With the arrogance of youth, I determined to do no less than to transform the world with Beauty. If I have succeeded in some small way, if only in one small corner of the world, amongst the men and women I love, then I shall count myself blessed, and blessed, and blessed, and the work goes on. -- William Morris

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Singing the Unity of Love

Let him kiss me with kisses of his mouth!
More delightful is your love than wine!
Your name spoken is a spreading perfume-
That is why the maidens love you.
Draw me!

Thus begins one of the most important books of the set of Scriptures used by Jews and Christians. That’s right, I quoted from Sacred Scripture, not a cheap grocery store novel. Still, when I say erôs, I imagine that some of you think of things that shouldn’t be mentioned, while others of you think of things that are probably more or less OK for discussing with friends, but not appropriate for a Sunday school talk like today. Consider what would happen if you typed “erotic” into a web-search. In one way of speaking, the results “wouldn’t be pretty,” but in another way of thinking, they’d be “all about prettiness.” To cut to my point, the whole topic of erôs is full of tension. It’s a bag mixed with good things and troubled things, pleasure and pain, fear and love. Some of that tension does resolve to the issues of sin and sinfulness. I’m certainly not here to give you an X-rated talk, and I’m not really even here to give you thoughts on sin. But still, it’s at the heart of Catholicism to see that sin is a perversion of a deeper gift. I intend to talk about that deeper gift this morning. My way of going about doing this is to consider a book of Scripture, the Song of Songs. I hope many of you found it in the Old Testament and read it before today. With notes and commentary, it comes to less than 7 faces of a page in my edition of the Bible. That is, it’s short enough to read in one sitting. If you haven’t read it recently, I can only encourage you to read it this afternoon. But I don’t want simply to discuss the book of the Bible; I am not a Scripture scholar. Rather, I’m something of a theologian and historian. Besides that, Catholics understand that Scripture and Tradition are married, and so, I cannot talk about the Song of Songs without also talking about commentaries on the Song. As with all Scripture, we must pay attention to how it is used. Finally, I want to take some queues from our current Pope Benedict’s first encyclical, Deus Charitas Est - God is Love, and discuss the unity of love.

The Song is one of the oldest books of the Bible. It seems to be a series of love songs that would have been sung at a wedding. The amorous images, phrases, and praises speak of the love between a man and a woman. Even though some of the language might not be the best way to frame it in American English, for example, it probably wouldn’t work out too well for a young man to say to a woman,

your hair is like a flock of goats streaming down the mountains of Gilead. Your teeth are like a flock of ewes to be shorn, which come up from the washing, all of them big with twins, none of them thin and barren…Your neck is like David’s tower girt with battlements; a thousand bucklers hang upon it, all the shields of valiant men,

-even though this might be an odd way to go about expressing love - we can easily understand most of the imagery, for example,

set me as a seal on your heart,
As a seal on your arm;
For stern as death is love,
Relentless as the nether world is devotion;
Its flames are a blazing fire.
Deep waters cannot quench love,
Nor floods sweep it away.
Were one to offer all he owns to purchase love,

The theme of love is timeless, and the Song captures many elements of the way we experience and understand that theme. Still, many puzzle over the fact that this book of the Bible does not mention God directly. Nor does it tell the history of Israel directly, like the familiar stories from Genesis and Exodus. Instead, it seems to offer an expression of love that can be understood on many levels: the love between spouses which is both passionate and steadied; the love between Jesus and the Church, the love between the Father and his people, the love between God and the individual soul, and even the love of Mary. Most Jewish interpretation either understands the Song as that expression “of love between God and Israel given to Moses with the law at Mount Sinai or as the song of love revealed at the building of the ark of the covenant.” A famous first century Rabbi said “the whole world is not worth the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel, for all the Scriptures are holy, but the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies.” Christian use of the Song does not differ much from his understanding.

Origen, a Christian born in the second century, was a brilliant man who sought holiness within a period of time marked by persecutions of Christians. He studied with Jewish and pagan scholars in Alexandria. Though some of his speculations were later understood as heretical, he led the way in many fields of theology, especially commentary on Scripture. His Commentary on the Song of Songs is a very important text for theology. Written in Greek, it was translated and widely read in Latin as early as the 4th century. Since he is the first Christian to write at length on the Song, I’d like to quote at length from his introduction to the Song:
Before we come to consider the things that are written in this book…it seems to me necessary to say a few things first about love itself, which is the main theme of this Scripture; then about the order of the books of Solomon, among which we find that this one is put third; then about the name of the book itself…and, lastly for what apparent reason it is written in dramatic form and, like a story that is acted on the stage, with dialogue between the characters.

Among the Greeks, indeed, many of the sages, desiring to pursue the search for truth in regard to the nature of love, produced a great variety of writings in this dialogue form, the object of which was to show that the power of love is none other than that which leads the soul from earth to the lofty heights of heaven, and that the heights of beatitude can only be attained under the stimulus of love’s desire. Moreover, the disputations on this subject are represented as taking place at meals, between persons whose banquet, I think, consists of words and not of meats. And others also have left us written accounts of certain arts, by which this love might be generated and augmented in the soul. But carnal men have perverted these arts to foster vicious longings and the secrets of sinful love.

You must not be surprised, therefore, if we call the discussion of the nature of love difficult and likely to be dangerous also for ourselves, among whom there are as many inexperienced folk as there are people of the simpler sort; seeing that even among the Greeks, who seem so wise and learned, there have none the less been some who did not understand what was said about love in the sense in which it was written, but took occasion from it to rush into carnal sins and down the steep places of immodesty, either by taking some suggestions and recommendations out of what had been written, as we said above, or else by using what the ancients wrote as a cloak for their own lack of self-control.

Origen obviously references Plato’s Symposium, and probably has other dialogues in mind, as well as many Greek poems that address the theme of love. Plato had written about the process of moving from a particular beautiful body to the beauty of ideas and even to beholding Beauty Itself. In Origen’s Commentary, pages of discussion continue before he concludes his introductory section as follows:

The Scripture before us, therefore, speaks of this love with which the blessed soul is kindled and inflamed towards the Word of God; it sings by the Spirit the song of the marriage whereby the Church is joined and allied to Christ the heavenly Bridegroom, desiring to be united to Him through the Word, so that she may conceive by Him and be saved through this chaste begetting of children, when they - conceived as they are indeed of the seed of the Word of God, and born and brought forth by the spotless Church, or by the soul that seeks nothing bodily, nothing material, but is aflame with the single love of the Word of God - shall have persevered in faith and holiness with sobriety.

These are the considerations that have occurred to us thus far regarding the love or charity that is set forth in this marriage-hymn that is the Song of Songs. But we must realize how many things there are that ought to be said about this charity, what great things also about God, since He is Charity Himself. For, as no one know[s] the Father but the Son, and he to whom it shall please the Son to reveal Him, so also no one knows Charity except the Son. In the same way also, no one know[s] the Son, since He Himself likewise is Charity, except the Father, and in like manner, because He is called Charity, it is the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father, who alone knows what is in God; just as the spirit of man knows what is in man. Wherefore this Paraclete, the Spirit of Truth who proceed[s] from the Father, goes about trying to find souls worthy and able to receive the greatness of this charity, that is of God, that He desires to reveal to them.

Origen warns us of the dangers that lie in store if we misunderstand Scripture, and the dangers are especially perilous since they involve love. As virtually all Christians who lived later than Origen would note, the Song of Songs is not simply a passionate teenage love letter, but it is the song of a soul on fire with the Holy Spirit, it is the song of holy men and women throughout time, it is the song of the mystics who experience union with the thrice-holy God who reveals himself in flesh and blood and calls us to delight in his communion eternally. The Song presents a challenge because it is a difficult text that can be understood on many levels. Note that the problem for Catholics is not that it has many levels, but that these levels run to the very ultimate depths of our faith: the nature of the Trinity and God’s love for us expressed in marital imagery. Historically, the Song became a key text for showing a theologian’s ability to interpret Scripture. The appropriate use of allegory, tropology, anagogy, and the plain senses of Scripture were much debated on account of this text. It’s not my intention that we get bogged down in some of the technical debates about interpreting Scripture. Rather, I want to point out that one aspect of theology that the Song always makes apparent is that issue of how we use and understand Scripture.

But more is at stake with Christian commentaries on the Song than our process of using and understanding Scripture. This certainly an important aspect of theology with which the Song confronts us. In fact, it’s so important that it gets a whole field of study devoted to it. We call this thought about how things are understood “hermeneutics.” There is a very influential 6th century theologian who has chosen to hide his identity behind a 1st century Scriptural character. He wrote under the name of “Dionysius the Areopagite,” one of the guys Paul mentions in his letters. Since we know he wasn’t that guy, we call him “pseudo-Dionysius.” He argues that erotic language is Scriptural amidst a larger hermeneutical process explained in his work called the Divine Names. After citing a use of erôs from the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament), he notes how other Christian’s take

the title ‘yearning’ [eros] to be more divine than ‘love.’ [agape]…the title ‘real yearning’ is praised by us and by the scriptures themselves as being appropriate to God. Others, however, tended naturally to think of a partial, physical, and divided yearning. This is not true yearning but an empty image or, rather, a lapse from real yearning. The fact is that men are unable to grasp the simplicity of the one divine yearning, and, hence, the term is quite offensive to most of them.

The point is quite clear: if we misunderstand erôs, then of course we will be scandalized by considering it as revealing something about God. However, if we properly understand it, then we have found a tool for encountering that mysterious God of love. "What is signified [by desire] is a capacity to effect a unity, an alliance, and a particular commingling in the Beautiful and the Good…This divine yearning brings ecstasy so that the lover belongs not to self but to the beloved."

A classic problem in philosophy is how to talk about unity and multiplicity at the same time. They seem to be opposites, but we find them everywhere. Christian theologians offer interesting insights into such puzzles. Consider how the Trinity, for example, addresses unity and multiplicity by speaking of divine communion. Another classic problem arises when we attempt to speak about Jesus as the God-Man and about how we as humans come to exist in that divine realm of Heaven. Being holy is being like God, being joined to him, but without loosing our own identity. Free will presents another classic problem that follows similar lines. A radical answer to all of these problems presented itself to Christians in the early centuries of our faith when they considered the Song. Erôs is that kind of language which allows us to speak meaningfully about various poles that would otherwise be opposites. For example, if you tried to claim that these two salaries were really one when you filed your income tax, you wouldn’t get very far. But, you can say “two become one” when you speak about marriage. Now, obviously no one would really try to talk about God in the language of tax codes. But still, you can see the point that Christian commentaries on the Song make about theology: the language we use to discuss God is the language of love. No other language can support the weighty matters and lofty ideas; no other language can handle the various claims that seem to be pulling in opposite directions; no other language can provide that unity and sense of “we” without totally collapsing distinction and the proper sense of “I;” no other language can adequately discuss human and divine persons gazing at each other face to face.

But the language of erôs is not just a way of talking. It’s not a fancy move theologians can make to get out of some word-problems. Christians make a deeper claim about the way the world is put together. We claim that love is that very reason for existence, and that’s why a text like the Song can serve as an important Scripture for theology. The Pseudo-Dionysius, when discussing why erôs is an appropriate name for God even discusses “ecstasy,” which literally means “standing outside oneself.” Listen carefully to his claims about how erôs offers us the deepest insight into existence:

This divine yearning brings ecstasy so that the lover belongs not to self but to the beloved…And, in truth, it must be said too that the very cause of the universe in the beautiful, good superabundance of his benign yearning for all is also carried outside of himself in the loving care he has for everything. He is, as it were, beguiled by goodness, by love, and by yearning and is enticed away from his transcendent dwelling place and comes to abide within all things, and he does so by virtue of his supernatural and ecstatic capacity to remain, nevertheless, within himself.

God loves us even to the point of emptying himself on the Cross, and yet, in that total self-emptying gift we find his identity.

The language of eros, specifically ecstasy, allows us to articulate both the necessity and freedom of love, for love will admit no conditions and no requirements, nor will it act in any way other than self-emptying gift. Indeed, because our creation is a participation in that erôs with God, we have this language in which to articulate our relationship with God. Our very being is a participation in giving-receiving with God. The particularly Christological shape of love, expressed in John’s Gospel, becomes clear: “there is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (Jn. 15:13) The erotic dialectic of giving-receiving is a way of describing love at its core.

These ideas are so important that I want to attempt to restate them in the few minutes we have left in this session. Erôs motivates people to give, and not just to give material presents, but to give themselves, to give their very presence. On a basic level, an encounter between persons through the medium of a gift establishes a relationship. The type or status of the relationship is expressed in some form through the gift. The more meaningful the gift is, the more important the relationship is. Furthermore, a certain mutuality obtains between the two subjects who enter into this cycle, this back-and-forth of giving-receiving. Within the theology of erôs, the heart of the dialectic is nothing less than the gift of self. The dialectic of giving-receiving, then, describes the inner-working of Christian love between men and women as well as between God and man. The key points of the relationship between God and man are Creation and the Incarnation, both of which demonstrate God’s giving. This is why many theologians understand the Song as having something to do not only with the marriage between a man and a woman, but also as having to do with Creation and even with the great and awesome Incarnation of our Lord, Jesus Christ. There are many lessons to be learned about the nature of life and love in this convergence of themes. Because the context of his very existence is a gift, this belongs to the very structure of man, and “man…cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself” in the words of the Second Vatican Council. That is, any understanding of humanity that does not account for the fact that giving-receiving shapes our very existence is inadequate. This is another reason why Christian commentaries on the Song are so important. We all know this aspect of self-giving love to be true in our own lives, even if we find it hard to live this intensely and passionately at all times. We are fulfilled in sincere giving. “By means of this gift [man] fulfills the meaning of his being and existence.” At its ultimate depths, the gift that is exchanged between lovers is nothing other than the self who gives. “There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Paradoxically, it is precisely this gift which establishes a person so that the more one sincerely gives herself, the more she becomes herself. There can be no “I do,” if there is no “I.” Just the same, Christians understand that there can be no “I” if there is no “I do.” Because erôs involves the kind of complete gift of self in which the lover stands outside of himself, but remains himself, the heart of erôs is the dialectic of giving-receiving.

I began with a few racy lines from a book in the Old Testament which has fallen out of popular preaching in recent times. Following many of the ideas of Martin Luther, it became more fashionable to make a commentary on Paul than to make a commentary on the Song, but still, there is a long and deep tradition of commentary on the Song that is alive in the Church even today. After puzzling a bit over the appropriateness of using erotic imagery to discuss theology and noting a few of the dangers that lie in exploring such a profound topic, we turned to some of the most ancient and important Christians and found that the Song offers us a chance to understand the radical love of God in terms of a gift that invites us to stand face to face with God both as his beloved and as his lover. The 6th century monk and Pope Gregory the Great provides a wonderful introduction to discussions of the Song:

3. Thus it is that in this book, called The Song of Songs, we find the words of a bodily love: so that the soul, its numbness caressed into warmth by familiar words, through the words of a lower love is excited to a higher. For in this book are described kisses, breasts, cheeks, limbs; and this holy language is not to be held in ridicule because of these words. Rather we are provoked to reflect on the mercy of God; for by his naming of the parts of the body by which he calls us to love we must be made aware of how wonderfully and mercifully he works in us; for he goes so far as to use the language of our shameful loves in order to test our heart on fire with a holy love. Thus in humbling himself by the manner of his speech he raises us in understanding; we learn, from the words of this lower love, with what intensity we must burn with love of God.
4. But we must be subtle enough to grasp this, lest when we hear the words of this external love we become fixed in the things of sense, and the instrument, which is given to lift us up, should instead weight us down. We must seek out the more interior meaning in these bodily, exterior words and, though speaking of the body, ourselves be taken, as it were, out of the body. We must come to this sacred marriage-feast of bride and bridegroom dressed in a wedding gown, that is with the understanding which comes from interior charity.

God draws us to himself with this kind of love that raises our dignity, that heals us, and that perfects us. Christians use this sense of very intimate and charged love to discuss the most sacred mystery of the thrice-holy Trinity. From the very beginning we see it expressed in Creation and then again in a new and even more exciting way in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he has loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” God first loves us, and this allows us to love. We also reflected briefly that the Song forces us to think carefully about the nature of Scripture and how it is used. Ancient Christians rejoiced that such themes as Trinitarian theology, Christology, theology of salvation, understandings of Liturgy or worship, and theology of the Church could all be expressed in the intense imagery of a series of wedding-songs. Paul, after all, tells us that Christ’s love for the Church and a man’s love for his bride are related. We began with all these themes, and now, time forces us to begin to bring them to a close. And so, I would like to turn to one more great theologian who offers us a famous and fantastic series of homilies on the Song of Songs, St. Bernard of Clairvaux.

St. Bernard was the most well-known man of the 12th century. While he was abbot, one of the novices under his care became the Pope. He was a gifted preacher and theologian as well as a reformer of the Benedictine Monastic tradition in the vein of the Cistercians. St. Bernard was particularly driven by the Spirit to experience God’s love in what I can only describe as a “full contact sport.” He didn’t hold anything back because he saw that God’s love was complete. One of his most famous treatises was written in reply to some questions about loving God, and is simply entitled, On Loving God. Bernard provides a single answer to the many questions: “God is the cause of loving God.” He uses the beautiful image of being carried along by desire: desiderio feror – by desire I am carried. In this, he makes an exceedingly important connection in how this desire operates from within man. Just as St. Augustine and many after him described it, God secretly and intimately draws us from within. Commenting on the ‘Bread of Life discourse’ from John’s Gospel, Augustine carefully explained his entire doctrine of man’s free will and God’s irresistible grace:

Do not think you are drawn unwillingly: the mind is drawn by love. Nor ought we to fear men who censure words, and...say to us “How do I believe willingly if I am drawn?” I say “Voluntarily is not enough, for you are drawn by pleasure [voluptate].” What is it to be drawn by pleasure voluptate? Delight in the Lord, and he gives you the petitions of your heart. (Ps 36:4). This is the pleasure voluptas of the heart, which is for that sweet heavenly bread. For if the poet is right to say “Desire voluptas draws itself” (Virgil, Ecog. 2), you do not have need, but pleasure voluptas; not oblgation, but delight: we ought strongly to say to ourselves that man is drawn to Christ, who is delighted in truth, is delighted in beatitude, is delighted in justice, is delighted in eternal life, which Christ is entirely... He gives the love, and he feels what I said. He gives the desiring, he gives the hungering, he gives the pilgriming and thirsting in this solitude, and the breathing font of the eternal father...The Father, he said will draw those who come to me.

Though Augustine was not referencing the Song directly, we are reminded of that final plea of the bride in the opening section of the Song: “Draw me!” Commenting on the eleventh verse of the first chapter of the Song of Songs, Bernard explains:

That is if a pleasant word comes and pleases…let it be heard with desire, for by no means does one believe that the spouse [merely] comes, but that he quickens, that is, that he comes with desire. For he creates your desire; and that you prepare hastily to admit his word is on account of his making haste to enter; for not we to him, but he himself, he said, first loved us. (I Jn. 4:10). For even if you feel the eloquent flame, and even if from him the conscience burns in memory of sin; remember then of what Scripture says, that fire proceeds before him (Ps. 95:3[97:3]) and do not doubt that he is near. Finally, the Lord is close to those who are troubled in the heart. (Ps 33:19[34:19])

In the following sermon Bernard continues this theme: “To be drawn by the bridegroom is to accept from him that desire by which he is himself drawn.” What could be more intimate than heart speaking to heart in a language of love? Bernard addresses the topic directly in his beautiful On Loving God:

I said above: The cause of loving God is God. Truly I spoke; for [God’s love] is efficient and final. He himself gives the occasion, he himself creates the affection, the desire he himself consummates. He made it himself – or even – it was made more powerful in order that he be loved; He is hoped for himself, loving fruitfully, lest he be loved in a void. His love prepares us and heals us. He preaches most benignly, repays most justly, awaits most gently. He is rich to all who call upon him; You are good, Lord, to the soul seeking you; therefore, what of him who finds? But in this is the marvel - that no one wills to seek you unless he first finds. Therefore, you will to be found so that you will be sought, to be sought so that you will be found. You are able to be sought and found, not, however, to be preceded.

Our existence is marked by desire for God, a desire that enables a profound relationship between man and God. Bernard is clear that our relationship with God follows a model of active receptivity. He explains in his sermons that there is a cycle in which the bride and the bridegroom hasten in response to each other: “to be drawn is to accept.” This theme is explained in terms of seeking in his treatise on love: seeking is finding and finding is seeking. God is not preceded, but received, because God creates man in mutuality, in a relationship, in desire. The dialectic of desire is one of mutuality, a conversation of love, an action of giving-receiving. It is this cycle, this dialectic of giving-receiving, which allows man to ascend to perfect love. It is also this dialectic that allows us to say intelligently that “seeking is finding and finding is seeking” because of the intrinsic relationship between giving and receiving. God’s very gift is our reception; “to be drawn is to accept.” But this reception is an offering to God, a gift. In Bernard’s words, God is found in order to be sought and sought in order to be found.

In speaking of God’s love as both efficient and final, Bernard is close to the pseudo-Dionysius: God is both the cause of desire and the object of desire. In Bernard’s words, God gives, creates, and consummates. But if God were only the efficient cause, only the start, we would arrive nowhere. We are unable to arrive at the final point of God on our own. God must give himself freely to us if we are to possess him. But, if God were only the final cause, we would have no ability to start this journey. We would be made for a purpose, for a union, that would remain forever out of our reach. The beauty of the image, however, is that speaking of God as the efficient and final cause provides room for a third cause, an intermediary cause. This cause is human free will, which chooses to be carried by desire for God. The one who seeks God, who finds God, who loves God is the intermediary, but nevertheless, necessary cause in loving God. When God is the object of desire, we are the subject of desire, and this is the marvel. The core of our existence, this desire, which is both for and from God, and which springs from creation in the image of God, leaves our will free to seek God or not. Man, while neither the beginning nor the end, is still a partner in this dialogue of giving-receiving. In this way God invites us into a mutuality with him. We receive our being from God. Desire is the connection between creature and Creator. Despite the disorder caused by sin, Christ restores the flames of desire. Man, and man alone, has the ability to offer himself to God just as God, and God alone, has the ability to offer God’s self to man.

Let us push the envelope on step farther. Consider the Eucharistic Liturgy: The bread and wine are accepted during the preparation of the gifts and then offered to God. The people of God implore that we, ourselves, may be received by God. We pray “that our sacrifice will be acceptable to God, the Almighty Father.” This sacrifice is not only the bread and wine, but also ourselves. We offer these gifts – the bread and wine, which we received from the earth, and our lives, which we received from creation and conception – to God through Christ for the Church. Then, we narrate Christ taking/ receiving the bread in his hands, giving thanks to Father, and breaking it before commanding us to do the same. A cycle develops in which God gives to man and man receives, and man gives to God and God receives. Consider the many ways in which lovers say to each other “this is my body.” Christ offers his flesh and blood on the Cross. He claims us as his very body as he did with Saul when he was knocked off his horse. The priest, standing in the person of Christ, proclaims this most fantastic news to us at every Mass. Lovers show their bodies to each other sometimes with a caress or a kiss, sometimes with more. Mothers tell their children “this is my body,” when they nurse. Fathers show their bodies every morning as they rouse from bed early to wake the family and go to work. It might be scandalous to think of the Eucharist in these same terms, but Paul and many great saints after him assure us that the radial love of God is scandalous to those who are only carnally minded. Let us push the envelope, and consider with that great body of Christian saints I have mentioned earlier, how the Song gives us insight into that Mass some of us have already expreienced today, and the rest of us will celebrate this afternoon.

In closing, I want to challenge you to do two things in particular. The first is simple and can be finished tonight. The second will take a lifetime. First, read the Song of Songs tonight. If you are married, take 20 minutes after the kids are in bed and read it to each other. Your edition of the Bible probably has it broken into dramatic form with stage directions like the plays you used to read in high school. The main characters are the Bride and the Bridegroom. I suspect you can figure out on your own whom should be which. Be careful. You’ll read some serious stuff to each other. Secondly, I want to turn everythign I’ve said on its head. Don’t think of the whole situation only in terms of the direction from God to man. Don’t think about how your ways of loving, in particular your marriages, are informed by the great story of our salvation. Don’t think only in the direction from Trinity, Creation, and Incarnation to your own life. Think also in the other direction. Marvel over how you love and are loved right here and now, and explore what that teaches you about the other mysteries of our faith. In the words of the Song, “eat friends; drink! Drink freely of love!”

(This is a talk I gave at my parish Adult Ed (Immaculate Heart of Mary).)


  • At 1/16/2008 9:37 AM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…


    Great to see you posting again. What an insightful and well written piece!
    I do have to take exception to one of your claims, though:

    "St. Bernard was the most well-known man of the 12th century."

    I protest! Abelard was as well known, if not more well known. Of course, Bernard found him to be a rather testy fellow at least until Abelard 'lost his marbles' (if you know what I mean). After that, Bernard, as well as Abelard's other nemeses (Anselm of Laon, William of Champeaux) found him much less...uh...teste..(cough, cough).

    Well done.

  • At 1/16/2008 11:26 AM, Blogger The Lesser Thomas said…

    Yeah, I've been woefully absent from this forum. I hope to have more time this semester, since I'm only lecturing in one class and taking two seminars.

    You crack me up, Brendan, with your knowledge of 12th century goings-on.

  • At 1/16/2008 12:09 PM, Blogger Henry Karlson said…

    Just read through this Tommy.

    It's a very good, witty presentation. I liked it quite a bit. Just be careful that you don't get someone talking to the priest, saying, "Tommy told us to have sex with God."

    I bring this up because I know a priest who, in a series of homilies based upon St Gregory of Nyssa, talked about eros, and someone who heard it complained to the Bishop saying just that, "He told us to have sex with God."

    Now the only surprise I have is that you didn't reference St John of the Cross. But with the time limit you had, keeping it to earlier sources makes sense.

  • At 1/17/2008 10:15 AM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…

    Wait -

    why can't we 'have sex' with God?
    Obviously, not in the carnal fleshy way, but we can certainly have 'intercourse' with the divine if by that we mean a deeply intimate encounter. Fleshy sexual conjugation is the human person's imperfect way of seeking total union with another human person. It is the way that two humans have a deeply intimate encounter. We give this encounter the name sex, but that doesn't exhuastively define the encounter, does it?

    Of course, Henry, I agree with you: I don't want our dear brother Tommy encouraging people to have sex with God, but I don't foresee that as being a problem. I see Tommy as encouraging a deep level of intimacy, and spurring others to continually tear down those impediments to the divine encounter. Human sex is a mere shadow of the intimacy that awaits us with the divine, no?

    Btw, Henry, it's good to see you up and well. We haven't heard from you in a bit and were wondering how things were. Send an email when you get a chance.

  • At 2/15/2008 8:42 AM, Blogger Henry Karlson said…


    Do you have my aol e-mail? It is easier to contact me with it right now.

    Let me know.

  • At 12/30/2011 6:01 AM, Anonymous Piano Teacher belmont ca said…

    Interesting and. It important information is really beneficial for us. Thanks


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