As we have had the past two weeks it is time to explore Pope Benedict’s first Encyclical. In case you forgot it focuses on Love. Last week I went through the Introduction, now we are going to get into Part One of the Encyclical, this section is titles The Unity of Love in Creation and in Salvation History.
To begin it tackles the basic fact that we begin with a simple problem with the word “love” as it has become one of the most frequently used and misused of words, a word to which we attach quite different meanings. Benedict dives into it with the three Greek words for love, eros, philia (the love of friendship) and agape, there is another storge (familiar love) but this is rarely used in ancient texts so it’s not talked about, pointing out that the Greek Old Testament used eros only twice while in the New Testament it is mostly found as agape, which Benedict points out is infrequently used in Greek, and John loved using philia.
This turns philosophical by quoting Nietzche “Christianity gave Eros poison to drink; he did not die of it, certainly, but degenerated to Vice” Benedict goes and looks at how eros was seen in the pre-Christian world. He points to the Greeks who “considered eros principally as a kind of intoxication…process of being overwhelmed by divine power, to experience supreme happiness”, Virgil is know for his “Omnia vincit amor et nos cedamus amori” (Love conquers all let us, too, yield to love), and there were many fertility cults along with “sacred prostitution” of sorts in temples. So eros was celebrated as divine power, as fellowship with the Divine, but it oddly lacked the human. This is what the Old Testament was arguing about you need body and soul to experience eros and not a degradation but a maturity of the body. Sure the Church in the past has been opposed to the body, just look at St. Paul’s writing and his body (sarx)/spirit (pneuma) debate, and it still sort of exists today. Benedict takes this here and goes into the commodification of love/ sex as that is what most people look at it now as a thing you can buy and sell, just look at the internet and see the extant of the porn that can be found, for sale and for free. We now considers our bodies and sexuality as the purely material part of ourselves, to be used and exploited at will.
Benedict changes course here and goes into the Old Testament looking at the Song of Songs/Solomon/Canticles. Sure we don’t hear from this book very often but it’s a book of love songs. Benedict notes that in Hebrew there are two words used for love dodim (love that is still insecure, indeterminate and searching) and ahabà (I give/love) this was translated by the Greeks as agape. Love is now a concern for someone else. This gets a bit out there offering different ways to look at the words eros, is used to indicate “worldly” love or “ascending” love or possessive love and agape, being used to indicate love grounded in and shaped by faith, or “descending” love or oblative love. The Pope gives a great thing here and says that these two types of love can never be completely separated, as anyone who wants to get love must want to give love. This can be seen in the story of Jacob’s ladder where love can be seen as an inseparable connection between ascending and descending love, between eros which seeks God and agape which passes on the gift received. It is nicely summed up in this passage “Fundamentally, “love” is a single reality, but with different dimensions; at different times, one or other dimension may emerge more clearly. Yet when the two dimensions are totally cut off from one another, the result is a caricature or at least an impoverished form of love.”
We dive back into the Bible and The Shema. Looking at the Bible we can see God loves, and his love can be called eros, but at the same time it is also agape. This turns to Jesus eventually as he is the combination of eros and agape. The Eucharistic feast is a prime example “This is my Body”…”This is my blood” we have been given so much and in this feast we all become one. Let us remember The Great Commandment to love one another for Love can be “commanded” because it has first been given.
As The Beatles said “And in the end/The love you take/Is equal to the love you make.”