Love and Christian Ethics
Tradition, Theory, and Society
Publication Year: 2016
Published by: Georgetown University Press
Title Page, Copyright
I am honored and delighted to be able to thank the following people for their help in bringing this volume to fruition. An edited book obviously depends on the work of its contributors, several of whom offered much to the project beyond their own essays. I’m particularly indebted to Margaret Farley and John Hare for sage counsel as the book took shape and appreciative of the initial contributors’ patience and encouragement while the book came to completion. Several other colleagues have also offered support and advocacy for me and this venture, and I’m profoundly grateful to them: Neil Arner, Jennifer Herdt, Willis Jenkins, David Kelsey, Gerald McKenny, John Pittard, Carolyn Sharp...
Introduction: A Conjunctive Approach to Christian Love
Frederick V. Simmons
Love is often extolled as the source, substance, standard, and goal of Christian ethics. Yet a perception that love has seldom been its subject is also prevalent. Anders Nygren began Agape and Eros by juxtaposing love’s centrality and neglect within contemporary Christian ethics, and love’s prominence in Christian moral and theological reflection since he made these claims in 1930 is one indication of his study’s significance.1 It is hardly the volume’s only opposition. Indeed, although Nygren categorized his inquiry into love as “motif-research” and thus disclaimed any evaluative intent, his assurance that “Agape and Eros are contrasted with one another here, not as right and wrong, nor as higher...
PART I: TRADITION
1 Interpreting the Love Commands in Social Context: Deuteronomy and Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount
Thomas W. Ogletree
Biblical portrayals of the love commands are interwoven with presentations of more comprehensive bodies of commandments, laws, and ordinances that order human affairs in particular social settings. The love commands provide a substantive foundation for these more complex resources, undergirding their authority and informing efforts to observe them faithfully in ongoing life practices. This essay focuses on distinctive yet overlapping treatments of the love commands contained in the book of Deuteronomy and in Matthew’s presentation of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, with selective references to related materials in other biblical texts. Deuteronomy ventures a comprehensive yet realistic...
2 Conceptions of Love, Greek and Christian
My task is to discuss Christian love with special reference to one part of the tradition from
which it develops—Plato and Aristotle. I will pursue this task by discussing a controversy
about love within Christian thought. Even a sketch of this controversy will help us to appreciate more justly the role of Platonic and Aristotelian views in the formation of Christian
views about love.
This description of my task, aims, and procedure already commits me to some controversial claims. I begin with a sketch of how I understand “love” for the purposes of this essay.
It would be rash to assume that the ordinary uses of the English “love” mark out a single philosophically significant genus. But since we need to start...
3 “Repellent Text”: The Transition from Wisdom to Ethics in Augustine’s Confessions 10
James O’Donnell has characterized Book 10 of the Confessions, with a measure of irony perhaps, as a “repellent and frustrating text.”1 The reason has to do with the book’s structure: “bright mystical vision, culminating in luminous and often-quoted words...is suddenly derailed by an obsessive and meticulous examination of conscience.” The structural difficulty is, however, also a material one. The whole character of Augustine’s ethics as presented in this book is put in question for O’Donnell by the sudden transition from the luminous to the meticulous. To understand the ethics of Confessions 10 then (which means, as with everything ethical in Augustine, to understand how love is ordered), we must reach some...
4 The Desire for Happiness and the Virtues of the Will: Resolving a Paradox in Aquinas’s Thought
Near the beginning of the prima secundae, secunda pars of the Summa theologiae, Aquinas says that every rational agent necessarily desires and seeks his or her own happiness (ST I-II 5.4 ad 2, 5.8). This was a commonplace for Aquinas and his interlocutors, and it might seem that he only affirms it out of deference to a long-established tradition.1 But Aquinas is very well able to distance himself from traditional claims when his overall position requires him to do so, and that is not what we see him doing here. On the contrary, he takes this claim as the starting point for the extended analysis of human actions that comprises the secunda pars, in accordance with the program set out in the prologue...
5 Kant on Practical and Pathological Love
Immanuel Kant says, in a section of his second critique called “Of the Drives of Pure Practical Reason,” that we are subjects, not sovereigns, in the moral realm. He interprets the love
command in light of this.
The possibility of such a command as, “Love God above all and thy neighbor as thyself,” agrees very well with this. For, as a command, it requires esteem for a law which orders love and does not leave it to arbitrary choice to make love the principle. But love to God as inclination (pathological love) is impossible, for He is not an object of the senses. The latter is indeed possible toward human beings, but it cannot be commanded, for it is not possible for a person to love someone merely...
6 Kierkegaard and Kant on the “Duty to Love”
M. Jamie Ferreira
Attempts to compare and contrast Kant’s ethics with Kierkegaard’s ethics usually use Kant’s Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals and Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous writings Either-Or and Fear and Trembling. It seems to me that a more fruitful comparison of their ethics is possible by drawing on the more mature ethical accounts of both thinkers: in Kant’s case, the later and fuller Metaphysics of Morals and, in Kierkegaard’s case, Works of Love, signed in his own name. In particular, I suggest that a study of their views of the scriptural commandment to “love your neighbor” can be mutually...
PART II: THEORY
7 The Problematic Love for God: “Love the Lord, All You Saints” (Psalm 31:23)
Edward Collins Vacek
Since Jesus declared that love for God was the first and greatest commandment, we might expect that theologians would long ago have developed a standard account of this love. Not so. Of course, many theologians write about God’s love for us. And contemporary Christian ethicists, such as Gene Outka, have done marvelous, if still contested, work on the connection between love for God and love for neighbor or love for self.1 In various ways, these ethicists hold that “love for God subtends or affects all one’s goals and projects, not simply the moral ones.”2 But they seldom focus on love for God itself.3 Indeed, most Christian ethicists, dealing as they do with this-worldly problems, write as if Jesus’s first great...
8 Empathy, Compassion, and Love of Neighbor
John P. Reeder Jr.
Arthur Schopenhauer asks, “How is it possible for another’s weal and woe to move my will immediately, that is, in exactly the same way in which it is usually moved only by my own weal and woe?”1 He answers that this is possible “only through that other man’s becoming the ultimate object of my will in the same way as I myself otherwise am.” This in turn “necessarily presupposes that, in the case of his woe as such, I suffer directly with him, I feel his woe just as I ordinarily feel only my own; and, likewise, I directly desire his weal in the same way that I otherwise desire only my own.”2 And this desire “requires that I am in some way identified with him, in other words, that this entire difference between me...
9 Forgiveness in the Service of Love
Margaret A. Farley
In a volume that aims to expand our understandings of Christian love by clarifying love’s meaning in theory and practice, a chapter devoted to “forgiveness” may appear marginal to the task. Yet the opposite is the case. There is no genuine Christian forgiveness without love, and love is sometimes tested in its ultimate possibility and imperative by the forgiveness it generates. Moreover, the construals of forgiveness that are central to much of Christian theology slip into caricature unless they include love in their foundation, framework, and movement. Christians believe that God’s love for humans is revealed—perhaps centrally—in God’s forgiveness of sinners, and that God’s people (all of them sinners) are to be like God...
10 Agape as Self-Sacrifice: The Internalist View
Edmund N. Santurri
Here I offer a contentious proposal: Christian love is essentially self-sacrifice, however else that love must be described. More particularly, Christian love—agape in the most frequently employed New Testament designation—marks a quality of character, a theological virtue, one incorporating precisely an agent’s disposition to sacrifice the interests of the self for the good of the neighbor, whatever else such love may say about the identity of the neighbor or the nature of the good in question.1 Note especially that in this account, the relation between agape and self-sacrifice is essential rather than accidental, necessary rather than contingent, intrinsic rather than extrinsic. Christian love is not something...
11 Eudaimonism and Christian Love
Frederick V. Simmons
The relationship between eudaimonism and Christian love is a vast and vexing topic, in part because both notions have been taken to mean so many things. Of course, eudaimonia itself has been variously understood.1 Indeed, as the transliteration of the term from Greek into English suggests, eudaimonia is notoriously difficult to translate, reflecting long-standing disagreements about the content of this abstract idea.2 Furthermore, apart from controversy regarding the nature of eudaimonia, eudaimonism has signified several positions in its own right. Eudaimonism often denotes theories describing the connection between eudaimonia and morality, although not always.3 Moreover, there is considerable diversity...
12 Christian Love as Friendship: Engaging the Thomistic Tradition
Stephen J. Pope
In recent years, Christian ethics has begun to recover an appreciation for the moral and
religious significance of friendship. While much of Christian ethics in the twentieth century
tended to regard friendship with a somewhat skeptical eye, important insights in the last
twenty years or so have helped us come to a greater appreciation for its positive contribution
to the moral life. The recovery of friendship has taken place primarily within Aristotelian and
Thomistic circles but also within feminism, Augustinian ethics, Lutheran ethics, narrative
theology, phenomenological and personalist ethics, and elsewhere.
While most Christian ethicists now appreciate the value of friendship and recognize the poverty of life devoid of friends, most also continue to assume...
13 Evolution, Agape, and the Image of God: A Reply to Various Naturalists
Timothy P. Jackson
In chapter 4 of On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin briefly discusses why birds sing. It is often, he notes, a function of “the severest rivalry between the males of many species to attract by singing the females.”1 A particularly strong or melodious song will contribute to reproductive success both by inducing females to mate and by announcing territoriality to other males. Darwin was unaware of modern genetics, but neo-Darwinians would say that a strikingly robust or appealing song makes it more likely that the male will be able to get his genes into the next generation and, over time, natural selection will reinforce or even palpably augment such “fitness.”2 Call this the naturalistic...
PART III: SOCIETY
14 Love, Justice, and Law: The Strange Case of Watts v. Watts
M. Cathleen Kaveny
We all know the parable of the Good Samaritan.1
A man was beaten by robbers and left for
dead on his way to Jericho. Two passers-by, a priest and a Levite, crossed to the other side of
the road rather than help him. But a Samaritan man who saw him was moved to pity. After
bandaging the injured man’s wounds, the Samaritan contributed his own funds to pay an
innkeeper to nurse the man back to health.
As Robert Wuthnow has shown, despite its social and cultural familiarity, many Americans are fuzzy not only about the details of the parable, but also about its framing narrative.2 Rereading that narrative again in the Gospel of Luke, it reminded me of the contest of wits and wills between teachers and students familiar to anyone...
15 Global Health Justice: Love as Transformative Political Action
Lisa Sowle Cahill
Global health care is a subset of the problems of global justice and global poverty as well as of gender justice worldwide. Problems of global justice, including health-care access, demand a practical and political response from all Christians. This requires that Christians develop the significance of Christian love beyond personal virtue and beneficence and beyond the cultivation of a distinctive communal way of life. These meanings of love are biblically attested, have been central in Christian tradition, and remain vital to Christian ethics today. Yet Christian social ethics for a global era must also show why a personal and ecclesial ethic of love of God and neighbor demands moral...
16 Love in the Vocation of Christian Sexual Ethics: A Theologico-Political Meditation
Mark D. Jordan
According to familiar pastoral advice, human sexual relations must express only a
deep and abiding love. Pastors have failed often enough to apply the advice to sexual ethics
itself. Even now, when many churches profess to affirm rightly ordered sex, their ethics for it
is rarely a work of love.
Instead, Christian sexual ethics has been conducted as controversy. It is one branch of Christian ethics that regularly figures in campaign debates and political reporting. Candi- dates and network journalists may not care much for Gospel exhortations to selfless humility or courageous pacifism, but they seek out what churches say about contraception or desire between persons of the same genital configuration. Churches are often...
17 Meditations on Love and Violence
Emilie M. Townes
I was initially somewhat amused at the invitation to participate in this volume because the key ethical and moral category I deal with in my work and teaching is justice, not love. However, when I hit the global “find” button on the computer to see how I reflect on love, I discovered that it is always twined with justice. This is not surprising given that love and justice are extremely natural if not necessary dance partners. They inform each other and enrich our ethical reflection as moral, believing animals in a vast creation.1 Justice is the corporate or communal expression of love, our concrete acts to create and broaden spaces in society for human flourishing and creation mending. The invitation...
18 Loving Nature: Christian Environmental Ethics
Holmes Rolston III
Love is so central to life that the single English word “love” opens up to become an umbrella. Love is not some distinct behavior with clearly recognized content and boundaries but a varied collection of many kinds of emotions that have in common only some relationship with a quite positive quality. Loves may be self-regarding, mate- and kin-regarding, other-regarding, genetically based, instinctive or acquired during a lifetime, conscious or subconscious, deliberated or spontaneous, proximate or ultimate, intrinsic or instrumental. They may be in-group or out-group, local or global, trans-generational, transformed by experience of the natural world or by cultural and historical ideals, in principle...
19 The Double Love Command and the Ethics of Religious Pluralism
It would be impossible to tell the history of modern Christian ethics without paying attention to the ways in which the realities of diversity have shaped its concerns. In a theological register, responses to these realities have run the gamut from lamenting an existential threat to celebrating a providential gift. Biblical narratives, from Babel to Pentecost, are marshaled for each approach (cf., e.g., Gen. 11; Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12; Rev. 7). What cannot be denied is the extent to which recognition of diversity has sponsored and determined much of the intellectual agenda of the discipline known as “Christian ethics.” For example, increased attention to diversity has energized discussions of moral pluralism...
20 Neighbor Love in the Jewish Tradition
Ronald M. Green
The appearance of the love commandment in the book of Leviticus startles us. Leviticus,
with its long lists of cultic ordinances and dietary and sexual restrictions, is not the place that
one expects to find what many regard as the epitome of biblical ethics. And yet here the
commandment is, immediately before prohibitions on the mating of different animal species
or the wearing of clothing woven of two kinds of material.
In fact, the love commandment is not out of place. As a part of the “Holiness Code” detailed in Leviticus, it belongs to the effort to create a holy people. As Israel’s God is holy, so his covenanted people must exhibit the highest levels of ritual, spiritual, and moral...
21 Neighbor Love in Muslim Discourse
Discourses on love abound in Muslim poetry and prose. As Paul Heck argues, it is possible
to understand Sufi texts in particular as holding for an ideal of universal love: as each and all
are loved by God, so each and all should love in God; the Sufi is one who exhibits universal
In Heck’s account, such notions provide the makings of a cosmopolitan ethic
by which contemporary Muslims may construct a mode of social-political discourse focused
on tolerance and inclusion.
Perhaps Heck is correct about Sufism; certainly an understanding of Sufi discourse on these matters is important, not least because of its massive influence in Muslim societies during the late medieval and early modern periods. From the fourteenth...
Love and Christian Ethics
addresses significant authors, texts, and topics dealing with the
interlaced meanings of divine love, love for God, neighbor love, and love for oneself. A recurring question is whether and how the Christian moral life amounts to a kind of eudaimonism.
The book also offers insights and arguments that develop alternative accounts of the normative content of the command to love the neighbor as oneself. Beyond these concerns, the
collection practically reframes an ethic of agape regarding (and this is a partial list) love’s
motivational effectiveness, sexual life, the moral repair of communities, and interreligious
Each of these achievements sets productive, overlapping directions for further study. The return to classic figures and discussions...
List of Contributors
Page Count: 432
Publication Year: 2016
OCLC Number: 937368463
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Love and Christian Ethics