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Seton Hall University

Inside the Core this Week: 'God is Love'  

Photo of Pope BenedictThis week most Core I classes are reading Benedict XVI's encyclical "Deus Caritas Est" or "God is Love." His first papal encyclical, this beautifully articulated piece examines the links between two types of love – in Greek, eros (or ascending love, sometimes simply rendered romantic love) and agape (or descending love; i.e. charity). Typically, we think of the former as a more selfish love, strongly desiring the beloved for the fulfillment of its own need and the latter as a giving love, the love of God for people or the love of a mother for her child or a saint for those she helps. However, Benedict points out that the distinction between these two kinds of love is not as definitive as we sometimes think. Eros needs agape in order to be most fully itself, as Benedict says.

Though eros may start out as "mainly covetous and ascending, a fascination for the great promise of happiness, in drawing near to the other, it is less and less concerned with itself, increasingly seeks the happiness of the other, is concerned more and more with the beloved....The element of agape thus enters into this love, for otherwise eros is impoverished and even loses its own nature." However, he points out that humans cannot be simply giving outward love all the time. Even descending love must also receive love and nurturing in order to continue. He says, "to become such a source, one must constantly drink anew from the original source, which is Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows the love of God."

Benedict connects this love with a long tradition, pre-dating Christianity. In ancient Judaism, there are several places in the Bible where God's love for Israel is depicted in the terms of a mystical marriage. The poetically beautiful Song of Solomon is one such example, as is the book of Hosea, the prophet. Among the Greeks, we see in the Symposium (another Core 1 text) how Plato describes eros as being first a love of beauty in an individual but eventually leading to a love of all beauty and finally a love of beauty in the mind of God. Benedict references this text, comparing the myth of the origin of love as told by Aristophanes, as he is portrayed by Plato, about human nature being at one time whole and spherical, but cut in half by Zeus as a punishment for human pride and evil; thus, humans continually seek for their "other half."

Many faculty add the optional text, Pope Francis' "Evangelii Gaudium" or "Joy of the Gospel." My class read an excerpt from Chapter III, section 1. Here Pope Francis talks about how love impels believers to share the Gospel in a loving and respectful way. He speaks of always keeping in mind the "fundamental message: the personal love of God who became man, who gave himself up for us, who is living and who offers us his salvation and his friendship." He talks about the need for dialogue and also humility in any kind of evangelization, and the need to move beyond the idea of fixed formulas. It is interesting to consider the links between the two texts. Benedict's talk about eros and agape can be applied to the guidelines laid out by Francis for sharing the Gospel. As Benedict explains that agape, giving as it is, must also take in order to give the better, Francis also talks about how we can evangelize and form community only with the help of the Spirit.

Categories: Education , Faith and Service , Nation and World

For more information, please contact:

  • Nancy Enright
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