God and Love
God is Love and a Christian is called to worship God. (I John 4:8) Christians are, therefore, a people who worship at the feet of personal Love. All love springs from the recognition of beauty and the source of this beauty is God.
For a Christian, God is both the source for humans’ love and the ultimate end of that love. In many ways this is like the vision of Diotma in Plato’s Symposium, but because the Good is personal within Christianity, God (or the Good) is not just the Beloved, but can function as a Lover. The Divine Lover does not have to love the cosmos out of need or poverty, because in the Divine Nature there are three persons sharing one essence. God can be His Own Beloved with fecundity, because of this complex nature. The Father can love the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Beloved is different from and yet the same as the Lover.
As the source of beauty only God can love Himself productively, but He does not love Himself alone. God loves within Himself so potently that out of His Love springs forth His creation. Creation is distinct from God, but is the object of His Love, because it is His cosmos. Humankind, the crown of that creation, is especially in His image, because in community humans can become an icon of His Divine Nature.
I can love and even venerate the good in my friend unto to the point of death, because doing so is by divine transference an act of worship to the only God.
A great Christian truth is that mankind cannot love God or even see God without first having loved other men. When Adam had not sinned or fallen out of Love, God said of Adam, “It is not good that the man should be alone . . .” (Genesis 2:18). People are designed by God to live and love other people. Unlike God, each individual human being has only one person within himself. We must love other persons, human persons, to be images of God. These loves are various and taken as a whole reflect what happens between the persons of the Holy Trinity.
C.S. Lewis in his classic The Four Loves points out the necessity of “lesser loves.” If one love swallows up all the others, then the men are left with an incomplete image of God. Friendship between humans, the potential fecundity in the intimacy between sexual lovers, and the warm relationship of a mother and her child are each fragments of the Divine love. Each God ordained love is productive in it own way: friendship produces the city, sexual intimacy produces children, and parental love creates a whole soul in the child.
If these loves become confused or misunderstood, humanity suffers. When men and women turned their backs on Love and decided to grasp what seemed good, seemed true, and seemed beautiful over what was good, true, and beautiful, they fell from love into selfishness and back into loneliness. What begins as love soon stops desiring the beloved, but desires to consume or possess the beloved. Humanity is expelled from the upper way and becomes lost.
It is central to Christianity that God so loved us that He came Himself, in the person of the Son of God, to redeem all humanity and creation. (John 3:16). Reason does not stand coldly distant, but took on flesh and lived in our midst where we could see His glory, grace, and truth. (John 1:14) This staggering love took on all hatreds, all failures of love, and strove to heal them through that reception. God died in our hatred so we could live again in love.
Of course, this side of the final consummation of Love at the End of Time, God’s plan of redemption is not complete. We are broken, and fixing us, along with the entire cosmos, is a complex operation. God will not simply rend our hatred from us, because it is too deeply embedded in the pain of our separation from His Love.
The ultimate goal for each man or woman is to be one with God. We hope for a wedding between humankind and the Divine. God became fully man so that man could be become God. (Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 54) One image of this theosis is seen in the coming together of male and female in holy matrimony. There the two distinct “others” in humankind, the male and the female, which can become one in flesh and spirit. Sexual intercourse becomes in Christian marriage an outer sign of an inner realty.
The “bloodless martyrdom” of marriage is nothing like the union of lovers found in Aristophane’s speech in Symposium. Here the two lovers give themselves to unity—but this unity does not reduce two to merely one, but (ideally) becomes three. The man, woman, and child repeat the pattern of Divine Creation.
An even better image of this theosis comes when either a man or woman gives themselves to the entire community of the faithful as a groom or a bride. They pour out their lives in bloodless martyrdom of service which produces spiritual sons and daughters. This “better way” is not available to most of us.
Saint Lucy and Dante
Just as God loves each man as an individual, so he has an individual plan for their redemption. In so far as a man is part of mankind, he must be saved as men are saved. Christians believe there is only one general plan for redemption: Jesus Christ. However, each individual comes to this same central place from a different place of hatred and pain.
Some of us are more broken than others. A few can love very well and their path back to God can be short, though always painful. Most of us discover that we are very lost and we must journey through Hell simply to get back up, and then through the stars to reach Love.
Dante understood humanity well. He knew that we live in a comedy since all of history will consummate in a marriage, but that tragedy was between us and the happy ending. The character “Dante” in his great poem was very lost, but ended up aided by better souls. Community for Christians does not end in death! We are heading, after all, to the City of God and not to isolation to contemplate the Divine alone.
Dante, the greatest of poets, ends up being helped by Mary, Beatrice, and Lucy. Each is greater than Dante, because each was a better lover. Mary said “yes” to direct intimacy with God and bore Emmanuel, God with Us. Beatrice loved Dante enough to remember him and to intercede for him even when his love for her turned out to be a fraud. Lucy was a simple young woman who gave up her vision as a martyr in order to see the Beloved with spiritual eyes.
Saint Lucy took the short path to God, because she was ready to love absolutely. Her intellect, will, and erotic nature were in perfect harmony or came to perfect harmony in the sacrifice of martyrdom. For Dante the journey home was longer, because he was lost “in a dark wood.” His intellect and his pride in his own greatness stood in the way of achieving absolute romance.
Christianity is the religion of lovers heading for the Known Beloved: God in Three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.