God is Perfect Love

I.A.
There Can Be Only One Perfect Unity

Judeo-Christian Neo-Platonists recognized at least three other areas of reality susceptible to greater and greater levels of unity – love, goodness, and beauty. These thinkers came to an important conclusion – namely, that the source of perfect unity in thinking must also be the source of perfect unity in love, goodness, and beauty. The following argument will make this clear:

1. Perfect unity can only occur through an unrestrictedly intelligible reality, because restrictions in intelligibility give rise to exclusions which are contrary to unity (see above Section I.A.).

2. There can only be one unrestrictedly intelligible reality (see the proof in Chapter 3, Section III.C.).

3. Therefore, the one unrestrictedly intelligible reality must be the one source of all manifestations of perfect unity (unities of mind, love, goodness, and beauty).

4. Therefore, the one unrestricted act of thinking (proven in Chapter 3, Sections III & IV) must be the source of all manifestations of perfect unity.

I will discuss the perfect unity of love in Section I.C. below, and then goodness in Section II, and beauty in Section III.

I.B.
Perfect Love is Perfect Unity

We now return to the question asked earlier in Section I, namely, what is the source of our awareness of perfect love (manifest in our ability to identify every imperfection in love both in others and ourselves)? We saw that this awareness was very likely innate – because we could not learn it from the imperfect manifestations of love in the outside world. Is the source of this innate awareness of perfect love the same as our notional awareness of “the complete intelligibility of reality”? If it can be shown that love, like mind, is a reality susceptible to greater and greater levels of unity, and there can only be one perfect unity, then it follows that the source of our awareness of perfect love is the same as the source of our awareness of perfect truth – namely, the unique unrestricted act of thinking. So, then, is love a reality susceptible of greater and greater unity or unification? Many philosophers, both ancient and contemporary think that it is. We can see this unity in the power of empathy, care, and self-sacrifice.

Empathy (in-feeling; in Greek, en-pathos; in German, ein-Fühlung, coined by Rudolf Lotze in 1858) begins with a deep awareness of and connection to the other as both given and uniquely good. When we allow this awareness of and connection to the other to affect us, it produces an acceptance of the other and a consequent unity of feeling with the other, which opens upon an identification with the other tantamount to a sympathetic vibration. Though this unity with the feelings and being of another does not cause a loss of one’s self or self-consciousness, it does cause a break with the autonomy we feel when we focus on the interior world of our self-consciousness. Were it not for the capacity to be open to the unique goodness of the other, we might be inexorably caught up in egocentricity and radical autonomy. However, empathy does not allow self-consciousness to become radically autonomous and absolute; it presents the possibility of relational personhood whenever we choose to accept our “unity of feeling with the other,” and to identify with the being of the other.[1]

This acceptance and identification of the feelings and being of the other gives rise to concern for the other, which evolves into care for the other as the relationship grows. This care, in its turn, can completely reverse the human tendency toward autonomy (being over against the other), and give rise to a self-giving which can become self-sacrificial (agapē). Through empathy, then, we go beyond ourselves to initiate a unity with the other whereby doing the good for the other is just as easy, if not easier, than doing the good for ourselves.

Empathy is a natural power of unification, and love is its completion. When the unifying power of empathy takes hold in our free will and intentionality, we begin to care about the other and care for the other – intensifying our unity with the other. If this process continues, we can lose our sense of self-interest, and open ourselves to self-sacrifice for the beloved. This self-sacrificial love (called “agapē”) is the highest form of interpersonal unity.

The unifying power of love does not seem to have any intrinsic or extrinsic limit. If love (empathy » concern » care » agapē) can unify the radical autonomy of two human beings, why would it not be able to overcome the autonomy of hundreds or thousands, or millions of human beings? Why would it not be able to unify all human self-consciousnesses throughout all history? Indeed, why would it not be able to unify this totality of humanity with perfect self-consciousness (the perfect, self-transparent, mentating activity of the unrestricted act of thinking)?

If there is no intrinsic limit to the unifying power of love, then perfect Love is capable of perfect unification. This implies that its source is the one unrestricted act of thinking (which has no restrictions that would produce exclusions contrary to unity – see the proof in I.B above).

We may now answer the question with which we started – concerning the source of our awareness of perfect love. It seems that this innate awareness must come from a source which is commensurate with the effect it produces within us – a source which is perfect love itself. If perfect love really is perfect unification, and there can only be one perfect power of unification (which has no restrictions to its intelligibility), then the one unrestricted act of thinking must be the source not only of our awareness of “the complete intelligibility of reality,” but also our awareness of perfect love. The unique unrestricted act of thinking is perfect love, and it is the common source of the supreme notion of truth and love.


[1] Edith Stein has written a powerful essay on this phenomenon in On the Problem of Empathy. See Stein 1989.

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