The Personalist Project

Comments (10)

Scott Johnston

#1, Jan 28, 2012 2:55am

Hmmm. Correct me if I'm wrong, Katie, but I think what you're concerned with here is to point out the inadequacy of an impoverished concept of love that puts too little (or no) value on essential elements of love such as grace and the engagement of the human heart (in a DVH sense) responding to the unique, unfathomable value of the beloved. I agree with this. (But, I would also make a side comment that I don't think this particular impoverishment is the most prevalent one in today's Western cultures. Far more common is an impoverishment of love that puts all of the emphasis on feelings and emotion, in its most extreme form, almost to the exclusion of any engagement of the will at all).

I wonder how you might respond to this question.

Do you see the state of "falling in love" when it first happens, as the summit of authentic love? Is this moment equivalent to a full possesion of real love? Or, do you see love as a virtue beginning its life with an initial spark which though real, nonetheless exists in a fragile, undeveloped form no matter how powerful that initial spark?

Scott Johnston

#2, Jan 28, 2012 3:14am

I'm wondering how your understanding of love corrolates with an understanding of love as a virtue, which by its very nature (except by a special grace) cannot begin right off the bat in a full, robust form.

Love, I would agree, can begin it's life with more or less richness of character--more or less authentic--from the very start. Love, I would say, can begin straightaway with a very rich character (which would include a deep engagement of the heart in response to the other; the character of being a gift one did not create; the presence of mystery; as well as the free engagement of the will). But, this is not the same as saying that love considered as a virtue can begin straightaway at a high level. Considered as a virtue, love begins as a seed and sprouts and grows over time. And this process of unfolding must involve a continual, free engagement of one's will in the "yes" of continually receiving the gift of the other, even as the other essential elements of love continue along with the will's participation. But, as a virtue, love can't deepen and grow over time without the will. Agree?

Scott Johnston

#3, Jan 28, 2012 3:25am

Also, another aspect of clarification.

As you described above, Katie, do you see the "supra-rational" aspect of love as a response to the other as something not involving the will? I ask because it seems to me that any human response inherently involves the will on some level. A particular response can be denied. A gift does not have to be received. Doesn't the reception of the special and unique goodness and beauty of the other as a gift imply on some level a real openness of the heart in which the will must participate?

Katie van Schaijik

#4, Jan 28, 2012 9:49am

Scott Johnston, Jan. 28 at 2:55am

 I don't think this particular impoverishment is the most prevalent one in today's Western cultures. 

No, you're right.  But I addressed this error in the article because it it is an error that is frequently taught as Catholic teaching, as in the example of the apologist whose article I referenced in my article.

Do you see the state of "falling in love" when it first happens, as the summit of authentic love? Is this moment equivalent to a full possesion of real love? Or, do you see love as a virtue beginning its life with an initial spark which though real, nonetheless exists in a fragile, undeveloped form no matter how powerful that initial spark?

Of course the moment of falling in love is only the beginning of the fullness of conjugal love, though I wouldn't call it the initial spark.  It's much more than that.

Seed would be the better analogy, since it contains the whole within it. Spark works for sexual attraction, which can also be the beginning of love, though it's a smaller and less certain beginning, if that makes sense. We'll go into all this more fully on Tuesday.

Katie van Schaijik

#5, Jan 28, 2012 9:58am

I see that the quote feature isn't working properly.  Jules will fix that when he gets back from biking.

On the whole, you and I agree, Scott.  As I say in the last lines of my response to the commenter above:

Of course, to reach its fullness, conjugal love has to be sanctioned with the will. It has to be purified of all ego-centrism; it has to be suffused with the divine love of agape. We have to say yes to it—not just finally, on the altar, but constantly, even as it grows within and between us, and later as its emotional intensity diminishes over time. 

As for "supra-rational"; it follows from the term, and is explict in vH's account that "the whole man" is, as it were, "taken up" in this kind of deeply spiritiual, affective response.  It would be as impossible without the full engagement of my will as it would be without the full engagement of my intelligence.

Katie van Schaijik

#6, Jan 28, 2012 11:10am

About the tendency in the world to reduce conjugal love to a combination of sex and sentiment, I agree with you completely.

But I think virtually all morally and religious serious Catholics (the group I'm addressing) agree with this too.  We are aware that this is the prevailing tendency in our culture, and we are aware that it is full of error and temptation.  And that's precisely what makes us vulernable to bad teaching on the subject. We see the mess in the world and we want no part of it.  Then we hear Catholic teachers saying, "Love is not a feeling; it's an act of the will" and we think we are hearing Christian truth.

Scott Johnston

#7, Jan 29, 2012 4:42am

Totally agree, Katie. Sorry if I seemed to suggest that your article's focus was not important. Not so. I think you are definitely right to be concerned that there is a real danger that a counter-reaction against reducing love to mere emotionalism can go too far and throw out the heart entirely in the process.

I agree, 'seed' is better as an analogy for young love than 'spark.' Thanks for that. It's very interesting to actually specify a different term for initial sexual attraction ('spark') than for a more full expreience of love as it first begins to sprout ('seed'). Great food for thought.

Scott Johnston

#8, Jan 29, 2012 5:03am

This gets me to thinking. . . about American (and probably Protestant European as well) culture as contrasted with Latin (or Catholic European) cultures, in regard especially to our habits and customs surrounding physical touch.

It seems to me that there is a more human, and more healthy (not always in regard to particular persons, but, generally speaking) habit in the way touch is more accepted and integrated in a natural way into human relationships in Catholic cultures than in non-Catholic. And I mean touch that is (generally speaking) chaste, without being cold. Touch that is "warm," without being lustful.

I think here especially of the way couple's dancing is an integral part of Latin culture in a way that is less so for Americans (except through Latin culture or Eurpoean Catholic cultures). There is a comfort level with a sort of public, romantic (but in a chaste, dignified form) touch evident in traditional Latin dancing that I think is somehow an example of what you are getting at. It's an external manifestation of a more full, rich type of love that very much includes the heart and not merely acting upon a sexual spark, or mere lust.

Scott Johnston

#9, Jan 29, 2012 5:36am

This being said, I have to qualify my remarks about Latin dancing by saying that I would exclude most contemporary professional Latin dancing (which highly emphasizes sexual tension and sexual attractiveness of the woman in a very unbalanced and unchaste way). I intend my remarks above to Latin dance in it's more simple, local, (older?) folksy form that doesn't intentionally hyper-exaggerate the woman's sexuality.

A while ago I posted the following video on my blog. I think this couple dancing a beautiful tango in Argentina wonderfully captures what I mean. At least in my observation, their way of dancing is warm, intimate and romantically charged; it's beautifully human, yet also chaste and dignified. It's sensual without being lustful or beastial. What do you think?

Who knows what the real relationship between them is like? They may not be married, perhaps just dance partners (the man seems older). But, in the way they dance this dance, I see them as an effective living symbol of the sort of spousal love that Katie is encouraging. A chaste, yet passionate love of the heart.

And because it's relevant, here's my blog post about this couple's dancing:

Teresa Manidis

#10, Jan 29, 2012 7:54pm

Katie, I really appreciate how you have not reduced love to a formula, to a series of checks and balances on a spreadsheet, or a mathematical 'probability' that any two people, sharing at least some common interests or goals, could make themselves fall in love with each other, forgetting all concept love as a gift.

These utilitarian tendencies are seen in many aspects of modern society (for some reason, the medical procedure of forcing sperm into egg in a petri dish comes to mind, perhaps as the penultimate expression of man rejecting God's gift, of man seeking his own omnipotence, and of man discarding the last vestiges of love and holy romance).  

I think you are doubly justified in emphasizing your point as, as you point out, this clinical approach to courtship and love (emphasizing choice over gift) is sometimes presented as a Christian or even Catholic teaching, a notion people should be disabused of.

On another note, while I am passing on pertinent information to my high school Junior, as was my plan in taking this class, I am finding I am enjoying it for its own sake, and am now so grateful I signed up!

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