Monday, April 03, 2006

Deus Caritas Est - Definition of Love

Love raises many questions for us. Who is this God who loves us without end, and who are we that God would love us so? But if love defines God and defines us, then what do we mean by love? Perhaps the most common use of love in society, since society is increasingly turning away from God, is the love between a man and a woman. This love, which intimately unites the man and woman in the lifelong bond of marriage, is an intimate union of body and soul in one flesh. This seems to be that epitome of love to us, all other types fail in comparison. Do these other types of love have something in common, do they designate the same reality, or are they all different realities in which there is no commonality. This is the Pope's purpose in his analysis of love.

We must now define some terms. There are three Greek words for love that are mentioned in this encyclical and they are as follows:

Eros means erotic love, love that leads us in ecstasy to the Divine, but is worldly, ascending

Philios means brotherly love (think Philidelphia).

Agape means self-sacraficial love, a love that is grounded and shaped by faith

The Pope analyzes Eros and Agape, while he puts Philia to the side. Eros, the Pope says, which is the most frequently used word for love in Greek, is rarely used in the Bible, while Agape, which is rarely used in the Greek language, is the most commonly used word for love in the Bible. So, the Pope asks, are Eros and Agape mutually inclusive or mutually exclusive?

Eros, in the time of the Greeks, was considered as something that overpowers the reason, in which the physical pleasures one gets out of erotic love take over and the spiritual side of love is completely forgone. It is this almost overpowering feeling that erotic love brings that it became to be considered a Divine thing, as a god in and of itself. However, we do not worship a love that overpowers our sense of reason. Love does not overpower, it empowers.

Now, this is not to say that erotic love does not have a place within the Christian faith. Erotic love indeed does have a place, it, however, has a warped understanding, and its true understanding can only be found in God Himself. Thus, there is a relationship between erotic love and the Divine, though it has been warped by many people throughout history. Love indeed does promise much, but our love must be purified and we must grow in maturity. This purification and promise of infinity indeed heal and restore the true meaning of erotic love.

Now, man is made up of body and soul. If we are to hope to attain a purely spiritual existence, then we lose the dignity in being created in God's image, but if we hope to attain a purely physical existence, which, in the end, is existing like the animals, then we lose the greatness we were made for. Man is not to be physical only, nor is he to be spiritual only, man is body and soul, and it is in this unity that man finds his dignity being made in God's image and likeness. It is thus the complete picture of man that loves, our love cannot come from just one aspect, but must involve our whole self. It is in this that erotic love is able to mature and become authenticated.

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