Friday, June 4, 2010

Scientific theological eros!

I thought I would never see those three words strung together!

Yesterday I was reading the famous 1 Corinthians 13 passage on love and I remembered that in Karl Barth's An Introduction to Evangelical Theology had an interesting last chapter on the role of love in theology.

Here are a few extracts, emphasizing the difference between eros and agape love.
Eros so highly praised in Plato's teaching.... Love as Eros, is, in general terms, the primordially powerful desire, urge, impulse, and endeavor by which a created being seeks his own self-assertion, satisfaction, realization, and fulfillment in his relation to something else. He strives to draw near to this other person or thing, to win it for himself, to take it to himself, and to make it his own as clearly and definitively as possible. And in a special sense, love, as scientific Eros, is the same desire in its intellectual form. It is the soaring movement by which human knowledge lets itself be borne toward its objects and hurries toward them in order to unite them with itself and itself with them, to bring them into its possession and power, and to enjoy them in this way.

.....Scientific, theological Eros has perpetually oscillated concerning the object which it should present to man for the sake of his self-assertion and self-fulfillment. That is to say, theological Eros can be directed either predominantly (and perhaps even exclusively) toward God or predominantly (and, once again, perhaps even exclusively) toward man.

When scientific Eros evolves in the field of theology, it characteristically and continually confuses and exchanges the object of theology with other objects. So far as Eros is the motive of theological work, God will not be loved and known for God's sake, nor man for man's sake. This situation can only be explained by the nature of Eros: every attempt to love and know God and man is made in the quite conscious and deepest interests of the theologian himself, in the self-love of the one who produces this theology.

It is undoubtedly no mere accident that the substantive "Eros" and its corresponding verb do not appear at all in ... the New Testament. The word for "love" in the New Testament is Agape. And from every context in which it appears the conclusion is obvious that it signifies a movement which runs almost exactly in the opposite direction from that of Eros. Love in the sense of Agape is admittedly also the total seeking of another, and this is the one thing that it has in common with love as Eros.

In Agape, however, the one who loves never understands the origin of his search as a demand inherent within himself, but always as an entirely new freedom for the other one, a freedom which was simply bestowed on him and consequently was originally alien to him. On his own, he never should or would have loved this other one at all. But he may do this, and since he may do it, he does do it. Because he is free for this other, he loves him. In this way he loves concentratedly, not haphazardly, ramblingly, or distractedly. And because he is free for him, he does not seek him as though he needed him for himself as a means to his self-assertion and self-fulfillment. The one who loves, seeks the other only for his own sake. He does not want to win and possess him for himself in order to enjoy him and his own power over him. He never trespasses on the freedom of the other, but by respecting the other's freedom, he simply remains quite free for him. He loves him gratis. That is to say, he desires nothing from him, and he does not wish to be rewarded by him. All he desires is to exist for him, to offer himself to him, and finally to give himself to him. He desires to be permitted to love him simply in the way that this ability has been granted to himself.

If love, in the sense of Agape, is no doubt also a seeking, it is nevertheless not an interested, but a sovereign seeking of the other one. ...This seeking is sovereign precisely because it is directed and oriented not to the sovereignty of the one who loves but to the sovereignty of the beloved one. To speak once more with Paul, love in the sense of Agape is patient and kind, not jealous or boastful, not arrogant or rude, not insisting on its own way. It rejoices in the truth, bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things. Agape is related to Eros, as Mozart to Beethoven. How could they possibly be confused? Agape is an altogether positive striving toward the other, quite distinct from all self-righteousness and intellectual superiority, as well as from all strife.

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