On the eve of Valentine’s day I was at Notre Dame University, giving a talk on Catholic (courtship for the annual Edith Stein conference organized by students)—on conjugal love in the Catholic vision, and what it reveals about the nature and vocation of persons.
It is perhaps my favorite of all topics—the one that has been closest to my heart and most on my mind during the more than 20 years since I discovered philosophy through a course on the nature of love in my junior year in Steubenville. I’ve been mulling a book on the subject ever since. And yet, whenever I agree to give a talk, I find myself overwhelmed. There’s too much to say. Too much truth and beauty, too much height and depth to contain in a short space of time! It becomes a kind of ordeal for me. Then I remember St. Augustine writing of the impossibility of praising God adequately, “And yet woe to me if I do not try!”
One day a year or two ago I found myself participating in a strange debate at a website dedicated to female sexuality in all its permutations. Another participant wrote in a sort of bored and cynical tone that Catholic and Islamic sexual morality boiled down to the same woman-oppressing thing: virginity until marriage.
I was taken aback—stunned wordless that anyone could see it that way. Of course it’s true that both religions demand virginity until marriage and fidelity until death. But the why and the how are so radically different that I found it hard to believe that anyone could see them as basically the same. In truth, the two sets of beliefs are almost opposites—in some respects more distant from each other than Christianity is from the secular hedonism that prevails in our culture.
I decided that this theme too should be explored in a book. I hope to write it someday. But meanwhile, here is an article that begins to show what I mean. According to it, in the Islamic view, romantic love is “a disease”, in essential conflict with commitment to Allah. In Christianity, it is exalted; it is an icon of the Holy Trinity. In marriage it becomes a Sacrament, a path to holiness, helping achieve the redemption of the world.