Two things emerge clearly from this rapid overview of the concept of eros past and present. First, there is a certain relationship between love and the Divine: love promises infinity, eternity—a reality far greater and totally other than our everyday existence. Yet we have also seen that the way to attain this goal is not simply by submitting to instinct. Purification and growth in maturity are called for; and these also pass through the path of renunciation. Far from rejecting or “poisoning” eros, they heal it and restore its true grandeur. This is due first and foremost to the fact that man is a being made up of body and soul. Man is truly himself when his body and soul are intimately united; the challenge of eros can be said to be truly overcome when this unification is achieved. Should he aspire to be pure spirit and to reject the flesh as pertaining to his animal nature alone, then spirit and body would both lose their dignity. On the other hand, should he deny the spirit and consider matter, the body, as the only reality, he would likewise lose his greatness… it is neither the spirit alone nor the body alone that loves: it is man, the person, a unified creature composed of body and soul, who loves. Only when both dimensions are truly united, does man attain his full stature. Only thus is love —eros—able to mature and attain its authentic grandeur. Nowadays Christianity of the past is often criticized as having been opposed to the body; and it is quite true that tendencies of this sort have always existed. Yet the contemporary way of exalting the body is deceptive.
Eros, reduced to pure “sex”, has become a commodity, a mere “thing” to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity. This is hardly man's great “yes” to the body. On the contrary, he now considers his body and his sexuality as the purely material part of himself, to be used and exploited at will. Nor does he see it as an arena for the exercise of his freedom, but as a mere object that he attempts, as he pleases, to make both enjoyable and harmless. Here we are actually dealing with a debasement of the human body: no longer is it integrated into our overall existential freedom; no longer is it a vital expression of our whole being, but it is more or less relegated to the purely biological sphere. The apparent exaltation of the body can quickly turn into a hatred of bodiliness. Christian faith, on the other hand, has always considered man a unity in duality, a reality in which spirit and matter compenetrate, and in which each is brought to a new nobility. True, eros tends to rise “in ecstasy” towards the Divine, to lead us beyond ourselves; yet for this very reason it calls for a path of ascent, renunciation, purification and healing.
Deus Caritas Est 5
Reflection – Well, I tried and tried to find some way to shorten this paragraph of the encyclical, but you know, I just couldn’t do it. It’s so brilliant, so insightful, so packed with meaning – every sentence of it, every word of it. I’ve been going through thispart of the encyclical, reflecting on how well it meets the truth we all at least sort of know – that the sexual revolution which was supposed to bring such liberation and joy has brought disease and death, that eros left to its own devices degrades into use and exploitation - mere lust.It is in this passage that we see, or at least begin to see, what it means for eros not to be left to its own devices, for it to be purified and lifted up so that it does indeed rise ‘in ecstasy’ towards the Divine. It is a question of the whole person being one in his or her body and soul, and the ecstatic movement of erotic desire being taken up into whole movement of the person. Self-gift, self-disposition, a total choice to embrace this person, not only in the one moment of union and pleasure, but all of each embracing all of the other. And not just a total embrace now, but an embrace that is forever given. And not just an embrace of the other as they are, but all his or her potentialities, most of all the capacity to engender life. A total embrace excluding nothing, not the future of this person nor what may come forth from them. In short, marriage, and openness to life in that marital embrace. This is the purification of eros.
The old fashioned language was ‘remedy of concupiscence’, but not in a simple minded sense that marriage provided a licit place to satisfy one's sexual desires, but in this deeper sense. In the vocation of marriage, desire is taken up into and incorporated into a personal choice to dedicate oneself to the other and hold nothing back from that dedication, and to accept always and in every movement of marriage that which may come from that dedication, namely the children God wants to give you. Eros is purified by being brought into the mystery of sacrificial love and death to self.