The Nature of Love
By Samantha Schroeder
Perhaps the greatest love story I’ve ever encountered can be found in the memoir A Severe Mercy. It was handed to me when I first felt the pain of heartbreak at the ripe age of nineteen, by a philosophy professor in college who would later change my life. In his book, Sheldon Vanauken recollects the relationship he had with his wife, Davy.I’ve recently been called to revisit their story. After reading it for the first time in five years, I can’t recommend a better book for anyone who has ever fallen or will ever fall in love.
The love story of Sheldon and Davey calls me to reflect on the conclusion of my undergraduate thesis on the nature of love. Love has the power to awaken us, to pull us beyond our mundane existence, to usher us on the path toward profound communion with others. When we open ourselves up to love, our world becomes transfigured. With the advent of love, we discover new value in others and in ourselves, and our life is imbued with new meaning. As Dietrich von Hildebrand explains in The Nature of Love, beauty plays a profound role in love:
Falling in love is essentially to be granted a vision of the beauty of another person’s individuality. This vision fills us with reverence, and simultaneously with a powerful attraction for the object whose beauty has been perceived. Literally, to love another person means to see his beauty, to discover the secret of his personality. This vision is so convincing that we say, “Never shall I forget it.”Philosopher Jean Vanier writes, “to love someone is to show to them their beauty.” The core of von Hildebrand’s philosophy of love, which encompasses his philosophy of the human person, is how we see the other. This is put quite simply in the words of the Little Prince: “That which is essential is invisible to the eye.” When we see with eyes of love, we are attaining a true vision of the other. The vision of love reveals the beloved person in a new light. In her book By Love Refined, Alice von Hildebrand refers to this spiritual sight of the other as a “Tabor vision,” a great gift which enables us to see into the beloved’s true self. With this vision, we see this person’s “true face, his unique beauty”:
Those who love have been granted the special privilege of seeing with incredible intensity the beauty of the one they love – while others see primarily his exterior acts, and particularly his failings. At this moment, you see more clearly than does any other living human being. Do you recall the Gospel story of the Transfiguration? The apostles went with Jesus to the top of Mount Tabor, and suddenly Jesus became radiant and his garments a dazzling white. For the first time, the apostles were allowed to see Jesus directly, clothed in His glory as God. He was transfigured before them.This apprehension of beauty is not any sort of empirically measurable observation. It is a vision beyond the vital or sensual sphere of perception. This vision “from within” surpasses the scientific observation of the impersonal human body, which is a limited seeing “from without.” Love gives us a profound perception of the other, a spiritual sight. This seeing from within is from the heart.
Love is a reverent appreciation of the other’s being as such, a response to the transcendent value of another person in terms of herself as a thou, in full light of her personhood. This response to the other in “love is a self- transcending value-response,” John F. Crosby writes in Personalist Papers. “I de-center myself towards the other when I seek out the beauty of the other and love her in virtue of her beauty.” This attitude of reverence is the cornerstone of one’s love for the other. Without a reverential attitude, we cannot love. Through cultivating such attitudes as reverence, humility, and love, we properly orient ourselves toward others in preparation for the task of loving. For it is “only though love [that] we can attain to the mystery of individuality in a person,” Crosby writes, “that is, get a glimpse of the unrepeatable personal essence of a person.” Without love we can only grasp a person at the level of the essential; through love the other becomes fully revealed. Love heightens our receptivity to others and the world around us. We are drawn out of our subjective existence into a dialectic of love with others and the world around us.
Read more: ethikapolitika.org