Love’s simplicity unfolds into a multiplicity. There is a long-standing discussion about different types of love. If divine love (agape) has the primacy that we have suggested, then we could say that divine love can be expressed in friendship (philia) and in a romantic bond (eros). In friendship or romance there may arise a center of gravity that competes with divine love; but friendship and erotic attraction are part of the Creator’s plan, and when divine love is the effective core of the friendship or romance, then those relationships are truly loving, because the partners are seeking the other person’s good. Divine love received from God and given to a friend or romantic partner adds understanding, inspires vision, empowers giving, bolsters cooperation, increases patience, teaches frankness, and heals tendencies to demand excessively or to shy away from relating in depth.
A practical way to differentiate kinds of love has been developed by Stephen G. Post.
When I rise in the morning, which is usually quite early before people have had a chance to intrude on the quietness, I pray a bit for the gift of Godly love, and then I take a while with eyes closed but imagination open, to visualize the interactions to come during the course of the day. I usually know my schedule, so I visualize each interaction, from those with my wife and children to those with the many people I will be meeting that day, from the groups to whom I may be speaking, to the individuals scheduled for a conference call. I ask myself, one by one, how can that person or those people best be loved? What does my heart and what does Godly love want me to give them? Some people need compassion, some a little carefrontation, others an expression of loyalty or perhaps celebration. By very briefly visualizing these interactions I set the stage for the day before it really begins. I gain a sense of genuine intentionality—“I am living today to express the ways of love, and to draw on Godly love in every interaction without exception.” I ask God to help me in this endeavor to spread love in small ways throughout the course of the day. Godly love becomes my partner for the day. And then I try to act accordingly, to make these loving intentions and rehearsed interactions become reality. They usually do. Actions are key; otherwise this is a purely internal exercise of no great value or purpose.
Post’s research and practice finds love specifically expressed in a series of responses that he portrays on a wheel with no beginning or end: respect, listening, compassion, helpfulness, creativity, forgiveness, carefrontation (confrontation modified by love), celebration, mirth, and loyalty. Decades of Christian living in love, and years of consciously channeling energies into these ten expressions of love, show in Stephen’s radiant personality.
Thomas Aquinas unfolded the simplicity of love into a complex theology. God infuses love in the soul as the crowning virtue in excellent human character. The giver of this gift is infinite and eternally perfect; and his will is expressed in his love of us all, a love which ever seeks to enable us to participate in his goodness. Love infuses joy in the will. “The soul’s joy, flowing over into the body, fills it with happiness in the form of health and incorruptible vigor.”
According to Thomas, God’s love creates goodness in us. God’s infusion of love in us is a foretaste of glory. As God’s love descends to us, our created intellect, with all its limitations, rises toward God: we love God as the root of our happiness; we can love God wholeheartedly; love brings us toward union with God, a union that we can already sense, though the feeling is not a sign that we are God. Thomas sees our response to God’s love as voluntary, an act of will, so that we are not a mere channel for his self-expression. Love is friendship with God, which enables us to live with him intimately as a member of his society. We begin by grace in the present and look forward in faith and hope to future glory in the perfect love of God.
Thomas saw our love becoming more perfect as we eliminate everything in our affections that is contrary to our love of God. As our love grows, it becomes more intense, more deeply rooted in us, and it embraces more and more in its compass. In the circuit of love that embraces another human being, the scope of our love increasingly expands, and we identify with the good of all things, and it is fulfilled in a participation in the social life of God, whose love communicates itself to every being who may possibly share in that intelligent and intelligence-transcending love. Love in its fullness enables us to love our neighbors, near and far. And sometimes, Thomas observes, love overcomes evil with good and warms an enemy.
If you were to express love in a more complex way, what would you say?
The author of the first quotation is Stephen G. Post, the leading supporter of scientific research on love today, a medical ethicist who has made love his top priority from his teen-age years, and who is able fluently to handle questions on a wide range of concerns in a way that makes faith and wisdom concrete as he cites research studies that bring hope and suggest lessons on how to make love effective. Stephen G. Post, Godly Love: A Rose Planted in the Desert of our Hearts (Conshohoken, Pennsylvania, Templeton Foundation Press, 2008), 139-41. Post’s many books range from academic to popular. He is the founder and president of The Institute for Research on Unlimited Love (http://unlimitedloveinstitute.org/). The photo is copied from http://stephengpost.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Bio-Pic2.jpg
The selections from Aquinas Thomas, are from the ST (Summa Theologica or Summa Theologiae), Ia IIae 59.5 (cf. 2a2ae 23.2). The following two paragraphs draw especially on 2a2ae 23.3 and 25.5.