In the last column “Quid Amor? (What is Love?)”, I wrote about the different loves as explained by C.S. Lewis and by the Holy Scriptures. Love is so much more complicated than being a simple emotion without reason. According to Lewis there are four loves; Storge, Philia, Eros and Agape. Each love plays an important part in our relationships and each adds a specific beauty to our humanity. Pure Eros is a love that is of great importance to the flourishing of relationships between human beings and between the human person and God. But what if that Eros becomes erroneous? What if Eros becomes degraded?
Lewis defines Eros as romance, “‘being in love’ or the kind of love which lovers are ‘in’”
Sexuality is only a small part of Eros. Sex does not describe the entirety of Eros. In fact, Lewis states that sexuality can occur without Eros, being in love or romance. For him “Eros includes other things besides [solely] sexual activity”. Lewis calls the sexual act without Eros “Venus”, which refers to the Roman Pagan goddess of love, beauty, sex and fertility. “Venus” is a natural instinct in all creation; however, this natural instinct can be used for the good of humanity if placed under the governance of reason.
Venus is not necessary for Eros. C.S. Lewis writes that “to the evolutionist Eros [is] something that grows out of Venus”. This ideology is not necessarily true and should not be assumed to be the only acceptable truth. It is true that some men find that their attraction to a woman begins with the mere sexual appetite and eventually ends up falling in love with the woman, but this is not necessarily true because “very often what comes first is simply a delighted pre-occupation with the [totality of the] beloved”. When the man is preoccupied with the total person of the beloved, he finds that he does not have “leisure to think of sex” and he has a desire to know this person without the need to know her sexually. Should this desire awaken within him the “sexual element” he knows that this sexual desire was not the foundation of his desire to know the woman. In fact, if he is functioning in Eros, then this sexual desire will be reordered. According to Lewis, Eros is what reorganizes the sexual desire to focus on the “beloved” rather than “the thing…sensory pleasure”.
Eros makes the person want a particular beloved not the pleasure that can possibly come from the beloved, when the beloved becomes objectified. When we do not allow for our sexual desires to be overshadowed by true Eros, then all sexual conduct becomes about the “me”. Eros should be directed toward the outward sharing of love, Eros “is something outside us, in the real world”, and it goes beyond ourselves. Whenever we lose this understanding and focus on the erroneous understanding of Eros, namely to turn it inward, this leads us to reducing Eros into simply “sex”.
Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est says,
Eros, reduced to pure “sex”, has become a commodity, a mere “thing” to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity. This is hardly man’s great “yes” to the body. On the contrary, he now considers his body and his sexuality as the purely material part of himself, to be used and exploited at will.
Through the reduction of Eros man himself becomes objectified and sex loses its sacredness and becomes a form of currency to be used for exchange of one for another.
So what is the appropriate use of Eros?
Pope Benedict says, “True, Eros tends to rise “in ecstasy” towards the Divine, to lead us beyond ourselves”. Eros is a path to expressing our love in an outward way, focusing on the other and not so much on our own desires for intimacy. For this reason, Eros can be lived out in platonic relationships, such as a Priest to his flock, a friend to a friend, a brother to his brother; it is the outward expression of love, of romance for another. Eros is not meant to be focused upon what pleasure is found in a relationship for my own but rather, an emptying of self for the sake of the other. The ultimate purpose of Eros is to seek relationship with God. As Benedict says it is “an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God.”
Pope Benedict says that our faith does not seek to discount the beauty and importance of erotic love but rather that “Eros needs to be disciplined and purified if it is to provide not just fleeting pleasure, but a certain foretaste of the pinnacle of our existence, of that beatitude for which our whole being yearns.” However, if we do not discipline Eros, or rather if we do not live in true Eros, then it becomes a source of degradation, reducing humanity to mere passing pleasures, reducing their human dignity and negating their identity as “beloved children of God”.
The perfect example of pure Eros, was the life, Passion and Death of Jesus Christ. He humbled himself from his divinity and took on our humanity in order that he might redeem our humanity. Because he was so in love with his bride, the church, he completely emptied himself out, pouring out his saving blood so that we might have life. His Eros was directed totally toward the Father and from that love between him and the Father, he in turn loved us; which resulted in the Holy Spirit, which was always present in the trinity, to be lavished over us for all eternity.
Can we love in this way? Can we give ourselves for the sake of others? Are we living pure Eros?