What is more…

an excercise in getting to the point

Troeltsch – “Social Teaching of the Christian Churches” – Dualisms and Dual Morality in Early Catholicism

According to Troeltsch, the early Church saw the rise of a sharp distinction between Church and world, as well as a rise of a double morality, in which monastics began to practice ultra-ascetical disciplines while the laity were governed by a more accommodating set of moral norms. In Chapter 1, Troeltsch also notes the impact this had on the ethic of early Catholicism. From an ethic guided by absolute individualism (and thus universalism), it shifted to a focus on ascetical behavior, aimed at denying the “world” and procuring merit through the mediation of the Church. In a word: “Ascetic meritorious love swallows up individualism” (111).[1] In what follows I will attempt to trace the sociological effects of the shift from the Pauline and Gospel ethic to the ethic of early Catholicism. The difficulty with Troeltsch is that his argument is not particularly linear or cumulative—rather it is fugal. One must be able to recognize the theme that gets repeated over and over again, with different emphases each time. The theme, as far as I read it, in this section is “tension.” There are various tensions within the church’s social teachings that end up either in a “dual morality” or in a paradoxical “dualism” (or sometimes both). In my presentation of this section of Troeltsch, I will focus primarily on how this tension arises with respect to various social spheres (e.g. property, work, callings, family and slavery, charity, science, and state), and how it gives rise to dual morality or dualism in the church.

First, to set the stage: Initially the church had little overlapping concern with the Social, especially with the state, as Troeltsch defines it. The church and state were like non-overlapping circles. Early on, the influence of the church was mainly on the “most accessible point” (112), i.e. the family. Over time, the circles began to overlap more and more, and the church began to have a stronger effect on economic life of society, and eventually on the state—although Troeltsch is always quick to point out that the sociological impact of the ancient church was always fairly minimal, when compared with the medieval church, at least.

The first social sphere Troeltsch examines is that of property. According to Troeltsch, the absolute rejection of private property was never a viable option in the early church. Claims that seem to put such a view forward are actually hyperbolic exhortations to generous charity (115). With the increased socioeconomic diversity, however, a new problem did emerge: viz. “The Rich.” The problem of what to do about rich people was a complex one. While the institution of private property in itself remained untouched, it was unclear what amount of property was appropriate, although many agreed that one should only have the minimum necessary. The Church reached a two-fold solution. First, there was an “ethic of compromise” in which private property and even “riches” were allowed to the lay people in the Church and to the Church itself, so long as it was accompanied by an “inner detachment” and a spirit of generosity. At the same time, the way of monasticism did away with private property altogether, renouncing it in the name of ascetic denial (117-118). [Dualism & Dual Morality]

In a related matter, the early church had an ambivalent relationship toward work. On the one hand it was encouraged for its disciplinary effects on the individual, and this even in the monastery where private property was abolished. On the other hand, it was seen as a result of the fall and a punishment for sin (119). According to Troeltsch the early Catholic church was characterized by a dualism of a “practical wisdom” with regard to economics (i.e. she gained much through her work), accompanied by an under-theorization of the relation between work and sustenance, as manifested by constant exhortations to rely constantly on God to provide for daily needs. [Dualism]

In the early church there was no robust sense of calling as there was in the medieval church (in one way, monasticism) and in the Reformation church (in another, as described by Luther). Insofar as differences in class existed, they were largely believed to be a result of the fall and a punishment for sin (121). Most Christians believed that external inequality could coexist with internal, spiritual equality in the church. For the early Christians, one was to stay in their current calling, not because of any inherent goodness of the calling, but simply because the short eschatological horizon meant that it was most important to avoid those means of employment manifestly incompatible with Christianity (i.e. supporting the pagan idol worship) (123). In the third century, with the rise of Christians in the upper echelons of society, things became more complicated. Here one sees an “evading and softening [of] these rules” (125) about participation in various vocations. When Constantine converted to Christianity, the most important impediment to participation in society was taken away—i.e. the pagan emperor-cult (125). Christians could now be encouraged to endure the present social order (still a result of the fall), in order to uphold the good of social order (c.f. Augustine in City of God). And yet, the more the church became identified with a fallen world and its orders, the greater became the importance of a monasticism that could “redress the balance by a rigid practice of Christian principles” (126). “Thus in her attitude towards the social and economic organizations of the day the Church was divided between submission to the conditions imposed by sin and insistence on the monastic communistic ideal of love” (127, emphasis added). [Dual Morality]

The early church had much to say about the realm of the family. It supported a strict family ethic, which included monogamy, prohibition of extramarital relations, strict discipline of children, and prohibition of exposure of infants. In this regard, “there was a ‘perpetual struggle between the highest ideals of Christianity… and the motives of the secular legal system’” (130). This meant a high view of a particular picture of family life. At the same time, however, there was also a parallel morality of celibacy and virginity among the monastics. Family was affirmed as part of the good order of creation, but it was also something that some gave up for the sake of a higher, supernatural end. “The sex ethic split into two parts… In this respect the development of the sex ethic was typical of the whole ethic of the Early Christian Church” (132). [Dual Morality]

Insofar as slavery was affected by family relations, the church had an influence upon it. But insofar as it was an expression of the social sphere and the economic order of the State, the church did not try to alter it. Fully aware of “the inconsistency between [slavery] and the inner freedom and equality which was the Christian ideal” (133), the Church allowed it to continue to exist. [Dualism]

Early on charity had the following marks: it took place in tight, homogenous communities; it was largely private and philanthropic; it was primarily about expressing and acting out of love for neighbor. Later (post Constantine?), charity had changed. It now took place in the context of a large diverse society; it was depersonalized and institutionalized; and it was performed more and more as a means of obtaining merit, rather than for love’s sake (135-137). The institutionalization of charity is also related to the rise of the bishops and clergy as a “new class,” awarded “more and more privileges” (138) by the Emperor. These privileges for the Church were turned toward care of the poor and social welfare; the bishops became “patron of the poor and wretched” (140). Without fundamentally changing the oppressive Social order itself, the privileges of the church functioned as a “corrective and a softening of existing conditions” (141) – while, at the same time, the rise of a new clergy class had the effect of further separating the church from the world. [Dualism?]

Troeltsch’s final—and most extensive—exploration concerns the relationship between church and state. The early church, according to Troeltsch, was marked by a fairly strict dichotomy between Church/Kingdom of God, on one side, and State/World, on the other (146). The “world” was not thought of as in cosmological or metaphysical terms, but rather as a passing age (aion houtos, saeculum) between Fall and parousia. The state, on the one hand, was part of this passing age, a result of the fall, and therefore part of this “world.” On the other hand it was good, insofar as it was from God and used by God for social order and to punish sins (148).

As the church grew in size and influence, it inevitably compromised the element of antithesis. Some “minimum” form of secular institutions were necessary to uphold common life. But how much was this “minimum”? “This was the question which divided Christianity into two great camps” (149). Most of the church came to acquiesce more and more to the secular conditions of the empire, but “monasticism restricted this ‘minimum’ as far as it was humanly possibly to do so” (149).

How did Christians come to justify their (tentative) affirmation of the state? First, early Christian apologists began to appropriate the Stoic doctrine of Natural Law (150). Especially after Constantine, many Church Fathers based their acceptance of the laws of the State on the theory that positive laws “proceed from the Divine Law of Nature, which is identical with the Decalogue” (152). But this introduced a conundrum: what should one think about laws that are manifestly bad? The Stoics felt this tension as well, and “found their solution in isolating the primitive period, or the Golden Age” (152) in which the “Law of Nature prevailed completely” (152). Christians took a similar route. The fact that positive law no longer directly reflects the Divine Natural law is a result of human sinfulness. At the same time, the fact the Natural Law as we have it does not exactly match the Divine Natural Law (of the primitive state) is not simply a result of the corruption of our faculty of reason after the Fall. Rather “it is the transformation of the Law of Nature, which, according to the Divine Will, took place after the Fall” (153). Postlapsarian Natural Law “can only become evident in the form of an order of law and compulsion” (153). This gives rise to the distinction between a “relative Natural Law, corresponding to the conditions of the general sinfulness of humanity” and the “absolute Natural Laws of the Primitive State” (154, emphasis added). The “harsher aspects” of positive law, according to this view were a result of sin, but were also used by God as a remedy for sin.

Along with Natural Law, the church also stressed “theocratic absolutism” (158). This was a way of understanding the authority of the emperor to make positive laws. While they might have gone the way of the Stoics, and conceived of a free transfer of authority to the princeps occurring in the primitive state, the church fathers more often affirmed that “the authority of the Emperor comes from God” (156)—whether by the grace of God (if it is a good Emperor) or by the wrath of God (if it is a bad Emperor) (156). As regards this second (theocratic) conception, the authority of the Empire could only be limited by its source of authority, i.e. God. Practically speaking, this meant that the Church (“the institution in which God is incarnate” (157)) claimed authority over the Emperor “in all spiritual things, in questions of dogma, of the law of the Church, of ecclesiastical property, of ecclesiastical legislation,” etc. (157).  In so doing, the Church “hallows” the State.

This dualistic theory—combining “the theory of relative Natural Law and the theory of theocratic absolutism”—had various outcomes in the social realm. First was the “division of labor” between Church and State, with the Emperor ruling in the secular affairs of State, and the Church ruling “in everything which concerned religion and the Church” (158). Another outcome was that the Church also began to utilize the State for her own ends, i.e. to secure a “unity which was enforced by the powers of the State, and not by the inherent logic of the ideas contained in the doctrine of the Church” (159). [Dualism]

Troeltsch’s final say on this dualist theory of state is damning, and worth quoting at length:

“The Christian theory of Natural Law—in which the pure Natural Law of the Primitive State, the entirely opposite relative Natural Law of the fallen State, the positive law, which often included the greatest abominations, and that true goodness which, in spire of all these ideas of Natural Law, is the only source of the supreme power of the theocracy, were in continual conflict—as a scientific theory it is wretchedly confused, but as a practical doctrine it is of the highest importance for the history of civilization and social evolution” (160).

In the end, I am left with the following questions: (1) Does the heuristic of “dualism” vs “dual morality” illuminate—or obscure—Troeltsch’s understanding of the early medieval catholic social ethic? Is there a better overarching way of explaining this section? (2) How does Troeltsch’s historical treatment help us understanding Christian appeals to “Natural Law”? Is his distinction between relative and absolute natural law correct? (3) Using some of the concepts that Troeltsch introduces, as well as some of our readings for this week, how might we begin to explain a Christian doctrine of political authority, either for the ancient church or for our own day?


[1] Although Troeltsch notes that individualism was preserved through the ideas of Christian love, monasticism, and contemplation (111).

Love & Justice (5) – Niebuhr’s Nature & Destiny of Man, vol. 1.

For this post I would like to do something a little different than usual. I want to compare Reinhold Niebuhr’s general structure of theological anthropology, with special attention to his doctrine of sin, with work done in the sociology of knowledge by Peter Berger and Arnold Gehlen. As I hope to make clear presently, Niebuhr’s anthropology tracks very closely with Berger and Gehlen’s conception of man’s condition in modernity. The basic question I would like to pose is this: does this fact indicate that Niebuhr’s theological anthropology is conditioned by his location in modernity? Or, if it is indeed a true description of anthropology, then what implications does Berger and Gehlen’s description of modernity have for the modern person’s prospects for overcoming sin?

I will begin with Gehlen and Berger. According to Arnold Gehlen, compared to other species in the animal kingdom, human beings are particularly unfinished at birth. They do not have a developed instinctual apparatus to guide their behavior. They do not know when they are in danger, when their existence is threated, or how to protect themselves. Because of this fact, humans must build institutions—patterns of thought, behavior, and social relationships. These institutions do for human beings what instincts do for other animals in the world; they provide a framework for the social defense against the contingencies of nature. According to Gehlen, human experience is essentially divided into two parts: (a) the background part of our experience that is taken-for-granted, and (b) the foreground part of our experience, in which we think, reflect, ponder, and deliberate. In traditional (pre-modern) societies, most of human life took place as background; it was mostly taken-for-granted. With modernity we have the movement of more and more of human experience into the foreground. Things that were previously taken-for-granted now become a matter of choice. Berger, building on Gehlen, has pointed to the way in which this proliferation of choice changes the way in which each person relates to their own self. The proliferation of choice increases the existential anxiety as each person must calculate their own “life-plan,” simultaneously relating to a plethora of possible future worlds. The plurality of choices is, according to Berger, an inherently destabilizing force. Further, there are fewer and fewer stable institutions in modernity than there were in traditional societies. Religion, which once serves as a cohesive social factor, is now something that one chooses, based on “religious preference.” One must choose, a condition Berger refers to as “the heretical imperative.”[1]

Let us move to Niebuhr. According to Niebuhr, humankind is made both in the image of God, and as a creature of God. This means three things, in particular. First, humans have a spiritual dimension characterized especially by “self-transcendence.” Second, humans are weak, dependent, and finite creatures. Third, evil in human beings is a consequence of their “inevitable though not necessary unwillingness to acknowledge [their] dependence, to accept [their] finiteness and to admit [their] insecurity” (150).[2]  Humans are “insecure and involved in natural contingency,” and, instead of trusting God to take care of them, they “seek to overcome insecurity by a will-to-power which overreaches the limits of human creatureliness” (178). The problem is an inability to hold together self-transcendence and finitude under the trust in God. “Since he is involved in the contingencies and necessities of the natural process on the one hand and since, on the other, he stands outside of them and foresees their caprices and perils, he is anxious. In his anxiety he seeks to transmute his finiteness into infinity, his weakness into strength, his dependence into independence” (251).

The parallels between Niebuhr, on the one hand, and Gehlen and Berger, on the other, are striking. Both stress the condition of contingency and vulnerability that humans find themselves in. Both also stress the fact that humans are able to transcend their own immediate lived-reality and imagine alternative possible realities. Finally, both stress the anxiety that inevitably comes along with this combination of factors. The difference is that, for Gehlen and Berger, the confluence of contingency and freedom has been greatly expanded because of the facts of pluralism and choice. For Niebuhr, freedom and finitude are basic characteristics of the human situation, made clear in both the biblical narrative and in our experience of history. The answer to the anxiety that Niebuhr offers are theological virtues of faith, hope, and love—each of which comes to us as both a requirement and an ideal, but never as a fully achievable reality (271). Berger and Gehlen, are more diagnostic, and less interested in offering any “solutions” or theological explanations of the anxiety that results from contingency and choice.

The question I am left with is the following: if Gehlen and Berger are right about their description of the movement of more and more human experience from the background into the foreground (what they call “deinstitutionalization”), then what does this mean for Niebuhr’s theory of sin? A skeptic might reply that this demonstrates that Niebuhr is falling into the trap of being overly influenced by the spirit of the times. His theological scheme is merely a “projection” (Feuerbach) of the modern condition, or an instance of “natural theology” (Barth), in the bad sense. Or, alternatively, it may be the case that Niebuhr’s description is, in fact, both biblical and true to experience. If this is so, then it might be the case that Gehlen and Berger are pointing to an aspect of modernity that would intensify the “temptation to sin” that Niebuhr so eloquently describes. Perhaps the modern person finds herself in a unique situation, in which the anxiety of freedom and finitude is heightened, and her proclivity to sin in order to escape or deny this condition is also heightened.


[1] See especially Peter Berger, The Homeless Mind, chapter 3 and The Heretical Imperative, chapter 1.

[2] Reinhold Niebuhr, Nature and Destiny of Man. All in text references are from this work.

What is a Saint?

In two works–Athanasius’s Life of St. Antony and the Rule of St. Benedict–we have a picture of Christian sainthood that, seen from our modern perspective, seem to hold together disparate aspects of human personality. On the one hand, each presents an ascetical attitude that seems overly obsessed with the mortification of sin and would seem to lead to a moroseness unbefitting for a flourishing human life. On the other hand, each shows hints of a deeper joy and unique (dare we say, eccentric?) personality that shines through.

Athanasius’s Life of Antony is a hagiography of the famous desert father, St. Antony. In Athanasius’s telling, Antony, upon hearing the words of the Gospel, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven,” does precisely that. He sells all that he owns, places his younger sister into a convent for safe-keeping, and retreats into the desert to wrestle with his demons—literally and figuratively. Antony’s asceticism was legendary (and perhaps exaggerated). According to Athanasius he lived in a tomb for nearly twenty years, surviving on meager portions of bread and water. At the end of this period, Athanasius present Antony in terms that seem consistent with a stoic sage: “He maintained utter equilibrium, like one guided by reason and steadfast in that which accords with nature.” At first glance, Antony’s achieved perfection seems to transform him into super-human figure—or, if not super-human, than at least less human, in the sense of being one to whom we might relate. “The state of his soul was one of purity, for it was not constricted by grief, nor relaxed by pleasure, nor affected by either laughter or dejection.” This doesn’t sound like someone most of us would want to be around. On the other hand, the text indicates that “Antony was loved by all.” He celebrated whatever was of worth in any person, and strove to put that into practice.[1] Antony was, in all likelihood, a peculiar fellow who attracted people not only by his legendary ascetic feats but by the quality of his personality and individuality.

This is important because Antony’s biography/hagiography had an enormous influence on the early medieval ideal of Christian sainthood. St. Augustine was famously influenced by The Life of St. Antony in his own conversion experience. Through Augustine’s Confessions, the ideal of the desert fathers continued to have influence in the medieval Latin church, and is reflected in the Rule of St. Benedict. Of note for our present purposes is the ladder of humility by which the Christian is exalted into sanctity. With each step of humility, the humble brother achieves new heights of ascetic discipline. Finally, in the twelfth step, “not only that a monk should be humble of heart, but also that his humility should be apparent in his physical appearance to those who see him… he should always have his head bowed, his eyes fixed on the ground, and should at every moment be considering his guilt for his sins and thinking that he is even now being presented for the dread judgment.” This would seem to be the picture of the morose Christian monk that is satirized throughout the middle-ages. But the end result, according to Benedict, is that “he now begins to keep effortlessly and naturally and habitually, influenced now not by any fear of hell but by the force of long practice, and the very delight he experiences in virtue.”

Above all, I believe, the aspect of radical asceticism is less essential to the Christian view of sainthood than the fact that the saint are those who have whole-heartedly lived in the light of the love of God, and are therefore more genuinely themselves, unique individuals. This does not mean that they are perfect, but that their life takes on a different tenor because it reflects the presence of God in a distinct way. According to Buechner,

“Maybe more than anything else, to be a saint is to know joy. Not happiness that comes and goes with the moments that occasion it, but joy that is always there like an underground spring no matter how dark and terrible the night. To be a saint is to be a little out of one’s mind, which is a very good thing to be a little out of from time to time. It is to live a life that is always giving itself away and yet is always full…. Beneath all our yearning for whatever glitters brightest in this world lies our yearning for this kind of life.”[2]

 


[1] As will become clear, my own understanding of “sainthood” has been influenced by the writings of Frederick Buechner. With regard to the Life of St. Antony, Buechner’s writings, especially his Pulitzer nominated novel Godric, have illuminated the tension between the humanity of the saints and the literary genre of hagiography.

[2] From The Magnificent Defeat.

Love & Justice (4) – Tillich’s Love, Power & Justice

What is the relationship between love and justice? So far we have considered the perspectives of Kierkegaard, Brunner, and Rauschenbusch. For Kierkegaard, love and justice are antithetical, insofar as justice seeks one’s due and love “seeks not its own.” For Brunner, love and justice relate to completely different spheres of existence; justice applies to the sphere of the created “orders,” love serves both as the “motive” force behind Christian participation in justice, and as the rule of action within the sphere of interpersonal relations. For Rauschenbusch, love is the “only working principle” in human relations because it leads to solidarity and justice. For Rauschenbusch, then, love and justice are ultimately both ways of talking about the solidaristic Kingdom of God. With Paul Tillich we have an interpretation of love and justice that is closer to that of Rauschenbusch, insofar as both reject a stark antithesis between the two concepts, but Tillich’s analysis also differs in dramatic ways from Rauschenbusch.

Tillich’s methodology is reflected in the structure of Love, Power, and Justice. After identifying problematic “confusions” in popular understandings of each of the three concepts, Tillich’s next three chapters offer “an ontology” of love, power, and justice, respectively. The final three chapters analyze the relations between love, power, and justice in three ethical “relations”—between persons, within groups, and before God. Tillich moves from ontology to ethics. This means that he grounds his understanding of the relation between love and justice (and power) in an analysis of how each concept relates to “Being itself.” Love is basically a drive toward reunion of what has been separated from an original unity of being (25). Power is being “realizing itself with increasing intensity and extensity” (35). Justice is the “form” adequate to being in reunion, i.e. love (62). Given this method, which presupposes an original unity of everything in “Being itself,” it is not surprising that the basic relation between love and justice (and power) is a “unity.”

Perhaps the most innovative and puzzling aspect of Tillich’s book is his description of “creative justice.”[1] The classical definition of justice (“to each his due”) and the more modern conception of justice as equality, when considered from the perspective of the “form” of being in its drive toward reunion, are shown to be of only limited value. While Tillich doe not describe them as such, they are seemingly “lower” levels of justice. At the most basic level, justice is simply the recognition that is due to something that exists by virtue of the intrinsic power of being within it. At another (higher?) level, justice recognizes various deserts of the other; “attributive justice attributes to beings what they are and can claim to be. Distributive justice gives to any being the proportion of goods which is due to him; retributive justice does the same, but in negative terms” (64). The final form of justice is creative justice, which is arguably the highest, insofar is it is necessary to explain how God can act justly precisely in his mercy and forgiveness. “God is not bound to the given proportion between merit and tribute. He can creatively change the proportion” (66).

The great benefit of Tillich’s description of “creative justice” is that it allows us to more easily understand how God can be both merciful and just at the same time. In forgiving the unjust, God is not laying aside justice, he is expressing it. The problem, however, once Tillich redefines justice in this way, is that justice is not longer recognizable as justice. Remember that justice, for Tillich, is the “form adequate” to the reuniting of what is separated. Justice, then, is simply “the form in which and through which love performs its work” (71). Tillich has laid aside the tension between love and justice by defining one form of justice (creative justice) as the “ultimate meaning” of justice, and subsuming this form of justice to love.

Problematically, however, we are not free from the original tension. It seems that Tillich has actually shifted the tension between love and justice into the concept of justice itself. For what happens in forgiveness? “More exactly one should speak of the resignation of proportional justice for the sake of creative justice” (65, italics added). In essence, Tillich is saying that the ultimate meaning of justice is love, and so love triumphs over (merely proportional) justice.[2]

The other problematic aspect of Tillich’s concept of creative justice is that it makes classical atonement theories superfluous. For Tillich, creative justice has the ability creatively change the proportion between merit and tribute. But one is left with the question: exactly how does it do this? Does it not cost something  to the one who forgives? If God can simply change the proportion by divine fiat, then the substitutionary character of the atonement is no longer needed. The atonement, for Tillich, becomes a “symbol of the divine love, participating in the destruction into which it throws him who acts against love” (115). This solidaristic conception of the atonement is similar to that of Schleiermacher and Rauschenbusch. With Tillich’s atonement, this suffering-with is a wholly gracious way for God to reveal what God is doing by setting-aside proportional justice for creative justice, but is not in any constitutive of creative justice; God might just as well have creatively changed the proportions without necessarily suffering-with humanity in Christ. Ultimately, for Tillich, the incarnation and cross are incidental to God’s forgiveness.


[1] Interestingly, in terms of structure, “creative justice” seems to serve as a sort of hinge between the two main sections of Love, Power, and Justice. The first half (ontological) ends with justice, and the second half (ethical) begins with justice.

[2] Here we see the significance of Paul Ramsey’s interpretation of Tillich’s scheme. According to Ramsey, Tillich’s “creative/transforming justice” is actually love-transformed justice, or justice in the service of agape love.

Agape Love in the Desert Fathers

The Desert Fathers of the 3rd and 4th centuries were famous for their asceticism and their heroic world-denying practices. They sold all that they had in order to achieve the higher perfection that Jesus commends to the rich young man (of course, their way of interpreting this verse differed widely from Clement of Alexandria, who preferred to “spiritualize” the meaning of Jesus’s command).  They moved into the desert in order to “mortify the body and [keep] it under subjection” and to (quite literally) wrestle with their demons.[1] The goal of such askesis was the purification of the soul and the attainment of a particular sort of virtue or perfection—a mixture of Stoic resolve and Christian humility. It was said of Antony, after he emerged from 20 years of solitude in a cave in the desert that “when he saw the crowd, he was not annoyed any more than he was elated at being embraced by so many people. He maintained utter equilibrium, like one guided by reason and steadfast in that which accords with nature.”[2]

Such a description seems to tend toward a self-regarding ethic that focuses on one’s own welfare (spiritual, not material). What seems most remarkable about the ethic of the desert fathers, however, is the place of other-regarding love. This is most explicit in the sayings of the desert fathers XVII.xviii:

“A brother asked a certain old man, saying, ‘There be two brothers, and one of them is quiet in his cell, and prolongs his fast for six days, and lays much travail on himself: but the other tends the sick. Whose work is the more acceptable to God?’ And the old man answered, “If that brother who carries his fast for six days were to hang himself up b the nostrils, he could not equal the other, who does service to the sick.”

In addition to service and hospitality toward those outside the monastic vocation, many of the desert fathers also stress the importance of compassion and grace toward those who are struggling against their own demons. Older men and women are not to be harsh toward younger ones, but are “to have compassion on those who are harassed by temptations of this sort” (V.iv.). There is a recognition, at least from the wisest fathers, that temptation comes to different people in different ways, but it does indeed come to all. The tone is certainly far from that of Tertullian, who does not seem to be the most patient and graceful of church fathers.[3]

My favorite demonstration of love in the sayings of the fathers occurs when a young man, beset by repeated temptations of lust, visits an old man (elder?) for help. The old man comforts him until his temptations go away. After returning to his cell the young man is again tempted and returns to the old man who comforts him again. We are told that this happens eleven times, until the old man said “Believe me, my son, if God permitted the thoughts which my own mind is stung to be transferred to thee… thou wouldst dash thyself headlong” (V.xiii.). So it was that by his “great humbleness, [the old man] did quiet the goading of lust in the brother.” Here is a picture of gentleness, patience, compassion, and humility. Rather than banishing the young man as a distraction from prayer and asceticism, the old man cares for him and identifies with him. This saying of the desert father shows me what mentorship and accountability can look like in Christian community, and it encourages me to aspire to it in my own life.


[1] See Athanasius, Life of St. Antony, 36-40.

[2] Ibid., 42.

[3] Of course, the desert fathers are talking about the young monk wrestling with temptation—not the penitent monk admitting to outright sin. I would be interested to know if there are sayings of the desert fathers that deal with the latter topic.

Love & Justice (3) – Rauschenbusch’s Theology for the Social Gospel

Periodically, in the history of the church, there comes a time when the dominant way of looking at things becomes limited and begins to obscure essential elements of the gospel of Christ. When this happens, the voice of a prophet is desperately needed. Walter Rauschenbusch was such a prophet. Against a version of the Gospel that can be describes as “merely personal,” he rightly pointed to the “social gospel” and its necessary implications for the communal life of a society. “The social gospel calls for an expansion in the scope of salvation” (11, emphasis added).

Rauschenbusch’s Theology for the Social Gospel is important for any study of the relationship between love (agape) and justice in the Christian tradition. Rauschenbusch holds together love and justice by subsuming both under two key concepts: “solidarity” and “the Kingdom of God.” I will examine each in turn.

For Rauschenbusch, one of the chief characteristics of sin is selfishness, seeking after one’s own welfare at the expense of the welfare of others. Because this is the chief characteristic of sin, it must also be that from which Jesus saves. Redemption, according to Rauschenbusch, necessarily reorients our aims from our own welfare to the common good (98-99). This means that solidarity is the mark of a true Christian (109).

According to Rauschenbusch, religion and ethics [or love and justice?] are not separate realms but are “blended” (14). This is only the case, however, where the idea of the “Kingdom of God” is recognized and sought after (140). My own interest in Rauschenbusch’s work lies, in particular, in his idea of the Kingdom. What is its nature? For Rauschenbusch the Kingdom is that which Jesus preached and initiated in his life. The Kingdom of God is defined as “humanity organized according to the will of God” (142), and according to Rauschenbusch this entails freedom for all, love, unity, and non-exploitation. This Kingdom is both a “realm of love” and a “commonwealth of labor” (54). This means that all exploitation, whether political or economic, is excluded from the beginning. This kind of injustice has no place in a society ruled by love (273).

Rauschenbusch’s idea of the Kingdom highlights the relationship between ethics and eschatology: how is human action conditioned by conceptions of the relationship between time and eternity? It is at this point that ambiguity creeps in to Rauschenbusch’s theology. For Rauschenbusch the kingdom is both “now” and “not-yet.” It was “initiated” by Jesus, but it is not fully realized. As an ideal toward which we should strive, the Kingdom is “always pressing in on us” (141). So far; so good. This tension, I believe, is present in any Christian conception of the Kingdom, and rightly so. For it gives attention to the promises of a “new age” that was present in Christ and in his life, but also promised in a more fully realized way at the parousia. This “in-betweenness” was recognized as early as Augustine, who rejected the idea that the Christianization of the Roman Empire could be equated with the coming of the Kingdom of God.[1]

The ambiguity lies in whether the Kingdom of God is a historical reality or not. Contrary to popular belief, even though Rauschenbusch declares that the social gospel “expands the scope of salvation,” he did not believe that social life and social institutions could be completely redeemed, for the Kingdom has no consummation in history (227). If the Kingdom can never be completely achieved, then perhaps the Kingdom occurs to the degree that social institutions are organized according to the will of God. This, however, would seem to reduce the Kingdom into an ideal toward which we strive, and this is something that Rauschenbusch rejects. “The Kingdom of God is not a concept nor an ideal merely, but an historical force” (165)—one that Jesus “establish[ed]” (150) on earth. Rauschenbusch advocates “millennial hope” (224) in a Kingdom that occurs developmentally (225), but “has no final consummation” (227). Such a view resonates with a Scheiermacherian picture of an historical development of the God-consciousness of humankind through the organic growth of the church, a process that approaches consummation asymptotically without ever reaching fulfillment. This, it seems to me, does transform the Kingdom in an ideal to be pursued, rather than a reality to be hoped for. In the Old and New Testaments, the picture of the Kingdom seems more like the latter than the former.

Rauschenbusch was a prophet of social consciousness. The spirit of prophecy is needed from time to time, as it was in Rauschenbusch’s day. But the prophet, because of his polemical and rhetorical attitude, necessarily highlights some things at the expense of others. Rauschenbusch rightly opposed a “merely personal” gospel. While he did not, therefore, propose a “merely social” gospel, his invective leads in that direction, and became influential in some expressions of Christianity that equate the good news of Jesus Christ with an ideal of social justice, without the hope that the Kingdom inaugurated by Christ will find its fulfillment, by the power of God, here on earth. To hold together both of these impulses, Rauschenbusch needs a much more robust Christology, one that acknowledges the cosmic Christ of Colossians 1:16-20: “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities, all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together… For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell and though him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”


[1] C.f. Robert Markus, Saeculum: History and Society in the Theology of St. Augustine, 1989.

Was the Early Church “Pacifist”?

In this reflection I would like to comment on some recent readings that dealt with the topic of early Christian relations to the state and perspectives on the acceptability of Christians in military service. This topic is one that has interested me ever since I took Jim Childress’s class on Just War last fall. In that class, the basic narrative presupposed by most people in the class was that the early Christian church was most likely against Christian participation in the military, and it was not until later, perhaps around the time of Constantine’s conversion, that it became an acceptable profession. As Kocheski[1] rightly points out, however, this does not necessarily mean that the early Christian church was “pacifist”—at least not in the way we tend to use that term today. Kocheski refers to Childress’s article from 1984,[2] in which he elucidates different types of pacifism.

One type of pacifism opposes Christian participation in the military because of the danger of idolatry; Roman soldiers had to make an oath of allegiance to Caesar that could potentially undermine their absolute allegiance to God. Until reading the article by Kreider,[3] I was convinced that this was the predominant reason for the rejection of Christian participation in the military for the fathers (especially Tertullian). Now, however, I see that bloodguilt was a central idea in the early church orders; the participation of the catechumenate in killing would prevent him from “hearing the Gospel.”

Another type of pacifism decries all use of political force as inherently evil, and rejects any attempt to legitimize war or political coercion. This type of pacifism, however, does not seem to be entailed in the early church orders’ proscription of Christian participation in the military. It was not the political realm, as such, that was rejected, but the bloodguilt that accompanied acts of killing. That is why some of the versions of the church orders allowed for the possibility of participating in military service without shedding blood. Such a view of total pacifism (rejection of all political force) does not seem to be in line with early Christian biblical sources (especially Paul’s discussion of the “governing authorities” in Romans 13:1-7).

Therefore we are left with another type of pacifism, one that does not reject war and coercion as such but only the perpetration of these by Christians. Such a view does seem to be central to the earliest Christian texts, but three points can be made about such a view. (1) First, such a perspective does seem to be perfectly suited to the sort of “interim ethic” often attributed to the first generation of Christians. Such an “interim ethic” looked forward to the coming parousia, and was particularly focused on keeping clean and pure while awaiting the eschaton. Bloodguilt, in such a context, seems to put the person’s salvation in peril pointlessly. (2) A rejection of Christian participation in shedding of blood as rhetorical and apologetic value. Given the fact that Christians were not in a position of power anyway, they had much to gain by juxtaposing their nonparticipation in political force with the violence of the empire. They did not have political responsibility, so they came across, in comparison, as pure and blameless. (3) Finally, as shown by the Kocheski article, the early Christian pacifism was not of an absolute sort. They did not oppose war as such. Rather, they felt that they were participating in a war of cosmic proportions. They opposed the shedding of blood, but only because they believed that the witness (marturion) of their deaths helped the church to grow (c.f. Tertullian), and therefore, was a method of defeating the devil at his own game.


[1] Jonathan Koscheski, “The earliest Christian war: Second- and third-century martyrdom and the creation of cosmic warriors,” Journal of Religious Ethics 39.1, 2011

[2] James F. Childress, “Moral Discourse About War in the Early Church,” Journal of Religious Ethics, 12.1, 1984

[3] Alan Kreider, “Military service in the Church orders,” Journal of Religious Ethics 31.3, 2003

Love & Justice (2) – Brunner, “The Divine Imperative”

In The Divine Imperative Emil Brunner describes the relationship between the demands of agape and those of justice (i.e. the “orders”) in, what Paul Ramsey calls, characteristically “dualistic” terms.[1] There are, according to Brunner, within existence as we know it, certain “created orders” (e.g. community, family, state, etc.) that form the presupposition for our daily lives as human beings. We experience these created orders as  “given,” and this, I believe, in two ways.

First they are “given” in that they precede us and are not consciously created by us; they are a natural product of human reason ordering human relations. In this first sense they are distinguished by Brunner as a separate realm from the realm of faith. They are the realm of “office,” as opposed to the realm of the “personal.” The former is the realm of justice, the latter the realm of love. But the former exists for the sake of the latter, which is its telos. Were it not for the natural orders of creation, which prevent human society from devolving into chaos, there would be no opportunity to show love to our neighbors: there is no love in the state of nature. But the “orders of creation” are also given to us by God, as part of his preservation of creation. While deeply tainted by sin, the orders of creation serve God’s purposes.

How are we to understand these orders of creation? At times it seems as if Brunner is advocating a fundamentally conservative view towards whatever social institutions happen to exist—so long as order is upheld, we must “first affirm” God’s providence through them. Such a view seems to leave itself open the worst type of conservatism and quietism—a perfect storm of Lutheran “two spheres” and Catholic “natural law” at their worst. This is the aspect of Brunner’s theology that provoked Karl Barth’s famous “Nein!” Of course, Brunner is too good of a theologian to advocate this strong of a view of the orders of creation without simultaneously stressing the challenge that the gospel presents to the existing orders. Nevertheless, Brunner does say that the Christian’s first attitude toward the orders is affirmation, which can only be tempered later by protest and reform.

One problem with the “two-sphere” view that separates the “official” realm from the “personal” realm is that it undercuts the second move in the dialectic that Brunner is trying to uphold between affirmation and protest. Because the “orders” form the “vessel,” or institutional structure of society, which can only be “filled” with the content of love, it becomes very difficult to push against institutional norms that are fundamentally un-loving. One sees this, especially, in Brunner’s discussion of “Reasons of State” (Staatraison). Because the “official” realm is governed by human reason, and not by love, the state has its own “autonomy” that “cannot be governed and ought not be governed in accordance with the law of love” (462). While Brunner does not see this autonomy as absolute, it is difficult to see in what way love could possible set limits on the “reasons of state.” The state needs power to preserve order, but power comes (only?) through unjust means. According to Brunner, it is “for love’s sake” that men enter the realm of the state to preserve order, but how can one do something fundamentally unloving for loves sake? This paradox, I believe, comes close to irresolvable contradiction.

There may be a better way to think about the “orders of creation” that is also present in Brunner’s thought. In the Divine Imperative Brunner discusses the internal meaning and telos of the orders of creation. According to Brunner, the “orders of creation” exist ultimately for the sake of love. Through the lens of faith, the believer can come to see the orders as secular parables of the true community of agape. What they reveal to us is God’s intention to have us exist in mutual interdependence with one another, and therefore for one another. This more minimalist picture allows the orders to play a positive role, but not one that is entirely determined and regulated by autonomous reason. There is no autonomy to the orders as a separate sphere. Rather, the orders are seen as sinfully tainted attempts to order human relations in a just and loving manner. Insofar as they do so, they point forward to a fuller and deeper picture of human sociality—both with other humans and with God. Within this schema, however, they can and should be tempered by the Christian love ethic, which could work, in some sense, like leaven works through dough (Matthew 13:33).


[1] Ramsey, Nine Modern Moralists, 182.

Troeltsch – “Social Teaching of the Christian Churches” – The Gospel and the Pauline Ethic

The following is a seminar paper reflection on Ernst Troeltsch’s The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches, in which I focus on the first part of the first chapter. In this section Troeltsch makes a distinction between the gospel of Jesus and that of Paul that will have lasting influence throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

§1. The Gospel

Troeltsch begins his discussion of the Christian gospel with an immediate challenge to Karl Marx: “Christianity was not the product of a class struggle of any kind” (39). According to Troeltsch, while the gospel arose in the context of various social forces, it cannot simply be reduced to a product of its time. Primitive Christianity arose as an “independent phenomenon” (39), with a “purely religious” (39) gospel with “its own inner dialectic and its own power of development” (48). It was concerned with matters such as eternal salvation, proper worship, and ascetical practices of discipline and holiness. The “Kingdom” the early Christians sought was not an upheaval of the social order, but rather an ethical ideal “in which all the values of pure spirituality would be recognized and appreciated at their true worth” (40).

According to Troeltsch, the “fundamental idea” of the gospel of Jesus is the “final Judgment of the coming of the ‘Kingdom of God,’ [when] the true spiritual values, combined with a single-eyed devotion to the Will of God, will shine out in the glory that is their due” (51), and with the community that looks in hope toward this Kingdom. This gospel stresses both the presence of God and the value of the human soul “attained though self-renunciation for the sake of God” (52). Among the ethical ideals that arise from such a gospel message are sincerity, integrity, conscientiousness, humility, and self-denial (53-54).

According to Troeltsch, this gospel ethic leads to the following sociological characteristics: (1) an absolute individualism which values each and every soul in light of her particular relation to God, and sees all distinctions fall away except “those which characterize creative personalities of infinite worth” (55);[1] (2) an absolute universalism as the “fellowship of love among those who are united in God” (56). Individualism and universalism, according to Troeltsch, are mutually interdependent, and both are conditioned by the eschatological expectation of the kingdom of God. All of this arises quite naturally and freely as a result of the Gospel ethic; it is not a result of a sociological or institutional structures. “Jesus did not organize a Church. He simply asked for helpers who would spread the message” (58).

What does the gospel of Jesus have to say about the State, the economic order, and the Family? Of the State Jesus has virtually nothing to say (59). Of the economic order Jesus councils only humble trust that God will provide one’s “daily bread,” and a self-sacrificing love that is apt to share what it has with others (59). Of the family, Jesus endorses whole-heartedly the “ethical conception” of the “monogamous family” (61), even while the message of the coming Kingdom relativized its importance. In no way does the gospel directly challenge any of these orders. “In the teaching of Jesus there is no trace of a struggle against oppression… The message of Jesus is not a programme of social reform. It is rather the summons to prepare for the coming of the Kingdom of God; this preparation, however, is to take place quietly within the framework of the present world-order, in a purely religious fellowship of love, with an earnest endeavor to conquer self and cultivate the Christian virtues” (60-61). While this ethic resulted, at times, in a “religious Communism of Love,” such a result was purely derivative and accidental; it was not the goal.

§2. Paul

The transition from the gospel ethic to the Pauline ethic is essentially a transition from the fact of the “fundamental happening” of faith in the exalted and risen Lord (69) and the sociological consequences that arose as a result. It is important to remember that Troeltsch is interested in how the gospel takes shape in the life of the church when, as he will say later, “the situation has changed” (81). With the Pauline ethic the situation has changed in two broad ways. First, the Christian message has become more Christocentric. The pure, absolute individualism was lost, and therefore so was the universalism. The individual before God, seeking to follow God’s will, is now a recipient of Pneuma-Christ, who is the mediator of grace. Second, the church, which began as a “loose-knit group” of followers, is becoming a semi-organized “cult.”

Perhaps the most interesting part of this section is Troeltsch’s examination of the sociological consequences of a key ambiguity—inchoate in Judaism and in the gospel but full-blown in Paul’s thought—between equality and inequality. According to Troeltsch this ambiguity is at the core of both (a) debates about theodicy and theological voluntarism and (b) the rise of Christian patriarchalism.

First, voluntarism: Paul speaks about human equality before God in multiple ways. Humans are equally sinful before God’s holiness, a form of “negative equality” (72). Humans are also equally loved by God. These equalities are of a purely religious sort, and manifest themselves in the equality of all members of the congregation in the act of worship (73). A tension arises, however, because not all realize the equality of Grace in the same way; some come to it slowly, and with great difficulty, if at all. Paul attributes the source of this inequality of the realization of grace to the inscrutable will of God, which gives rise to the classical question in metaphysics and theology: “Are holiness and love the norm for God himself? Or do they only have value through his inscrutable Will?”[2] According to Troeltsch, there is an “element of the irrational” in appeals to the “inscrutable Will of God,” that has the following sociological effect: the equality of humans must be affirmed only on the eternal scale; all differences in earthly life “must be left in the Hands of God” (75).

Troeltsch also sees in this ambiguity the seeds for the rise of Christian patriarchalism. Within the context of the “worth of personality and of the unconditional fellowship of love”, “inequalities of human life in ordinary affairs” are taken up and transformed into a “source of peculiar ethical value” (76). This occurs through the metaphor of the body/organism in which the “nobler and baser parts” each have a place in the fellowship of the whole. “As stewards of God the great must care for the small, and as servants of God the little ones must submit to those who bear authority” (78). Over time, this dynamic “assumed the form of a compact social system, with its various grades of authority and subordination” – i.e. a Christian hierarchy.

With regard to what Troeltsch calls “the Social”, the Pauline ethic presents a “curious blend of conservative and revolutionary elements” (87). It generally shows an outward conservatism mixed with an inner detachment that relativizes the social realm. It “can never be a principle of revolution” (85), nor can a “purely and unconditionally conservative doctrine” (86) be produced by it. This dynamic, I am sure, will play itself out throughout the rest of Troeltsch’s massive work.

§3. Two Points for Critique/Discussion

I will conclude this essay with two critiques. The first critique has to do with Troeltsch’s understanding of the class basis of the early church. According to Troeltsch, Jesus’ message was primarily addressed to the poor and oppressed, with whom it met the earliest success. “During the first few centuries the Christians belonged to the lower classes” (41). While immensely influential, Troeltsch’s view here has been challenged by some modern scholars. Rodney Stark, presents a number of arguments countering the theory that Christianity was disproportionately represented by those from the lowest class, as well as a sociological analysis of “new religious movements” that suggests that “cult movements [including early Christianity]… are based on the more, not the less, privileged” within a society.[3] Its difficult to say whether this effect’s Troeltsch’s overall program. On the one hand, it seems to call into question the strength of his claim that the early church could not have been interested in the “Social” because, as disenfranchised commoners, the followers of Jesus had religious concerns of a “primal” and “non-reflective” sort (44). On the other hand, Troeltsch acknowledges “some” upper class members in the early Church (42), and even points to a similar dynamic  [he calls it a “fusion”] between the “cultivated thoughtful circles” and the lower classes that necessarily takes place with the rise of  “new religious movements” (44). It may be the case that the difference between Stark and Troeltsch simply amounts to a difference of exactly when the upper classes began to play a role in the formation of Christianity—a point that may weaken, but does not necessarily discount Troeltsch’s overall narrative.

Second, I question Troeltsch’s assertion that “Paul’s ideas were quite distinct from the ideals of the Gospel” (80). It must first be acknowledged that Troeltsch does not draw an absolute division between Jesus and Paul. Indeed, the “Pauline turn of thought in relation to social matters corresponds to the spirit and meaning of the Gospel” (85, emphasis added). Still, one might ask whether it is fair to locate the “fundamental idea” of the Gospel where Troeltsch does? It seems to make the more Christ-centered aspect of Christianity a Pauline aberration. One might point to the early dates of Paul’s letters, his connection to the church in Jerusalem, and Christ’s teachings about himself in the gospels as evidence against such a distinction. Of course, Troelstch might say, as some scholars have, that what we learn of Jesus through the NT scriptures, especially the Gospels, is shaped and formed by the needs of specific communities, which have already undergone the “transformation” from loose-knit group to semi-organized cult. Such a view, in my opinion, claims too much. While not ignoring the contextual needs that occasioned the writing of NT documents, it seems more plausible that the Christocentrism of the early church was actually present in Christ’s own teaching.


[1] There are echoes here of Kierkegaard: “[Christian love] teaches love of all men, unconditionally all… embracing all, loving everyone in particular but no one in partiality” (Works of Love, 78).

[2] Of course, this problem did not arise only in Pauline Christianity. Plato has Euthyphro ask a similar question in one of his dialogues. It seems to arise in all theistic religions, and continues today in Muslim debates about theological voluntarism and Jewish philosophical debates about legal positivism and natural law in ethics.

[3] Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, 1997. See especially chapter 2: “The Class Basis of Early Christianity”.

Love & Justice (1) – Kierkegaard: Works of Love

One of the classes I am taking this fall is called Love & Justice in the Christian Tradition, with Professor Jim Childress. Over the course of the semester we will examine a number of different approaches to the relationship between Christian love (agape) and justice, a surprising difficult and complex topic. The first week is Kierkegaard (love and justice in sharp distinction).

In Works of Love, Soren Kierkegaard draws a sharp distinction between erotic love (eros) and friendship (philia), on the one hand, and Christian love (agape) on the other. The latter is distinguished from the former insofar as it is non-discriminatory (universal and impartial), theocentric, a matter of inward conscience, and essentially self-sacrificial.

There are many aspects of SK’s account of Christian love that I find compelling. First, God is central here. In particular I find the idea that love’s hidden life, which springs from our inmost depths, is grounded in God’s own love within us (26-27), for God is love. This is exemplified in the life of Christ, whose love for humankind was “pure action” during every moment of his life. Second, while I am not sure what it is supposed to look like in practice, I do believe that the love commandment (“Love your neighbor”) is, at least potentially, universal in scope. Therefore, I am less worried than some people might be when SK states that Christian love “teaches love of all men, unconditionally all.” I recognize that SK, at times, comes close to making particular humans fungible—e.g. “Death itself cannot deprive you of your neighbor either, for if it takes one, life immediately give you another” (76). But, with Jamie Ferreira, I believe the claim that SK calls us to an overly-abstract love of neighbor easily misses the dialectical tension in Works of Love, as exemplified in the following quote: “equality appears in love’s humbly turning itself outwards, embracing all, yet loving everyone in particular but no one in partiality” (78, emphasis added). We are to guard against partiality only because it limits the scope of our love. Each and every person whom we are called to love is to be loved in particular. SK does not imagine a neighbor in abstracto; “At a distance one’s neighbor is only a figment of the imagination” (89, emphasis added). Finally, and there isn’t space to elaborate, but at least for now, I agree that love takes the form of a command, and therefore also the form of a duty. This does not mean, however, pace SK, that Christian love is only such insofar as we make it a matter of personal conscience, for I believe we can follow a command and fulfill a duty without knowing that we are doing so.

My main problem with SK’s account of Christian love is that it makes self-sacrifice essential to Christian love. For SK self-renunciation is “Christianity’s essential form” (68) and “Love is essentially sacrifice” (247, emphasis added).[1] What would it mean for agape love to be essentially self-sacrificial—as opposed, let us say, to being incidentally self-sacrifical? To say love is incidentally self-sacrificial is to suggest that love might require a renunciation of one’s own interests and desires. It could even suggest that love will likely require such sacrifice, but not because sacrifice is equal to love. When in love (agape) I focus on my neighbor’s welfare, I am called beyond my own interests (apart from my interest in love itself) in such a way that they become secondary to my neighbor’s interests. Insofar as I am focusing on her welfare (and her need) I am not at that time focusing on my own. There is an element of self-forgetfulness in such an other-focused love.  SK points to this element beautifully: “he who in love forgets himself, forgets his sufferings in order to think of another’s… such a person is not forgotten. There is one who thinks of him, god in heaven; or love thinks of him” (262). But notice, in this case, any self-sacrifice that occurs is derived from my focusing on the good of the neighbor, which is primary. Therefore, self-sacrifice is incidental, not essential, to this love. To make self-sacrifice essential to love is to say that it must be present any time love is present. But we can easily imagine acts of love, or relations of love, that are not marked at all times, by such self-sacrifice. To put it another way, to say that love is essentially self-sacrifice is to say that self-sacrifice is essentially loving. But this immediately strikes one as implausible. Self- sacrifice (and self-destruction) can be motivated by any number of factors, many completely unrelated to love. It is not the sacrifice of the self that makes Christian love what it is. Rather it is the focus on the welfare of the other that does so. While this will often entail self-sacrifice (e.g. when such love means putting the needs of the other first), it is not essential to such love (e.g. when there is no conflict between self-interest and the needs of the other).


[1] Incidentally, here is where we see the difference between love and justice. For justice gives to each his own; love seeks not one’s own (248). This seems to place love and justice in sharp antithesis. One question I am left with is this: does love seek another’s own? If this is so, is justice an instrument of love? Or, is love an instrument of justice?

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