died soon afterward from tuberculosis at the age of 29. His major unfinished writing, a critique of the Enlightenment ideal of reason and utilitarianism, was Heinrich von Ofterdingen, a fairy tale of a young medieval poet who searches for the mysterious blue flower of his dream. The ''blue flower,'' becoming a central symbol of Romanticism, stood for desire, love; a longing for home and a longing for the infinite. In the course of Heinrich's search, he finds that the blue flower is the maiden Matilda who reveals to him the metaphysical power of love fundamental for the redemption of the world and its transition into the golden age. Heinrich, the hero of the novel, is based upon a historical figure, a medieval troubadour. Here the romantic idealization of the Middle Ages is both the poetic counter to the Enlightenment and the transitional period to the golden age when the self will be in All and All in the self; nature, self, and spirit will be one.

The means to this transition is woman. Romantics idolized female subjectivity - women are their muses. Life is exalted through ardent fantasy; fairy tales and poetry. Heinrich senses immortality through Matilda: ''Of what use is a spirit without a heaven to dwell in? and you are the heaven that upholds and supports me____I cannot comprehend eternity except through my love for you. We are eternal because we love.'' Novalis affirmed love to be the primal foundation of the universe: ''Love is the goal of the world's history - the Amen of the universe.'' The languages of love and religion become interchangeable. '''O beloved, heaven has given you to me to worship. I pray to you, you are the saint who carries my wishes to the ear of God, through whom he reveals himself to me, through whom he declares to me the abundance of his love. What is religion but an unlimited understanding, an eternal union of loving hearts?... You are... eternal life in most alluring guise . . . I swear to be yours eternally, Matilda, as truly as love, God's presence, is with us.''' Novalis influenced generations of German writers including Rainer Maria Rilke, Hermann Hesse, and Thomas Mann.

Baumer notes that the romantics talked freely and at length about the unconscious. ''The unconscious was used to explain not only the creative process but also the 'night side' of human life, the world of dreams, monsters, and apparitions. In dreams the soul, precisely because it is withdrawn from sense impressions, has contact with divine reality, thus enabling the

'hidden poet' in man to emerge.'' For Heinrich von Ofterdingen, dreams are ''heavenly gifts'' which rend the veil of our inward nature and guide us ''in our pilgrimage to the holy tomb.'' Love in the dramas of the genre was a primitive unconscious force, sweeping people away by elemental passions. But this may be a two-edged sword for dreams can also be nightmares, revealing not only ''heavenly gifts'' but demonic forces. Such a nightmarish quality appears in some of Francisco Goya's (1746-1828) art where frightful apparitions rise from the depths of the unconscious. In his well-known engraving ''The Dream of Reason Produces Monsters'' reason forsakes man. Edvard Munch's (1863-1944) ''The Scream,'' before its banalization on T-shirts, was also shocking. And his erotic ''Madonna'' with its original framing by sperms and skulls depicts the old theme of the intimate relationship of eros and thanatos, love and death. That great exponent of the power of negative thinking Arthur Schopenhauer (17881860) posited that in this worst of all possible worlds there is a worm in every apple, and humankind is propelled by its heartless and egoist will to survive. The dark side of eros is seen in Schopenhauer's blind ''will to live'' (The World as Will and Idea, 1818). Humankind's endless striving only creates suffering and strife, and reveals love as delusional and illusional.

The Romantic yearning for the Infinite like the ancient and medieval imagery of ascent expresses the Platonic Eros. In this context, Schlegel initiated a critical German translation of Plato with Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), one of the most influential theologians between the Reformation and the twentieth century. At the time, Schleiermacher was a young pastor in Berlin. Berlin was rapidly becoming the hub of German Romanticism, and Schleiermacher soon joined one of the renowned literary circles, the salon of Henrietta Herz, that included Friedrich Schlegel. After Schlegel abandoned the

Plato translation project, Schleiermacher completed it, and it remains a landmark of Plato scholarship.

The Romantic endorsement of passion over convention was scandalously promoted in Schlegel's Lucinde (1799), a somewhat incoherent praise of romantic love and marriage as the encounter with the divine source of life. In contrast to the ''mere concubinage'' and ''slavery'' of bourgeois marriage, the Romantics stressed women's individuality and freedom. Schleiermacher's own relationships with women became ''a matter,'' in the words of Clements, ''which has by turns embarrassed and intrigued his biographers and commentators.'' His close friendship with Henrietta Herz was a source of Berlin gossip though they both maintained their mutual attraction was intellectual and spiritual. A more tumultuous relationship was with Eleonore Grunow, the unhappily married wife of a fellow Berlin pastor. Schleiermacher began courting her soon after they met in 1799. Clements states that their relationship was ''virtually a secret betrothal.'' Schleiermacher hoped his urging that she would divorce her husband would lead to their marriage. After some years of indecision, however, she decided to remain in her marriage. Redeker states: ''Schleiermacher held the view that in marriage every woman had an inalienable right to her own individuality. This romantic conception of individuality was for him in agreement with the view that a marriage in which a woman is prevented by the moral unworthiness of the other partner from developing her own individuality is no longer a marriage but a subversion of mankind's holiest bonds. Therefore, he considered it his duty to dissolve such a marriage which was really no marriage.'' He later reversed his view and believed marriage is indissoluble.

Schleiermacher's literary contribution to the salon set was On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers (1799). On Religion argues that the cultured of his day reject religion for the wrong reasons; they mistake externals for essence. Rational analysis of religion is not equivalent to understanding and feeling religion. ''The members and juices of an organized body can be dissected; but take these elements now and mix them and treat them in every possible way; and will you be able to make heart's blood of them? Once dead, can it ever again move in a living body?'' In short, after the frog has visited the biology lab he loses his ''frogness.'' In order to understand the world and religion, Schleiermacher argued, one ''must first have found humanity, and he finds it only in and through love.'' Religion is ''the immediate feeling of the Infinite and Eternal'' not some utilitarian or higher hedonism aimed at eternal rewards. Religion is not a system of theory or morality; rather religion is ''feeling,'' ''an immediate self-consciousness.''

The Romantic themes of yearning, feeling, intuition, and irony may be seen in Schleiermacher's ''Second Speech'' where he speaks of the human ''endeavor to return into the

Whole, and to exist for oneself at the same time____How now are you in the Whole? By your senses. And how are you for yourselves? By the unity of your self-consciousness, which is given chiefly in the possibility of comparing the varying degrees of sensation.'' He then describes the nature of religious experience in erotic terms.

[I]t is bashful and tender as a maiden's kiss, it is holy and fruitful as a bridal embrace. Nor is it merely like, it is all this. It is the first contact of the universal life with an individual.

...It is the holy wedlock of the Universe with the incarnated Reason for a creative, productive embrace... .You lie directly on the bosom of the infinite world. In that moment, you are its soul. Through one part of your nature you feel, as your own, all its powers and its endless life. In that moment it is your body, you pervade, as your own, its muscles and members and your thinking and forecasting set its inmost nerves in motion. In this way every living, original movement in your life is first received.

A reorientation to the theological concept of love came with Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872), whose works were influential upon numerous modern thinkers including Karl Marx (1818-1883), Friedrich Engels (1820-1895), and foreshadowed both Martin Buber's (1878-1965) I and Thou, and Sigmund Freud's (1856-1939) The Future of an Illusion. Feuerbach went to study theology at the University of Heidelberg where he was soon convinced that philosophy had much more to offer than ''the web of sophisms'' he heard from his professor.

Feuerbach's most famous work, The Essence of Christianity, appeared in 1841 and immediately created a furor about his theory of religion as projection. Christianity (he later extended his theory to all religions) is the projection of human fears, hopes, and love which then are labeled God. In short, as he famously asserted: ''Theology is anthropology.'' ''Religion, at least the Christian, is the relation of man to himself,... The divine being is nothing else than the human being, or, rather, the human nature purified, freed from the limits of the individual. . . . All the attributes of the divine nature are, therefore, attributes of the human nature.'' ''The personality of God is nothing else than the projected personality of man'' ''freed from all the conditions and limitations of Nature.'' Having gained his contemporaries' attention, Feuerbach went on to assert that to negate the subject - God - does not mean to negate the predicates (wisdom, love, justice). The real atheist, he insisted, is the person who theoretically acknowledges God and lives as if God did not exist; that is, lives without love. The praise of love pervades The Essence of Christianity.

It was love to which God sacrificed his divine majesty. And what sort of love was that? another than ours?... Was it the love of himself?... No! it was love to man. But is not love to man human love? Can I love man without loving him humanly, without loving him as he himself loves, if he truly loves? Would not love be otherwise a devilish love? The devil too loves man, but not for man's sake - for his own; thus he loves man out of egotism, to aggrandize himself, to extend his power. But God loves man for man's sake, i.e., that he may make him good, happy, blessed____For though there is also a self-interested love among men, still the true human love, which alone is worthy of the name, is that which impels the sacrifice of self to another.

In this sense ''religion is man's consciousness of himself in his concrete or living totality, in which the identity of self-consciousness exists only as the pregnant complete unity of I and thou.'' Our neighbor is not an ''it'' to be used but a person, a ''thou.'' ''The other is my thou, ...In another I first have the consciousness of humanity; my love to him it is clear to me that he belongs to me and I to him, that we two cannot be without each other, that only community constitutes humanity.''

The humanness of love is revealed in the family. ''The highest and deepest love is the mother's love.'' ''Love is in and by itself essentially feminine in nature. The belief in the love of God is the belief in the feminine principle as divine. Love apart from living nature is an anomaly, a phantom.'' ''Love especially works wonders, and the love of the sexes most of all. Man and woman are the complement of each other, and thus united they first present the species, the perfect man____[I]n love, man declares himself unsatisfied in his individuality taken by itself, he postulates the existence of another as a need of the heart; he reckons another as part of his own being; he declares the life which he has through love to be the truly human life____''

We might describe Feuerbach's project to be the description of God as a creative fiction to enable the liberation of a creative love in both agapaic and erotic forms for the ''thou.''

In contrast, we might describe the work of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) to be the description of God as a destructive fiction to enable a destructive love that attacks humankind by suppressing the erotic will to power in favor of the weakest members of the species. Nietzsche, educated at the universities of Bonn and Leipzig became a professor of classical philology at the Swiss University of Basel. Lonely and in perpetual poor health, Nietzsche resigned his post in 1879. His writings were largely ignored until the end of his life, but by then he had suffered a complete mental breakdown and died insane. It is of interest that his well known work, Die fröhliche Wissenschaft (The Gay Science, 1882, wherein he proclaimed the death of God) was inspired by the songs of the troubadours, and that its reissue added an appendix of songs echoing those of the troubadours. From his study of Greek philosophy, Nietzsche developed his ''Dionysian'' theme of transforming the tragedy of life through withstanding and thereby transforming suffering. So in Thus Spake Zarathustra, Nietzsche stated: ''I should only believe in a God that would know how to dance.'' Dionysius, the god of life-affirming joy, of erotic will to power should displace Jesus, the god of decadent love for the weak who ought to be eliminated. The will to power, i.e., the will to life, to self-affirmation, is Beyond Gööd and Evil. Those who successfully pursue and realize power are ''supermen,'' a thesis he pursues in On the Geneölögy öf Morals. Christian love, agape, is antithetical to Nietzsche's ideal because self-giving or sacrificing love is the impotent morality of slaves who resent the strong and project revenge in terms of heaven and hell. That is why Christianity appealed to the marginalized of the Roman Empire who could only adopt a ''slave morality'' in contrast to ''master morality.'' Feelings of guilt, the ''bad conscience,'' are the results of the unhealthy Christian morality that thwarts our natural inclinations. His disdain for Christianity was one of the reasons for his break with his one-time close friend

Richard Wagner (1813-1883), whose Parsifal Nietzsche considered a hypocritical obeisance to Christianity.

Nietzsche's writings, often in aphoristic form, have been influential on modern art, philosophy, and psychology. Freud, for example, was amazed by Nietzsche's insights. Examples of Nietzsche's aphorism's on love abound in his Beyond Good and Evil: Whoever first expressed love of humankind ''for God's sake . . . let him for all time be holy and respected, as the man who has so far flown highest and gone astray in the finest fashion!'' Christianity makes ''a sublime abortion of man.'' ''Not their love of humanity, but the impotence of their love, prevents the Christians of today [from] burning us.'' ''Even concubinage has been corrupted - by marriage.'' ''In revenge and in love woman is more barbarous than man.'' ''Christianity gave Eros poison to drink; he did not die of it, certainly, but degenerated to Vice.'' ''One loves ultimately one's desires, not the thing desired.'' Nietzsche's misogynism, while not unique to his time, also expressed his aphoristic skills. In Thus Spake Zarathustra, Nietzsche wrote: ''Everything in woman is a riddle, and everything in woman hath one solution - it is called pregnancy.'' Peter Gay notes that ''To be a woman and to be Christian is, for Nietzsche, practically the same thing. Woman, physically feeble, needs a 'religion of weakness, which she glorifies as divine,' in order to be 'weak, to love, to be humble'____'' Nygren notes: ''Nietzsche quite rightly saw that

Christian love means the transvaluation of those values of antiquity which he himself valued most highly;...''

''Love'' had a novelistic bonanza in the nineteenth century when, as Peter Gay notes, ''love dominated the fiction of civilized countries.'' One of these writers is Stendhal (Marie-Henri Beyle, 1783-1842). After working in the French administration and participating in Napoleon's Russian campaign, Stendhal settled in Italy. While he gained a reputation as a womanizer, his empathy toward women and their emancipation is evident in his novels, the most famous of which are The Red and the Black and The Charterhouse of Parma. Unique among the Romantics, however, he also wrote an analysis of ''the malady called Love,'' De l'Amour (On Love). He attributed the boredom and emptiness of bourgeois marriages to pervasive male chauvinism that wants women to be empty-headed ''Barbie dolls'' while at the same time dutifully maintaining the household. Stendhal argued love cannot exist without mutual esteem, and that means the liberation of women from a culturally imposed domesticity and for education and development of imagination. A cultured imagination, he argued, is essential to love.

Stendhal invented the term ''crystallization'' for the birth and growth of love. Love is like a bare branch thrown into a salt mine that with time becomes covered with glittering crystals. Love endows the beloved with crystals of beauty and desirability as the salt did with the bare branch. The process in relation to the one who becomes loved occurs in steps of admiration, acknowledgment of response, hope of gaining the other's love, and delight in overrating the beauty and merit of the beloved. Love relativizes beauty; the lover's eye sees beyond faults and ennobles them. So he wrote that ''Love is the only passion that mints the coin to pay its own expenses.'' Thus ''doubt is the natural outcome of crystallization.'' Is this an echo of Schopenhauer's view that love is delusional and illusional? Ortega y Gasset thinks that ''the theory of 'crystallization' is pessimistic. It tries to show that what we consider normal functions of our spirit are nothing more than special cases of abnormality.'' ''[T]he external object for which we live [is] a mere projection of the individual.'' He continues: ''with the theory of 'crystallization' . . . a man loves only what is lovable, what is worthy of being loved.'' Here again, we see a variation on the old theme of eros. Briimmer says that for Stendhal love dies without continual fantasy to keep it alive. ''In this sense Stendhal's lover is in fact a solipsist. His love is not directed to a real person, but only to the products of his own fantasy. His love creates its own object.''

We began with the oft-noted observation that the concept of love in Western culture has roots in both Greco-Roman culture and biblical culture. In our whirlwind tour through the ages we have seen the main expressions - eros and agape -as rivals, opponents, and, at times, siblings. We close our kaleidoscope of history with two major modern representatives of these views: Anders Nygren and Paul Tillich.

The seminal modern study of the concept of love is Anders Nygren's Agape and Eros. Nygren (1890-1978), student and then Professor of Theology at Lund University in Sweden, became the bishop of Lund in 1948 and was ecumenically active as President of the Lutheran World Federation and in the Faith and Order department of the World Council of Churches. Agape and Eros, written originally in Swedish in two parts, ''A Study in the Christian Idea of Love'' (1930) and ''The History of the Christian Idea of Love'' (1936), appeared nearly immediately in German and English translations. McGinn refers to this book as ''[t]he most famous modern investigation of the relations of agape and eros in the history of Christian thought. . . . '' Likewise, Outka terms Nygren's book ''[t]he most influential formulation of the content of God's grace or agape (used interchangeably in this case), especially for Protestants. . . . '' Others, especially Roman Catholic scholars such as Burnaby and D'Arcy, are critical of Nygren's disjunction of eros and agape and see it as the source of Nygren's mistaken interpretations of various historical figures, especially Augustine and Thomas. Hampson highlights the significance of Nygren's study with an entire chapter titled ''Nygren's Detractors.'' Attestations to the influence, pro and con, of Nygren's study are legion for his work shaped the contemporary discussion of love beyond the field of religious studies while also providing the basic vocabulary for the discussion. A case in point is Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (2005; Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, contributed the entry on the history of the theology of love to the 1961 edition of the Lexikon fUr Theologie und Kirche), the first part of which discusses the vocabulary of eros and agape. It would take us too far afield into ecumenics to discuss thoroughly the Pope's encyclical. What is interesting in relation to our survey is Benedict's emphasis upon the unity of eros and agape, his positive view of ancient ladder imagery depicting eros as ascent in ecstasy toward God, and his bold use of the medieval fascination with the rare naming of God as Eros by the fifth-century Neoplatonist, Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopa-gite; in short, the Augustinian synthesis of eros and agape and the Thomistic nature-grace continuity are alive and well in Benedict's encyclical. Thus Benedict's criticism of Nygren's study, without naming him, is not surprising. Nor is it a surprise to read the specific condemnations of Nygren's work in the numerous Roman Catholic commentaries on the encyclical. Hampson argues that such Catholic criticisms and condemnations arise from a basic misunderstanding of Nygren's work due to the tendency to equate eros with creation and agape with redemption, i.e., the schema of nature and grace in which grace completes nature. Hampson's point is that this misunderstanding reflects different thought structures between Catholic and Protestant theologies.

Agape and Eros is the fruit of Nygren's method of analysis, motif research. By use of this method, Nygren intended to set forth and to clarify the distinctive character of the Christian concept of love and its role in the history of Christianity. A premise of motif research is that similar concepts may have different or even antithetical meanings dependent upon their basic presuppositions. We sometimes experience this in conversations that can veer off in a direction that may surprise us when our conversation partner understands a word we use in a quite different sense than we intended. In his ''Translator's Preface'' to Agape and Eros, Philip Watson explains that the motif concealed behind similar or identical terms and expressions is discovered as the answer that is supplied by any given system to a fundamental question. Religion is generally defined as fellowship with the eternal, with God. Therefore, the question that explicates the fundamental motif of any religious system is: ''How is fellowship with God conceived; how is it supposed to be realized; in what does it consist? The answer to this question reveals the fundamental motif of the religion under discussion.''

According to this method, the fundamental motif in Christianity is love, defined as agape. But, Nygren argues, the agape motif in Christianity has not gone uncontested; it has had to struggle constantly against the non-Christian motif of eros. It is critical to understand that ''eros'' here is not equivalent to ''creation,'' ''nature,'' ''libido,'' or to ''erotic'' in the sense of sexuality. Rather, eros in Nygren's study is the Hellenistic philosophical and theological effort to acquire God, to achieve salvation. Echoing the older Protestant Liberal view of the Hellenization of the Gospel, Nygren argues that Western theology synthesized the self-giving love of the Christian revelation (agape) with the aspiring, acquisitive love (eros) of Greco-Roman philosophy and religion. According to Nygren, this synthesis has distorted both types of love because agape and eros are diametrically opposed loves. Agape is primarily God's love, even when expressed by humans. Agape is a descending love, from God to humankind. Agape is completely unselfish; it is sacrificial giving. Agape loves the other and thereby creates value in the other. Eros, on the other hand, is acquisitive desire; it is the ascending movement of human attempts to reach God (however perceived). Eros is egocentric and is the highest form of self-assertion. It is primarily an acquisitive desire that loves its object for the value it recognizes in it. The opposition between agape and eros may be expressed with the theological epigram that salvation is received not achieved. In Western Christian history, the synthesis of eros with agape has been graphically expressed in the image of the divinely provided ladder to heaven by which humankind climbs toward God.

The criticisms of Nygren's argument that agape and eros are two diametrically opposed loves basically make two points. One is that while his diagrammatic approach is helpful in clarifying motifs present in the conception of love as seen in the history of Christian thought, the clarification is jeopardized by the danger of misinterpretation inherent in over-system-atization. The other point is that Nygren ends his study of the history of the Christian idea of love with Martin Luther who, Nygren claims, destroyed the synthesis of eros and agape and restored a purely theocentric relationship to God. Luther appears as the capstone to Nygren's thesis of agape and eros. Luther takes the normative position on Christian love. According to Nygren, Luther's ''Copernican revolution'' on the subject of love definitively settles the issue between eros and agape. Just as Copernicus shifted the Western understanding of the world from geocentric to heliocentric, so Luther shifted the understanding of religion from anthropocentric to theo-centric, from eros to agape, from love to faith. Gunther and Link in their article on love in the New Testament make a similar point: ''agape [is] very close to concepts like pistis, -faith, dikaiosyne, - righteousness and, charis - grace, which all have a single point of origin in God alone.'' In his attack on egoistic or anthropocentric religion, Nygren shared the orientation of the Continental dialectical theologians such as Karl Barth who saw in the Enlightenment and then the Liberal theology prior to World War I the twin problems of the humanization of God and the divinization of humankind so famously expressed by Ludwig Feuerbach in the assertions that love is God, and theology is anthropology.

It is often argued that Nygren's method of motif research is reductionist and does not do justice to the historical material. It is not surprising that Roman Catholic scholars would respond to Nygren by emphasizing that his one-sided emphasis upon agape to the exclusion of eros leaves no place for any properly human response to God. The Jesuit scholar M. C. D'Arcy argues that a love that excludes the self is no love at all, and that the consequence of Nygren's position is to eliminate human love altogether. That is, the stress upon agape and the removal of all self-love eliminates the person as person. Hampson retorts that D'Arcy's book is ''about many things and clarity is not its greatest asset! D'Arcy is a neo-Platonist or Augustinian, a Thomist, and also very much a Jesuit. It will not surprise us by now that he thoroughly misreads Nygren.''

Nygren's rigorous opposition of agape and eros is both affirmed and modified by another Protestant theologian, Karl Barth (1886-1968). Barth thinks Nygren's eyes ''are overshar-pened by the controversial theology of Sweden.'' And while Barth himself maintains the distinction between agape and eros, he questions whether this opposition can ever be fully overcome in history. Furthermore, agape is grounded in God's love for humankind, thus since its existence is not dependent upon its antithesis to eros, it does not need to insist upon this antithesis. ''[E]ven erotic man must and will be affirmed in and with the love which is from God - Christian love.''

Other critiques of Nygren's book focus on his interpretation of particular historical figures. Classicists and Plato scholars have been particularly offended. Osborne's work, for example, is directed against Nygren's contribution to ''a popular prejudice against Plato, and against the 'Platonic love' that is essential to true philosophy for Plato.'' Nygren responded to many of his critics by pointing out he was not making a value judgment about ideas or persons but rather positing an ideal typology to clarify thinking about the concept of love. In his ''Intellectual Autobiography'' Nygren states: ''The task of scientific scholarship is to describe not to evaluate. Again and again in my work it is emphasized that the terms agape and eros are not used as value judgements, but purely and exclusively as descriptions.'' Nygren makes the same point in his ''Reply to Interpreters and Critics.''

The Protestant theologian Paul Tillich (1886-1965) called for a more inclusive view of love and stressed the unity of love, power, and justice. In Love, Power, and Justice Tillich argued that distinctions about the nature of love as types rather than qualities are misleading. This error is avoided, Tillich claimed, by relating love to being. ''The ontology of love leads to the basic assertion that love is one.'' Tillich's point, echoing Plato as well as Paul, is that throughout human history there runs the experience of estrangement, of separation. ''Love is the drive towards the unity of the separated. Reunion presupposes separation of that which belongs essentially together. . . . Therefore love cannot be described as the union of the strange but as the reunion of the estranged. Estrangement presupposes original oneness. Love manifests its greatest power there where it overcomes the greatest separation. And the greatest separation is the separation of self from self.'' In terms of self-love, a person ''can love himself in terms of self-acceptance only if he is certain that he is accepted.'' Thus within the unity of love there is room for self-love, and self-love has a valid place within the Christian conception of love. ''Without the desire of man to be reunited with his origin, the love towards God becomes a meaningless word.'' The parallels of Tillich's views with those of Erich Fromm's The Art of Loving are striking.

Born and educated in Germany, Tillich was ordained a parish pastor and his early experience in a working class parish in Berlin was an impetus to his later advocacy of religious socialism. With the outbreak of World War I, he volunteered as a field chaplain and experienced the horrors of that war in a variety of places including Verdun. His academic dissertations on Shelling and Schleiermacher reflected his interest in the Romantic movement, and prepared him for an academic career in philosophy and theology. However his early criticism of National Socialism and Hitler barred Tillich from teaching in Germany, and in 1933 he accepted the invitation to teach at Union Theological Seminary in New York City (1933-1955). He then had successive positions at Harvard Divinity School (1955-1962) and the University of Chicago Divinity School (1962 -1965). From the outset, he understood himself to be a theologian of the boundaries where philosophy and theology, religion and culture, faith and politics, and - in terms of our interest - eros and agape met and interacted.

In Biblical Religion and the Search for Ultimate Reality Tillich asserted: ''The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the God of the philosophers is the same God.'' The prophet of agape is not in absolute opposition to the philosopher in quest of being itself.

Where agape (the biblical term for ''love'') is put into an absolute contrast to eros (the Platonic term for ''love''), no positive relation of biblical religion to ontology is seen. But this presupposes a distortion of the meaning both of agape and of eros. ... Eros drives the soul through all levels of reality to ultimate reality, to truth itself, which is the good itself. . . . Certainly agape adds a decisive element to the ancient idea of love, but it does not deny the drive for cognitive union with ultimate reality. Agape reaches down to the lowest, forgiving its estrangement and reuniting it with the highest. But agape does not contradict the desire for the highest; and a part of this desire is cognitive eros.

Philosophical discussions of ontology, of being united with Being, may provide profound insights into love; they can also create headaches and stomachaches. Tillich himself acknowledged that his sermons were more easily digested than his philosophical theology. Thus we turn to Tillich's sermons as the conclusion to his perspective.

Tillich based his sermon ''The Power of Love'' on the texts concerning the sheep and the goats at the Last Judgment (Matt. 25:31-40) and the Johannine statement that the person ''who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him'' (1 John 4:16).

God and love are not two realities; they are one.. ..Therefore, he who professes devotion to God may abide in God if he abides in love, or he may not abide in God if he does not abide in love. And he who does not speak of God may abide in Him if he is abiding in love. And since the manifestation of God as love is His manifestation in Jesus the Christ, Jesus can say that many of those who do not know Him, belong to Him, and that many of those who confess their allegiance to Him do not belong to Him. The criterion, the only ultimate criterion, is love.

Tillich then tells the story of Elsa Brandstrom, daughter of the Swedish ambassador to Russia during World War I, who, moved by seeing the German prisoners of war, became a nurse in prison camps. She witnessed and experienced ''unspeakable horrors'' and ''brutality'' while serving the sick, despairing, prisoners. After the war she initiated work for the orphans of German and Russian prisoners of war; and when forced out of Germany by the Nazis she moved to America to assist European refugees. Tillich, who knew her for some ten years, said:

We never had a theological conversation. It was unnecessary. She made God transparent in every moment. For God, who is love, was abiding in her and she in Him. She aroused the love of millions toward herself and towards that for which she was transparent - the God who is love____It is a rare gift to meet a human being in whom love - and this means God - is so overwhelmingly manifest. It undercuts theological arrogance as well as pious isolation. It is more than justice and it is greater than faith and hope. It is the presence of God Himself. For God is love. And in every moment of genuine love we are dwelling in God and God in us.

We began with allusions to the relationship of Eros and Thanatos, and we have seen the dark desire for death along our way, for example with Tristan and Isolde. The present time all too often seems to be equally enthralled by such life denial. We seem to have fallen in love with death. The monuments of the present are death (economic exploitation is perhaps a greater weapon of mass destruction than war) not love. Tillich personally knew the terrors of war - at 28 he wrote his father from the trenches: ''Hell rages around us. It's unimaginable.'' Later in Theology of Culture he referred to Picasso's painting of the bombing of Guernica as an outstanding example of the artistic expression of ''man's finitude, his subjection to death, but above all, his estrangement from his true being and his bondage to demonic forces - forces of self-destruction.'' Tillich himself knew these forces firsthand, yet he affirmed that ''love is stronger than death.'' In his sermon with that title, based on 1 John 3:14 (''He who does not love remains in death.''), he wrote:

But who can look at this picture [of destruction and death]? Only he who can look at another picture and beyond it - the picture of Love. For love is stronger than death. Every death means parting, separation, isolation, opposition and not participation. . . . Our souls become poor and disintegrate insofar as we want to be alone, insofar as we bemoan our misfortunes, nurse our despair and enjoy our bitterness, and yet turn coldly away from the physical and spiritual needs of others. Love overcomes separation and creates participation in which there is more than that which the individuals involved can bring to it. Love is the infinite which is given to the finite.

It is love, human and divine, which overcomes death in nations and generations and in all the horror of our time. Help has become almost impossible in the face of the monstrous powers which we are all experiencing. Death is given power over everything finite, especially in our period of history. But death is given no power over love. Love is stronger. It creates something new out of the destruction caused by death; it bears everything and overcomes everything It is omnipresent and here and there, in the smallest and most hidden ways as in the greatest and most visible ones, it rescues life from death. It rescues each of us, for love is stronger than death.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
The Power of Meditation

The Power of Meditation

Want to live a stress-free, abundant life? Discover The Power of Meditation And How It Can Work For You To Increase Your Success In Your Personal And Work Life. Use These Steps To Practice Meditation In Your Life And Business.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment