Lumen Fidei 27

Today

27. The explanation of the connection between faith and certainty put forward by the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein is well known. For Wittgenstein, believing can be compared to the experience of falling in love: it is something subjective which cannot be proposed as a truth valid for everyone.[Cf. Vermischte Bemerkungen / Culture and Value, ed.
G.H. von Wright, Oxford, 1991, 32-33; 61-64
]
Indeed, most people nowadays would not consider love as related in any way to truth. Love is seen as an experience associated with the world of fleeting emotions, no longer with truth.

I would agree with this assessment. The experience of falling in love is definitely subjective. I would hesitate to pin it entirely on emotion. But the initial step, even if one wants to call it “infatuation,” can be a strongly emotional experience. It might be hard to discount this, though. Emotional connections, or even a basic instinct (longing, preservation, union) seems hard-wired into the human being.

But is this an adequate description of love? Love cannot be reduced to an ephemeral emotion. True, it engages our affectivity, but in order to open it to the beloved and thus to blaze a trail leading away from self-centredness and towards another person, in order to build a lasting relationship; love aims at union with the beloved. Here we begin to see how love requires truth. Only to the extent that love is grounded in truth can it endure over time, can it transcend the passing moment and be sufficiently solid to sustain a shared journey. If love is not tied to truth, it falls prey to fickle emotions and cannot stand the test of time. True love, on the other hand, unifies all the elements of our person and becomes a new light pointing the way to a great and fulfilled life. Without truth, love is incapable of establishing a firm bond; it cannot liberate our isolated ego or redeem it from the fleeting moment in order to create life and bear fruit.

Perhaps. Truth is one very valuable locus for the lover. My own experience is that love is a choice, a commitment of the will. The truth of my experience is not always clear. But a certain degree of trust is required. Trust in the beloved. Trust that initial decisions and choices were good, or correct, or right. When doubt enters into a relationship, it can be recognized, then turned aside the light of the commitment. This is how I see the marital commitment of “good times and bad.”

But Pope Francis is absolutely right that the aim of love is to achieve greater and greater selflessness. Sometimes people don’t understand the “truth” of a relationship. And to confess, I’m not quite sure what’s being expressed by the Holy Father here. In my own experience, I chose to marry someone a little more than eighteen years ago, and she chose to marry me. We built on the truth of friendship, shared interests, and a common faith. And the truth of our male/female complementariness. If that’s truth, I think we have something a little broader than the intellectual adherence to facts.

The Holy Father turns to the saints to augment this exploration. Read carefully:

If love needs truth, truth also needs love. Love and truth are inseparable. Without love, truth becomes cold, impersonal and oppressive for people’s day-to-day lives. The truth we seek, the truth that gives meaning to our journey through life, enlightens us whenever we are touched by love. One who loves realizes that love is an experience of truth, that it opens our eyes to see reality in a new way, in union with the beloved. In this sense, Saint Gregory the Great could write that “amor ipse notitia est“, love is itself a kind of knowledge possessed of its own logic.[Homiliae in Evangelia, II, 27, 4: PL 76, 1207] It is a relational way of viewing the world, which then becomes a form of shared knowledge, vision through the eyes of another and a shared vision of all that exists. William of Saint-Thierry, in the Middle Ages, follows this tradition when he comments on the verse of the Song of Songs where the lover says to the beloved, “Your eyes are doves” (Song 1:15).[Cf. Expositio super Cantica Canticorum, XVIII, 88:
CCL, Continuatio Mediaevalis 87, 67
]
The two eyes, says William, are faith-filled reason and love, which then become one in rising to the contemplation of God, when our understanding becomes “an understanding of enlightened love”.[Ibid., XIX, 90: CCL, Continuatio Mediaevalis 87, 69]

Does this make sense to you readers? Is Pope Francis over-thinking love? Am I too fussbudget-y on his elaboration here?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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