Paul: Week 2
The Four Loves
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
There are many different kinds of love. Ancient Greeks had multiple distinct words for what we try to cover with our single word “love”; these include philia (friendship), eros (passion), storge (familial love), and agape (infinite or divine love). I sometimes fear that our paucity of words reveals an actual narrowness of experience.
For Paul, agape love is the Great Love that is larger than you. It is the Great Self, the God Self. It’s not something you do. It’s something that you learn to live inside of even while you already participate in it. Paul’s oft used expression for living in love is en Christo or in Christ. This way of being is something you fall into more than you manufacture, just as our wonderful English phrase puts it—falling in love. This love is unconditional, always present, and comes without any stipulations except the falling itself. We will only allow ourselves to fall into love when we give up control, consciously or unconsciously. It will often feel like a falling and a faltering, an ecstatic humiliation.
The ego will resist and say, “Why am I doing this to myself? And yet I long to do it!” Normally, something must lead you to the edge of your present resources so you have to push your reset button to access a power greater than yourself. Most of us just don’t go there without a push or a fall or a seduction of some kind.
In 1 Corinthians Chapter 12, Paul explains how we, precisely in our togetherness and participation, are Christ’s Body. Yet each of us is a different part of this Great Wholeness. He lists the many differing gifts of the Spirit. In closing, he writes: “Earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I am going to show you the best way of all” (1 Corinthians 12:31). Then, in his attempt to try to describe this agape or divine love, Paul writes his most poetic chapter in all his letters. He seems to run out of adjectives and superlatives to express the fullness of love.
Paul is not describing human friendship (philia), affection of parents for children (storge), or even passionate desire (eros); he is describing what it is like to live inside of an Infinite Source—where all the boundaries change, feelings are hardly helpful at all, and all the gaps are filled in from the other side. So you see why I say that any Valentine’s notion of love is totally inadequate and can even send you down an impossible and disappointing road if you try to conjure up such romantic dedication within yourself. We have to take breathing lessons and develop larger lungs to live inside of such a new and open horizon. It does not come naturally until we draw upon it many times, and then it becomes the only natural, the deep natural, the true natural. You have then returned home and can even practice the other kinds of love with much greater ability and joy.
Gateway to Silence:
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. —1 Corinthians 13:7
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Great Themes of Paul: Life as Participation (Franciscan Media: 2002), discs 7, 9, and 11 (CD);
and “The Most Profound Chapter in the Bible,” a homily on January 31, 2016, https://cac.org/the-most-profound-chapter-in-the-bible/.