Thursday, May 03, 2007

Paul Tillich on Love

Different types of love have been distinguished, and the Greek eros type of love has been contrasted with the Christian agape type of love. Eros is described as the desire for self-fulfillment by the other, agape as the will to self-surrender for the sake of the other being. But this alternative does not exist. The so-called "types of love" are actually "qualities of love," lying within each other and driven into conflict only in their distorted forms. No love is real without a unity of eros and agape. Agape without eros is obedience to a moral law, without warmth, without longing, without reunion. Eros without agape is chaotic desire, denying the validity of the claim of the other one to be acknowledged as an independent self, able to love and to be loved. Love as the unity of eros and agape is the implication of faith. -- Paul Tillich, The Dynamics of Faith p132-133.

My first year of college I went to a small Christian college in Kentucky, where I was part of the "Agape" class of '04. (Each year, the incoming freshmen class chose a name for themselves; there was the 'redeemed', 'anointed', 'empowered', among others.) My class was supposed to be oozing with Agape--thoughtful love, the love of Jesus--all of us, best friends. Of course this isn't at all how things worked out; there was an overall sense that something was lacking. An emotional part of that love wasn't there--it seemed too penitential, too moralistic.

Tillich speaks of a love incomplete without both Eros and Agape, a cold moralistic love when dominated by Agape--and a free-for-all frenzy when Eros takes over. This balancing act, the ying and the yang, keeps the two parts of love in check. Without Eros there is no passion--and Christians must be passionate. Without Agape there is only passion. The relationship between the two is part of faith- "Love as the unity of Agape and Eros is an implication of faith." Tillich's definition of faith here is not belief without proof, but that which is the ultimate concern of an individual.


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