Eros and Agape

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Eros and Agape (ISBN 0-8446-6051-5) is the title of a two-volume treatise written by the Swedish Protestant theologian Anders Nygren, first published in Swedish in two parts in 1930 and 1936.

Nygren was one of the theologians who had formed the so-called Lundensian School of Theology, in which other important figures were Gustav Aulén and Ragnar Bring. They all shared a keen interest in rediscovering major motifs of Reformation theology, and examining how such motifs had been employed in different ways throughout history. In this context, Nygren was examining the motif of love.[1]

Argument[edit]

Nygren analyses the connotations of two Greek words for love, eros and agape (unconditional love).

  • For him, eros is a needs-based and desire-based, egocentric and acquisitive love: in other words, we can love other humans and God with a love of eros in which we love them out of self-interest in order to acquire and possess them. It is drawn from Greek Platonic thought.
  • Agape, by contrast, is spontaneous, unconditional, theocentric, self-giving, self-sacrificial: in other words, we can love others and God with a love of agape in which we reject all self-gain and interest and surrender ourselves to other and love them purely for themselves.

Nygren's argument is twofold. In the first place, he argues that agape is the only truly Christian kind of love, and that eros turns us away from God. Either we love others and God in the manner of eros, purely for ourselves, in which case we do not really love them at all; or we love them in the manner of agape, for themselves, with a true love, in which case we act against our own self-interest and happiness.[2]

Secondly, he traces the historical roots of what he perceives as the loss of this concept of agape. For Nygren, agape is the properly Christian understanding of love, as is evident from New Testament texts such as the Synoptic Gospels, Paul's theology of the cross, and the identification of God and agape in 1 John. However, he argues that from Augustine onward this focus on agape became polluted by an attempt to synthesis the concept with that of eros, in a synthesis of caritas. Nygren argues that most medieval theology of love was based around this attempt at a caritas-synthesis. However, he argues, this is not a truly Christian synthesis, given the origins and nature of eros. The Reformation, therefore, was hugely important because at this point Martin Luther exposed the fallacy of this synthesis, and made clear again the properly Christian agape conception of love.[3]

"When Jesus bids us to love our enemies, he is speaking neither of eros not philia, he is speaking of agape, understanding and creative, redemptive goodwill for all men. Only by following this way and responding with this type of love are we able to be children of our Father who is in heaven."

Martin Luther King on Jesus' command to love one's enemies.

Influence[edit]

Nygren's work has been described as 'probably the most influential Protestant account of love in the twentieth century'.[4] For example, Martin Luther King shows clear influence by Nygren's categories in his discussion of Jesus' command to love one's enemies.[5]

Recent thought, however, has turned away from Nygren's categories. For example, Pope Benedict XVI in his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, concluded that both eros and agape are aspects of divine love.

Editions[edit]

The Original Swedish title is: Den kristna kärlekstanken genom tiderna: Eros och Agape (which translates as, The Christian idea of love through the ages: Eros and Agape). It appeared initially in two parts:

  • Anders Nygren, Den kristna kärlekstanken genom tiderna: Eros och Agape, förste delen, (Stockholm, 1930)
  • Anders Nygren, Den kristna kärlekstanken genom tiderna: Eros och Agape, senare delen, (Stockholm, 1936)

A later reprint reduces the title:

  • Anders Nygren, Eros och Agape, (Stockholm, 1966)

The title of the English translation is Agape and Eros, not Eros and Agape. This seems to stem from the first (slightly abridged) translation of the first part:

  • Anders Nygren, Agape and Eros, trans AG Hebert, (London, 1932)
  • The second part was first translated by Philip S Watson and published in two volumes in 1938-9.

The first full translation of the work was translated by Philip S Watson and published in one volume, (London: SPCK, 1953). A later edition is Anders Nygren, Agape and Eros: The Christian Idea of Love, trans Philip S Watson, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982)

References[edit]

  1. ^ Werner Jeanrond, A Theology of Love, (T&T Clark, 2010), p. 115.
  2. ^ Alan Vincelette, ‘Introduction’, in Pierre Rousselot, The Problem of Love in the Middle Ages: A Historical Contribution, translated and with an introduction by Alan Vincelette (Marquette University Press, 1998), p. 11.
  3. ^ Alan Vincelette, ‘Introduction’, in Pierre Rousselot, The Problem of Love in the Middle Ages: A Historical Contribution, translated and with an introduction by Alan Vincelette (Marquette University Press, 1998), p11.
  4. ^ Alan Vincelette, ‘Introduction’, in Pierre Rousselot, The Problem of Love in the Middle Ages: A Historical Contribution, translated and with an introduction by Alan Vincelette (Marquette University Press, 1998), p. 11.
  5. ^ Martin Luther King, Jr, Strength to Love, (1963), p. 37, quoted in Werner Jeanrond, A Theology of Love, (T&T Clark, 2010), p. 114.

Further reading[edit]

Charles W Kegley, ed, The Philosophy and Theology of Anders Nygren, (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1970)

External links[edit]