seven hundred billion

“Decisions must be judged in light of what they do for the poor, what they do to the poor, and what they enable the poor to do for themselves. The fundamental moral criterion for all economic decisions, policies, and institutions is this: They must be at the service of all people, especially the poor.”

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National Conference of Catholic Bishops 1986, §24.

Eros and Agape :: Wolf Krötke

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.

Ward :: Love as Economy or Ontology

“The economy of [Christian] desire is not locked into love as not-having [in distinction from some postmodern accounts]. Rather, love is continually extended beyond itself and, in and through that extension, receives itself back from the other as a non-identical repetition. Love construed as having or not-having is a commodified product. It is something one possesses or doesn’t possess. It is part of an exchange between object and subject positions. But love in the Christian economy is an action not an object. It cannot be lost or found., absent or present. It constitutes  the very space within which all operations in heaven and upon earth take place. The positions of persons are both constituted and dissolved. The linearity and syntax of Indo-European languages barely allows access to the mystery of trinitarian persons and processions: where one ends and another begins. As such suffering and sacrifice are not distinct moments, kenoo [emptying] is also and simultaneously pleroo [filling up]. The wounds of love are the openings of grace.”

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Graham Ward, “Suffering and Incarnation,” in The Blackwell Companion to Postmodern Theology (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2001), 205.

William Cavanaugh :: differentiating soteriologies

“Modernity is unaccustomed to regarding political theory as mythological in character. The modern state is, however, founded on certain stories of nature and human nature, the origins of human conflict, and the remedies for such conflict in the enactment of the state itself. In this essay I will read these stories against the Christian stories of creation, fall, and redemption, and argue that both ultimately have the same goal: salvation of humankind from the divisions which plague us. The modern state is best understood, I will attempt to show, as a source of an alternative soteriology to that of the Church. Both soteriologies pursue peace and an end to division by the enactment of a social body; nevertheless I will argue that the body of the state is a simulacrum, a false copy, of the Body of Christ. On the true Body of Christ depends resistance to the state project. The Eucharist, which makes the Body of Christ, is therefore a key practice for a Christian anarchism.” (182)

“The dominance of state soteriology has made it perfectly reasonable to drop cluster bombs on ‘foreign’ villages, and perfectly unreasonable to dispute ‘religious’ matters in public.” … “As Raymond Williams and others have argued, war is for the liberal state a simulacrum of the social process, the primary mechanism for achieving social integration in a society with no shared ends. In a word, violence becomes the state’s religio [binding together], it’s habitual discipline for binding us to one another.” (194)

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From Cavanaugh, William. “Beyond Secular Parodies.” In Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology, 182-200. Ed. John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock and Graham Ward. New York: Routledge, 1999.

George MacDonald on the proper length of stories and the anatomy of reading

“And that is all my double story. How double it is, if you care to know, you must find out. If you think it is not finished—I never knew a story that was. I could tell you a great deal more concerning them all, but I have already told more than is good for those who read but with their foreheads, and enough for those whom it has made look a little solemn, and sigh as they close the book.”

George MacDonald, “The Wise Woman or the Lost Princess” in The Wise Woman and Other Fantasy Stories (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1980), 108.

Elizabeth Johnson :: gendered language about God

In a passage exploring the difficulty of gendered vocabulary used in naming God, Elizabeth Johnson rejects as inadequate two approaches before moving forward within the parameters of a third. Neither attributing female traits or characteristics to God (who remains primarily “male”), nor speaking of a female dimension within God’s life is finally adequate. Rather, she argues that male and female images of God are equally fitting (and equally inadequate) and therefore ought to be used with greater parity, breaking the dominance of patriarchal imagery. 

Unexamined presuppositions about the doctrine of God itself raise a further theological question about this [preceding] approach [namely, identifying the Holy Spirit as a female dimension of God’s being]. In what sense can it be claimed that God has “dimensions,” let along the the dualistically conceived dimensions of masculine and feminine? Such an idea extends human divisions to the godhead itself. It actually ontologizes sex in God, making sexuality a dimension of divine being, rather than respecting the symbolic nature of religious language.

We must be very clear about this. Speech about God in female metaphors does not mean that God has a feminine dimension, revealed by Mary or other women. Nor does the use of male metaphors mean that God has a masculine dimension, revealed by Jesus or other men; or an animal dimension, revealed by lions or great mother birds; or a mineral dimension, which corresponds with naming God a rock. Images and names of God do not aim to identify merely “part” of the divine mystery, were that even possible. Rather, they intend to evoke the whole. Female imagery by itself points to God as such and has the capacity to represent God not only as nurturing, although certainly that, but as powerful, initiating, creating-redeeming-saving, and victorious over the powers of this world. If women are created in the image of God, then God can be spoken of in female metaphors in as full and a limited a way as God is imaged in male ones, without talk of feminine dimensions reducing the impact of this imagery. Understanding the Holy Spirit as the feminine dimension of the divine within a patriarchal framework is no solution. [1]

Johnson’s approach in this book does two things supremely well. First, she articulates God’s transcendence patiently and persistently. Thinking and speaking about God in exclusively male terms is not wrong because God is beyond all gender and totally outside the known. It is wrong because it imposes false limits upon the God who transcends created gender in a way that encompasses both maleness and femaleness and extends beyond typological confinement in one or the other. Johnson recognizes that the plenitude of God’s inner life extends beyond the boundaries of either maleness or femaleness, while both men and women are “true” images of God. 

Secondly, Johnson recognizes that patriarchal repression of women is an aberration in both thought and practice from the orthodox Christian gospel. Correcting this error, then, does not require an overthrow of the whole tradition and a rejection of the church’s rich theological heritage. It would be naive and simplistic to dismiss a tradition in which so many women have found genuine liberation and genuine self-expression for the reason that the same tradition has been used (perhaps with a great frequency) to subdue and silence them. Johnson recognizes that the language and symbols of tradition do not need to be cast away to start again with a blank slate, but demand to be enlivened  and expanded by filling them out with the suppressed language and experience of the church’s women. When we have understood our theological heritage more fully, we will understand that the dismissal and subordination of women cuts against the grain of the gospel. 

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit remains YHWH’s first Christian name, the most prominent appellation for God given to the Church in both the New Testament scripture and subsequent tradition. Attempts to displace or discard God’s self-revelation in this form are misguided and unnecessarily divisive. Yet, there are other ways of speaking about God, appropriate for both the Church’s liturgy and theology, that rekindle the biblical practice of naming God in feminine terms as Mother, as Wisdom incarnate, as the Spirit who gives new-birth. The church’s language is impoverished and watered down where it neglects the full range of imagery available for its prayers and preaching.  

[1] Elizabeth Johnson, She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse (New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1992), 54. 

Athanasius :: God’s sensuous presence

“Men had turned from the contemplation of God above, and were looking Him in the opposite direction, down among created things and things of sense. The Saviour of us all, the Word of God, in His great love took to Himself a body and moved as Man among men, meeting their senses, so to speak, half way. He became Himself an object for the senses, so that those who were seeking God in sensible things might apprehend the Father through the works which He, the Word of God, did in the body.” 

Readers should, of course, take the gender-bound language in an inclusive sense. This quote seemed especially fitting in light of this recent discussion.

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Athanasius, On the Incarnation rev. ed, trans. by a Religious of C.S.M.V. (Crestwood, NY: Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1996), 43.