Converging and Convincing Proof of God: Argument from Desire
"The Absolute," which is to say God, was for Gregory of Nyssa "revealed in the simultaneous actuality of our manifold varied loves and our awareness that nothing finite will ever satisfy them." Nothing on earth, even that greatest of all loves and desires, the love of a man and woman, completes us, satisfies us.
This, of course, begs the question: what, if anything, will satisfy the desires of mankind when the greatest love it has cannot?
Reason did not seem to have an answer, but it certainly raised the question.
For St. Gregory of Nyssa, the answer to that very question suggested some sort of answer, and the answer had to be seized by faith because it went beyond our experience and our reason. The answer to unsatisfied love was a different kind of love, the love which is the source of all loves, even of eros: agape.
What St. Gregory of Nyssa propose is in reality a proof of the existence of God.
Pope Benedict XVI therefore did something very Nyssenian when he authored his encyclical Deus Caritas Est, an encyclical where desire--eros--plays a central role (the word eros is used 34 times in the encyclical) and is tied to agape (which is used 19 times).
In Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI suggests that there is a sort of analogical relationship between eros and agape. This is suggested by the very subtitle which introduces the topic of eros and its relationship to agape. Pope Benedict sees that there is both diversity and a unity, diversitas et unitas, between eros and agape, between the epitome of human love and divine love.
This language--diversity and unity--is the language of analogy, and so we may say that Pope Benedict XVI is teaching that there is a real analogy, an analogy of proportionality, between eros and agape. This means that there is a likeness between eros and agape, although the unlikeness between eros and agape remains infinitely greater than their likeness.
There is an analogy of proportionality between the chaste and faithful love of a man and a woman in marriage, and the love that God has for mankind, and, in particular, His Church. Human eros, then, is witnesses to, points to, and is an image of Divine agape.
This analogy of love is seized on by the writer of the Songs of Songs, an Old Testament book so beloved by the Church's mystics. The Song of Songs is a dance of two loves: the love of eros (in Hebrew, dodim) and the love of agape (in Hebrew ahabà). This analogy of love is central to St. Paul's theology: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church and gave himself up for her." (Eph. 5:25)
The light of reason alone applied to human desire, in particular to purified eros, allows us to see that purified eros, a created reality, is an image, an analogue, of He who is love, agape, the uncreated Love who, as the medieval Cistercian monk Blessed Isaac of Stella put it in one of his sermons (43.20), is the unfailing and never-ending fount of all love, the fons indeficiens caritatis.
Eros, which Pope Benedict XVI calls "ascending love" and which, in its impure and undisciplined stages, is marked by the desire of possession, of covetousness from which is must be purged, is eventually met by agape, the love of oblation or selflessness which has only the good of the other in mind, and which Pope Benedict XVI calls "descending love."
The sacred writers recognized that there is an inextricable link, an analogical link, between this human, creaturely, and wholly immanent reality--desire as eros--which we know through experience, and the divine, uncreated, and wholly transcendent reality--desire as agape--which we do not know through experience but whose existence we can infer through our illative sense.
Man, who is nothing but a fount of desires, remains unfulfilled, "guttering when fed with the oil of any finite, created satisfaction," as Nichols puts it quaintly, and this points "irresistibly toward an infinite satisfaction, namely God."
And has this God, who reason posits as the only thing that can satisfy our yearning, come to us? Can it be that the "ascending love" of man has met, or can meet, the "descending love" of God?
The answer to reason's question is, yes. But the answer to reason's question is gained not by reason, but by faith. By faith we come to see that the two loves of eros and agape have met in the Word made Flesh, Jesus, who may be said to be the hypostatic union of human purified eros and pure divine agape. Jesus is man's greatest love, and God's greatest love, all united in one person.
The reality of agape, a loved guessed at, hinted at by the inability of even a purified eros to satisfy the desire of mankind, presents itself to us through a most purified human eros in the human nature of Jesus. By placing our faith in Jesus, the God-man who reconciles human "ascending love" with divine "descending love," the lack that seems intrinsic in the most pure of human loves is given its divine plenishment in agape. In Jesus, eros and agape kiss, just like justice and mercy kiss. (Cf. Ps. 85:11) The eros of human nature is lifted up by the grace of agape.
In Christ, the yearning of love's desire is fulfilled.
Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is married with three children. He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum. You can contact Andrew at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: illative sense, God, natural theology, proofs of God, St. Gregory of Nyssa, Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, , Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.
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