Monday, February 14, 2011

Kierkegaard on Love

I love Kierkegaard. This is from his Journals:

Here Luther is again completely right. No one can see faith; it is unseen: therefore no one can decide whether or not a man has faith. But faith shall be known by love. Now men have indeed wanted to make love into an unseen something, but against this Luther, together with Scriptures, would protest, for love is Christianly the works of love. It is really an un-Christian conception of love to say that it is a feeling and the like. This is the esthetic definition of love and therefore fits the erotic and everything of that nature. But Christianly love is: the works of love. The love of Christ was not inner feeling, a full heart, etc.; It was rather the work of love, which is his life.


Emily Claire said...

It's hardly surprising that Kierkegaard manages once again to incite me in relation to this subject. Without adding to your pre-marriage summer reading list, perhaps we should pick Works of Love back up before our vows.

Granted, in relation to this comment in particular, the quote is without context (presumably you have the book?). Therefore, he is unable to explain himself and I am unable to speak fully enlightened. However, my commenting in your blog is long overdue.

This is a perfect example of what I tried to explain last summer (there is no need to refer me to the letter in which you mediated between me and him). His discounting of "erotic and everything of that nature" (presumably all manifestations of romantic love) as being merely fit by the aesthetic definition of love (something unseen, unacted) is entirely abrasive to me. Romantic/erotic love is equally dependent upon Christian love as platonic or familial; as you’ve said, it is a particular facet of Christian love. Romantic/erotic love is not an inner feeling as he grossly misstates. It is futile to romantically love someone without its manifesting itself in work... He creates, once again, a mutual exclusivity between romantic and Christianly love which just doesn't exist.

I would love to see Charles Williams justify to Kierkegaard the merit and Christian validity of Christian romantic/erotic love.

It's almost a shame that I finally appear in your blog only because of my finding abrasive a man whose humor, if he had any, would be quite dry indeed.

-- Em

Nance said...

Well hi there!
You should read more of S.K. before you make a judgment about his humor. The man's actually pretty hilarious, I think.
And I'm all for finishing WOL, actually--as far as I'm concerned I'm 'still reading' it anyways... just with a long break in the middle.

But, to the substance of your comment. We probably need to figure out exactly what Kierkegaard means by 'aesthetic' and 'erotic'; I don't know, but I imagine these are very particular categories for him (I should ask ALH about this!) and probably dependent on the work of some contemporaries or then-fashionable authors he is responding to. How we want to read his breakup with Regina will probably affect how we read this also.
All that being said, I have two thoughts: 1) Remember how in WOL he is frequently referring to 'the poets' and defining Christian love over against the love of the poets? If we use that to try and contextualize what he's saying here, then we're talking about a particular, non-Christian (or at least not explicitly Christian) category of romantic love. Such poets would not claim as you do that their love is dependent on Christian love. I think what I said is true of us, but it would not necessarily be so of them. 2) Again, I'm speculating, but it could be that for S.K. agape has sort of conquered the realm of right human relations, and therefore any time you see people loving correctly, be it husband and wife, friends, the Samaritan helping to man by the wayside, or whatever else, you are, Kierkegaard would say, looking at Christian love, at agape, regardless of what the involved parties would want to call it. Any love that's active has been conquered for and claimed by agape.
I don't recall what Lewis says about the relations between the different sorts of love, though that would be interesting to check out in this regard. I should listen to The Four Loves again.

Kierkegaard and Luther both knew that eros is never commended to believers in the New Testament. It's always agape--every time Paul or Peter says 'husbands, love you wives', etc. I think this is truth S.K. is trying safeguard from popular conceptions of love in what we're reading/have read. And I don't really mind... I like thinking about my love primarily in terms of . If I can do that, it just makes me feel like I'm doing alright. Kierkegaard knows from experience that you can have strong feelings for someone, but he's right in saying that there's nothing particularly Christian about that. It's only a Christian love when it's the kind that lays down its life for the other, but he's just not going to call *that* eros. I don't really blame him.
But I like his point on the whole, and I'm sure you do too--the hangup really is with these terms like 'erotic' (note that he doesn't actually speak of "romantic" love here), and I for one am not even positive what they mean.

Nance said...

"Primarily in terms of agape," that is.

Emily Claire said...

I'm fairly certain I've forced you to have this same conversation with me several times. And, each time, I am again satisfied with your explanation and can rest contented with Kierkegaard. He just raised my hackles today, and I needed my perspective checked again.

I know full well I was criticizing him on undefined (even unincluded) terms. Your second point is what we have discussed several times. Apparently it just needs to be restated so I can approach him properly (ie, without wrath). And your third (unnumbered/subppoint of 2?) is basically both points combined, and I understand :)

And WOL is not being "still read"-- it's been a year! That demands a restart ;)

-- Em