Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Love, power, and Hans.

I've been thinking a lot lately about love and how to communicate love. One of the biggest catalysts has been the debate over same-sex marriage in New York: I think the debate points to some disagreements so fundamental that we, as a society, have lost the ability to even have this debate. And so, there is no debate: There is, in the end, only power.

But power is not credible. Power is not satisfying, I believe, even to the one who holds it. Love alone is credible, and as a civilization I believe we have lost who love is: the true, the good, and the beautiful.

And, hey! I've read books about love... So here, with a few revisions is a re-post of my analysis of the third chapter of Hans Urs von Balthasar's Love Alone is Credible.

Hans presents two approaches to speaking of the love of God.

Eros. First, we can begin to think in terms of personalism: One person cannot presume to master intellectually another person's gift of love. I can't break down my husband's love empirically or even explain it in terms of his "humanity"--the minute I do, I lose him.

Beauty. The second approach to love is through beauty. "In the experiences of extraordinary beauty--whether in nature or in art--we are able to grasp a phenomenon in its distinctiveness that otherwise remains veiled. We encounter something we could not have invented, but which is nevertheless deeply compelling. It satisfies us in a way we could not have satisfied ourselves.

These two approaches are, of course, just "signs." Von Balthasar emphasizes that, unlike a piece of art, God's love is not something "produced," nor does it exist in order to "fill my need." But both eros and beauty come together and are transcended by God's revelation of his love.

Divine love replaces human love as "agape"; divine beauty is "glory." Von Balthasar insists that both terms are needed for us to perceive that majesty of divine love: because it is beauty, it possesses an authority. When this authority shows itself, it demands our obedience; we long to be obedient when we see it, because it is at once so glorious and so intimate.

He has a beautiful little meditation on authority in the middle of the chapter--addressing the authority of the ecclesial office (bishops), the Scriptures, and the "living proclamation of the Word." All three, he says, are "merely word." They do not take on flesh until God himself takes on flesh: "The sole authority is the Son, who interprets the Father in the Holy Spirit as divine Love."

The authorities we obey here on earth have authority in obedience to Christ's mission. They--the Church--"prepare man to perceive the manifestation of God's love and to give it its due." This is a lovely way to think about Church authority and all the "rules" and doctrines; they have authority insofar as they exist to prepare us to see God face-to-face.

Von Balthasar leaves us with a warning: We must interpret Christian revelation "either wholly in terms of the self-glorification of absolute love or else we simply fail to understand it."

Receiving the beauty of love--the glorious majesty of God--requires the eyes of faith, eyes that neither presume too much nor shrug with false simplicity.

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