The following is my translation of an essay by the German theologian Wolf Krötke. I’ve spent the spring teaching myself German; this piece is really the summit of my efforts so far. I was unable to find another translation online, so I thought I’d post this for the benefit of others. H/T Ben Myers.
The Greek word “eros” strikes us in the language of today in an almost exclusively sexual connotation. If someone hears “erotic,” he thinks about sex. But that means that he absolutely does not think abut love. The Greek word “eros” names only love. It signifies, however, much more than sexual desire and commonly says something even different than our word “love.” Eros—in the thought of antiquity—is a striving after completeness. This thought comprehends each individual human only as an inadequate, incomplete, exemplar of the category “human.” Eros urges us, for that reason, to take part in a completeness that meets us from outside ourselves, and to appropriate it for ourselves.
Other humans attract us—as it was thought—through their beauty, so that we might become more perfect through them. They arouse in us the desire to unite ourselves with them and to possess them blissfully. Sexuality is understood in this sense. It gives us a desire for being, which we are not able to accomplish alone. But therefore, even art is highly regarded. It conveys to us desire in pictures of our ideal. Eros, as the Platonist understood straightaway, is a daemon in humanity that does not concentrate itself on humanity. It urges us to make ourselves complete through the knowledge of other things. Above all, it urges us toward the knowledge of God, by which to provide ourselves with the bliss of unity with the highest completeness and beauty.
In the sense of the Bible, that has nothing to do with real love. Conspicuously, the word “eros” does not occur even once in the Greek New Testament and the Greek translation of the Old Testament. The Bible uses the word “agape” when it speaks of love. Paul has classically formulated all that can be said about agape classically in the so-called “high song of love” in 1 Corinthians 13. The climactic statement there reads: ‘Love seeks not her own” (v.5). It is selfless and not self-seeking. It alone is out to affirm another human and to do him good. It regards him highly for his own sake. It makes him to understand that nothing is as worthy of love as he.
We have spoken of a deep contrast between eros and agape. Eros regards humans as things and even makes God merely an object of my desire. Agape gives to the beloved his own value and his own freedom. Eros is sin. Agape alone is worthy of humanity Nevertheless, the construction of such a contrast does not make the phenomenon of love upright.
It is quite correct that degrading another person as the means to satisfy my desire for profit is beneath human dignity. But it is not correct that love demands the sacrifice of our own “I.” The desire always belongs to love to unite with another person and by this unity to expand the emotional life of the self. The wish even belongs to love to be loved and affirmed by another person. If agape were without these components of eros, then it would be made always poorer for us. People who sacrifice themselves entirely for their partner lose their own face. The “erotic” interest in our self-realization should maintain its place—not only in the relationship between husband and wife, but even in friendship, even in the social practice of charity and, naturally, in the relationship to God.
In the love that is marked by agape, this “place” for my own life is all but outdone by the wish to be there for another person. “Amidst a great self-possession there is always a yet greater selflessness,” as one theologian of love has worded it. We can even say, “amidst so much eros, there is always yet more agape.” In the relations of a husband and wife, this essence, yes the bliss of love, can well become the most impressive event. Here people work reciprocally for the freedom of their partner, by which both can blossom as themselves. But the sketched interplay of eros and agape still makes all other forms of love into an event of bliss—not least love for God, which is itself indebted to the experience of being beloved.