''What is sweeter than honey? What is stronger than a lion?''
For Samson, that great athlete, sexual and otherwise, whose story is related in the book of Judges, the answer to the riddle is love. As the story progresses through Samson's affair with Delilah, we learn that love not only makes the world go 'round; lack of love literally brings everything crashing down. In the words of the Song of Songs (8:6-7): ''love is strong as death, passion as fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.'' The centrality of love to human life permeates biblical writings from the erotic poetry of the Song of Songs to the shorthand gospel of John 3:16 that ''God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.'' Not only the biblical writers, but philosophers, poets, and theologians from Plato through Dante to C. S. Lewis have struggled to describe, define, and demonstrate love. Their efforts continue to inform, deform, and reform present understandings and experiences of love. The history of love ranges from Adam and Eve to the most recent pot-boiler romance novel, from star-crossed lovers to parents and children, from friends to enemies, from medieval troubadours to contemporary minstrels of all stripes, from churches to talk shows. Is love an ''eternal idea''? Or does the understanding of love have a history? Does love change, grow, diminish? Does spousal profession of love have the same meaning at the altar and at the golden anniversary? Can marriage be based on love? Is love in an arranged marriage of the tenth century comparable to love in a voluntary marriage of the twenty-first? Indeed, what do marriage and love have to do with each other? Do parents love their children less or more now than in prior times? Is love a feeling? Is love an act? Is love an art? Is love voluntary or involuntary, or both? How is self-love related to love of the neighbor? Does love extend to enemies? What is the relation of love to sexuality? Can love be commanded? Is love redemptive? Is love divine? Is divinity love? How does love form and inform our existence? What, indeed, is love? The questions seem to have no end, and any effort to set forth a history of love, especially a ''brief'' one, must be highly selective. Rather than ''justify'' my selections, I take refuge in the candor of Eusebius (c.260-c.340), ''the father of church history,'' who wrote at the beginning of his The History of the Church: ''I have picked out whatever seems relevant to the task I have undertaken, plucking like flowers in literary pastures the helpful contributions of earlier writers, to be embodied in the continuous narrative I have in mind.'' Obviously, in the following ''history,'' many beautiful flowers have been left in the pastures.
The following ''brief history of love'' presents some of the theoretical and practical ''answers'' to questions about love set forth in Western culture from early reflections in
Greco-Roman culture to the present. Since a dominant thread running through Western culture is Christianity in its many expressions, we shall approach our subject from its perspective. But even this limitation is too broad because every aspect of Christian theology expresses in one way or another a concept of love. It is possible under the rubric of love to include anything and everything. Library shelves groan under the weight of innumerable studies on this theme. To read and understand even a small fraction of all these studies is far beyond my ability. There is also the dangerous professorial penchant of killing the subject. As Soren Kierkegaard noted, theology professors too often reverse the miracle of Cana: they turn wine into water. Therefore I have attempted a broad narrative of love in Western history. The downside of such a ''brief'' history is that every reader will miss his or her favorite philosopher, theologian, or saint. I hope that in spite of such disappointments, this little volume may provide an entree to a fascinating and complex subject. To that end, I have avoided footnotes but have provided a bibliography of the works directly informing my views for those who wish to fill in the gaps of this endeavor as well as find correctives to my synthesis.
So many people have contributed to this project that there is not space to grant them their deserved gratitude. Blackwell's editors, especially Rebecca Harkin, have been wonderfully supportive. I am grateful to students at Boston University School of Theology who shared their insights in seminars on the topic of Christian love. I am also grateful to the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia where I was privileged to be the St. John's Visiting Professor of Church History in the spring of 2005. The students there in the seminar on Christian love provided valuable insights and perspectives, but of course like my other students should not be blamed for the final text. Our neighbors, Pat and Deb Garner, often - with wine-fortified courage! - asked how this project was going, listened patiently, and asked great questions during the many months of writing. As always I am grateful to George W. Forell, my Doktor-Vater, perpetual mentor, and friend, who many decades ago introduced me to this subject in his own seminar, and then guided my dissertation on Luther's concept of love. Above all, I am grateful for the love and laughter of Alice.
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