Saturday, April 22, 2006

God, Both Eros and Agape?

God, Both Ξρος and Άγάπη?

How is the God Who is constitutively Άγάπη also ερος? That is, if the meaning of agape is to create the good and affirming it with the love of self-gift, how can He be simultaneously eros as a love that seeks a good that He does not have?

The answer lies in the fact that the God who as Agape gives love, the same God seeks love as eros. As God, He has created other freedoms – persons - that, as finite, must determine themselves, and need to be loved in order to be able to have an identity as being to be able to exercise agency to do so, that is, to self-determine with autonomy. God loves these freedoms that He cannot control with the love of eros because He wants their love. He does not need it, but wants to need it. And when it is given, it is given from the person as agape, that is, God is loved for God’s sake, not for the fulfillment of the created person. This is boldly presented in the Old Testament and noted by Benedict:

“The Prophets, particularly Hosea and Ezekiel, described God’s passion for his people using boldly erotic images. God’s relationship with Israel is described using the metaphors of betrothal and marriage; idolatry is thus adultery and prostitution. Here we find a specific reference – as we have seen – to the fertility cults and their abuse of eros, but also a description of the relationship of fidelity between Israel and her God. The history of the love-relationship between God and Israel consists, at the deepest level, in the fact the he gives her the Torah, thereby opening Israel’s eyes to man’s true nature and showing her the path leading to true humanism. It consists in the fact that man, through a life of fidelity to the one God, comes to experience himself as loved by God, and discovers joy in truth and in righteousness – a joy in God which becomes his essential happiness: `Whom di I have in heaven abut you? And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides you… for me it is good to be near God’ (Ps 73, 25, 28).”[1]

“… (W)e find ourselves before a strictly metaphysical image of God: God is the absolute and ultimate source of all being; but this universal principle of creation – the Logos, primordial reason – is at the same time a lover with all the passion of a true love. Eros is thus supremely ennobled, yet at the same time it is so purified as to become one with agape.”

It may be objected that the very act of love in God has God Himself as its ultimate object. This is true. But the causality God exercises is a loving affirmation of the person , thereby giving it identity and power of self mastery and self gift. But that act can only be undertaken by the “I” of the person. That is, there is an object of God's erotic love that is not Himself but a creature that is His image. This imaging creature has what they call “relative” autonomy of self-mastery that not even God can make happen precisely because He created this creature with autonomy as human freedom. (Consider the anthropology of GS #24: "man, the only earthly being God has willed for itself..." means that God cannot "use" the human person as a means to an end because of His endowing it with intelligence and freedom to self-determine).

Thus, the fiat of our Lady is the supreme example of this freedom and autonomy of self-determination. She is free of original sin and thus there is no impedence to the act of consent. But her act of consent is not an act of nature. It is an autonomous act of self-determination. Newman says: "the three Fathers [Justin martyr, Tertullian and Ireneus] unanimously declare that she was not a mere instrument in the Incarnation, such as David, or Judah, may be considered; they declare she co-operated in our salvation not merely by the descent of the Holy Ghost upon her body, but by specific holy acts, the effect of the Holy Ghost within her soul."(“The Second Eve,” Newman Press, Westminster, Maryland [1952] 16). She was a true cause - instrumental - but cause of the Incarnation.

St. Bernard is more explicit: "Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word.

"Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive. Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Birgin, you lips to praise, your swomb to the Crator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knowcking to enter. If he shoulde pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold, the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word" (From a Homily In Praise of the Virgin Mother by Saint Bernard, abbot: Ofice of Readings December 20).

Jesus Christ is the revelation and meaning of man.[3] Both Agape and Eros are revealed in Christ. With regard to the need of Eros, take the scene from the post-Resurrection gospel (Jn. 21, 5) that reports Christ on the beach asking the seven apostles, “Young men, have you anything to eat?” St. Josemaria Escriva comments: “What a human thing! What a marvel of God’s greatness! God needs us. No one is indispensable: I am the founder of Opus Dei and I am not indispensable. Nevertheless, I can tell you, at the same time, that God needs us; he needs you and he needs me.”[4] Then as agape, He commands them, “throw your net to the right of the boat and you will find fish.” They obey and draw in 153 large fish.

That God “need us” is to attribute Eros to God as God. And it is to be understood not as diminution in God as if something is lacking to Him in the perfection of Being. But since his very Being is Agape, He is so powerful that He was able to create other freedoms capable of a Love like His because He created them as sons in His own Son. (ftn!!) Hence, as He is capable of creating love in the image of His very Self, He desires that love that can only come from “another.” He is “erotic” for it. He “lusts” for it. He is “needy” because He has made Himself needy. Just as Newman was able to see that dying for the Source of Life was possible in that He willed it. His enemies could not kill Him, but He could die if, via a human soul and body, He willed it to happen. He wanted to die so that He could show what it means to be divine in the flesh. And so dying was His own act. He went against Himself. He suffered as God.[5]

Notice that the understanding of this point depends on passing to the “I” of both the Father and the Son. The revelation of eros in God is revealed in Jesus Christ. The divine and the human are revealed in Christ not in parallel but as compenetration in the “I.” More on that in a sequel installment taken from Ratzinger’s “Journey Towards Easter” pp. 88-89.

[1] Benedict XVI, “Deus Caritas Est” # 9.
[2] Ibid #10.
[3] Vatican II @ Gaudium et Spes #22 quotes Tertullian in its footnote 20[3]: “The shape that the slime of the earth was given was intended with a view to Christ, the future man.” Restated in the language of the text itself, it says that “Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.
[4] Mediation, June 25, 1958.
[5] This is precisely what the traditional Neo-Scholastic metaphysics abhors to affirm, viz, that God suffers; and this because the Subject, the “I,” of the action is not nature but the Person. Neither divine nor human nature “suffers” because “actiones sunt suppositorum.” Only Persons act., and there is only one Person in Jesus Christ, the divine Logos. He suffers by the mediation of the humanity of the man Jesus of Nazareth (no human person).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


It would have saved me a lot of time and money if, instead of my going on retreat this past weekend, someone just sent me this link! Thanks for a great retreat.

Pete Cook