Eros, Agape, and mere sex

“There is an implication to calling eros a mediative power that unites the lowest with the highest in man; that links the natural, sensual, ethical and spiritual elements; that prevents one element from being isolated from the rest; that preserves the quality of true humanness in all the forms of love from sexuality to agape. The implication is that none of these elements can be excluded as inappropriate to man, that all of them “belong”. The great tradition of Christendom even holds that those aspects of man which derive from his nature as a created being are the foundation for everything “higher” and for all other divine gifts that may be conferred upon him. “It is not the spiritual that comes first but the sensuous-earthly and then the spiritual”–if one were unfamiliar with this quotation, one would scarcely guess that it comes from the New Testament (1 Cor 15:46). Furthermore, Thomas Aquinas, the last great teacher of a still undivided Western Christendom, says that were natural love (amor), or eros, not something good in itself, then caritas (agape) could not perfect it. Rather, agape would have to discard and excluded eros (which Anders Nygren asserts that it does). That same tradition we call “Western” in the specific sense of being not unworldly but rather characterized by a “worldliness” founded on a religious and theological basis–that tradition speaks with complete matter-of-factness of sexuality as a good. It says, with Aristotle, that there is something divine in the human seed. And unresponsiveness to sensual joy, insensibilitas, is treated not only as a defect but also as a vitium, a moral deficiency. On the other hand, the underlying conception implies that all of man’s powers, and especially sexuality, can remain “right” and “in order” only in their natural place, which is to say, within the wholeness of physical-spiritual-mental existence. Once again we call to mind the mediative and integrating functions of eros.

…Precisely this is what is so bad and so inhuman about sexual activity separated from eros: it frustrates the very experience that constitutes the meaning of the erotic encounter within the whole of existence. That experience is the escape from one’s own limitations and egotism by union with another person. The mere sex partner does not come into focus as a personal being, that is, as a living self with an individually cast human countenance. An American has put the matter very wittily, remarking that where the “playboy” is concerned, the fig leaf has merely been moved to another place; it now covers the human face. Actually, the man who is merely lustful does not, despite the usual phrase, want “a woman” at all. It is eros that wants a beloved woman and wants being together with her. Sex, on the contrary, seeks a neuter, something material and objective, not a “you” but an “it”, the thing in itself (as the partners in Orwell’s 1984 explicitly tell one another); the desire is “to do the thing” (as the phrase is in a novel by Heinrich Boll). The encounter that is sheer sex and nothing else has rightly been called deceptive in character. For the moment, an illusion of union arises; but without love this apparent union of two strangers leaves them more remote from one another than they were before . Thus it should cause little surprise that “in a society that makes sexuality the prerequisite for love and not love the condition for the gift of physical union”, sex paradoxically “rather separates than unites man and woman, leaving them alone and lonely precisely where they thought they would surely find each other”. As such sex consumption increases, this effect is intensified and the sexual encounter becomes increasingly disappointing” (Josef Pieper, Faith, Hope, Love, p 260-261, 264-266)

Note the distinction between the meaning of eros and the act of sexual intercourse…

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This entry was posted in Agape, Eros, Josef Pieper, Love, philosophy, sex, Thomas Aquinas. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Eros, Agape, and mere sex

  1. The impatience with platonicism, yet the need for passion does not nurture the friendship for the strong natural and incidental bonds of coscious intent, rather than random serendipity.

    Perhaps it’s not about the anthropormorphic-centric relations, but a mechanico-physics operation for trans itting and receiving energy forms

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