Love plays a key role in human life, for God is love. (1 John 4:8). Heaven is the place where love reigns supreme. Hell is the place where creatures refuse to love. This is why Dante was right when he wrote: Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch’entrate. (Leave all hope ye that enter), (Inferno III. 9).
Man was created in God’s image and likeness: that is, with a capacity to know, to will, and to love. Original sin has crippled these gifts. It has darkened our intelligence, weakened our wills and frozen our hearts. We now have hearts of stone. The work of Redemption is to re-teach and enable us to love by imitating him who, out of love, died for us on the Cross. “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
Traditional Catholic teaching distinguishes between “natural” love and “supernatural” love, indicating clearly that the latter is much superior to the former. The former is called eros, the latter agape. Our aim is to compare these. Eros played an important role in pagan literature. Plato’s Symposium is dedicated to an analysis of eros. The greatness of love is eulogized in Orpheus and Euridice, Cupid and Psyche. Christian literature usually refers to natural loves, such as the love between spouses, love for one’s children, love for one’s parents, love between siblings, love between friends. Agape, that is supernatural love, is limited to love of God and love of neighbor.
In the modest frame of this article, I shall limit myself to discussing eros, the love that can exist between man and woman, and agape, the distinctly Christian love of neighbor.
Eros is a response to value. In falling in love, we clearly perceive the beauty, charm, lovableness, and uniqueness of the person who touches our heart. There elicits in us a response of “enchantment.” This is expressed in Tristan and Isolde: “Isolde, how beautiful art thou.” The beloved one delights us, just as we are delighted by the perception of a grand sunset or of sublime music, with the crucial difference that in the latter cases, the beauty is impersonal. In spousal love, the loved one is a person and therefore does not only possess a much higher metaphysical dignity but can return our love. Continue reading