Love-making in public: Another look at Paris

by Adanna James

“… Oh listen Lord if you want to know…what the world needs now is love, sweet love. It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of …” Jackie DeShannon, US, 1965
“ Please give a helping hand oh Jah, …what we need is love, vice versa love …” Barrington Levy, Jamaica, 1993. 
  “…People killing, people dying, children hurt and you hear them crying …Father, Father Father help us, send some guidance from above, cause people got me questioning where is the love,” The Black Eyed Peas, US, 2003

Popular culture has a way of reminding us theologians and other academics that we’re always a step behind when it comes to discerning what society needs. Long before the anthropological shift in justice discourse advocating love as central to justice, artists were making connections between injustices in the world, the need for love as a way of countering them, and an appeal to a Divine Reality to make it all possible. 

While the connections made in academic theology prove more complex, there is a similar concern about the prevalence of injustices in societies today. This prompted philosopher Martha Nussbaum, in her 2013 Political Emotions, to question the taken-for-granted assumptions about the human condition undergirding dominant justice discourse. No longer should we assume that we, rational human beings, would simply act in accordance with the demands of justice once it could be seen that an ideal situation of fairness was being maintained for the benefit of everyone’s individual pursuits, as was broadly assumed in the dominant justice discourse.  Nussbaum sees another side to us human beings, a side we rather refuse to see: those aspects of our animal nature which remind us of our helplessness, vulnerability and mortality. It is precisely this refusal – or ‘anthropodenial’ as Nussbaum calls it – that is often responsible for tendencies such as narcissism, anxiety and disgust for and stigmatisation of others. This same emphasis on the denial of our vulnerability and fear of difference is shared by theologian Thomas Reynolds in his 2008 Vulnerable Communion as he writes on the topic of disability. But whereas Nussbaum focuses more on individual human beings and our emotions, Reynolds highlights networks of relationships. He speaks of the ‘cult of normalcy’ that works to establish standards of what is normal, at the same time denying vulnerability. 

Both authors however, make the case for love. “Love is what gives respect for humanity its life,” writes Nussbaum (2013:15). Reynolds, in a similar vein, comments: "Love is the relational power that animates belonging together, It gives and receives life, and the process radiates joy" (Reynolds 2008:119). He further states that to counter the effects of marginalisation and exclusion of difference, love must be measured by an empowering justice that makes way for more love. Reynolds, however, pays more attention to our relationships and the necessity of being in vulnerable connection to each other. “Love involves welcoming another into a space of mutual vulnerability” (Reynolds 2008:119). Such an encounter is one of immediacy, a concept he takes from existentialist philosophers like Gabriel Marcel and Martin Buber and uses to emphasise the mutual exclusiveness of ‘becoming involved’ as opposed to  ‘objectifying another’.   

I think both Nussbaum and Reynolds bring interesting thoughts to the table on making love public. Perhaps if we were to reflect on a specific example, for instance, the recent tragic happenings in Paris, we could better see what both authors contribute to the debate on love's public significance.

Looking at the recent terror attacks in Paris, we could say that it was possible that Parisians as well as non-Parisians worldwide, seeing these media images, could identify with the vulnerability of the victims. These images captured the shooting and killing of a police officer and terrorist, frightened hostages running and screaming, flowing tears of loved ones. The responses to these images and reality were profound. Among them, mass demonstrations congregating persons of different cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds under the banner (even if just for a day) of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. Nussbaum’s theory of love being a powerful motivator in upholding the tenets of justice could find resonances here. 

At the same time, the response borne out of fear of vulnerability, visible in Reynolds’ ‘cult of normalcy,’ could be seen in numerous events and discussions surfacing after the event, including PEGIDA marches against the Islamisation of Germany. It seems in that instance that an objectification of the other stood in the way of immediacy of encounter. There was no recognition of mutual vulnerability that could result in openness to others, compassion and fidelity.

But I’d like to highlight one example that shows the power of immediate encounter in mutual vulnerability.  A BBC report looked into how the terrorist attacks were being interpreted within the French school context, particularly in predominantly Arab immigrant communities. Some teachers spoke of the difficulties in generating empathy among the students for the victims of the attacks. "Twelve people were killed…it didn't mean much to them," one teacher remarked. But an interesting dynamic was noted when the minute of silence was observed. Unlike the previous time when the minute of silence was not respected by students in various schools, (after the 2012 killings in Toulouse and Montauban by a radical Islamist) the called-for silence was instructed to be observed in schools only after prior discussion was held (on the instruction of the Education Ministry). One teacher confessed that she was unable to hold back her tears during these discussions. The result: silence. It appears that the teacher’s display of vulnerability brought students into a space of mutual vulnerability, opening them up to her as well as the people she spoke about and cried for. It is precisely through such encounters that a compassionate feel for the injustices that lie beneath the objectifying gaze that separates us from each other can be nourished. 

My suggestion finally is this. Before moving too quickly to discussions of press freedom, migration, religion and the Enlightenment, perhaps a deeper, public engagement of our vulnerability as it presented itself to us during the days of the attacks will help steer discussions, decisions and actions in more just ways. Our artists, after all, do seem to know what they’re singing about… “what the world needs now, is love, sweet love….. “

Henri Astier, “Charlie Hebdo Attack: French Values Challenged in Schools.” BBC News Paris, January 30, 2015 [accessed February 3 2015].
Martha Nussbaum, Political Emotions: Why Love Matters for Justice. Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2013
Thomas Reynolds, Vulnerable Communion: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press , 2008.

The Church and Human Rights – an anthropological challenge


Julia Meszaros

The Catholic Church has made a name for itself as an advocate of human rights. For long, it was, to be sure, skeptical, even antagonistic to the emerging human rights discourse. Pope Gregory XVI had decried the right to liberty of conscience as an ‘absurd and erroneous opinion, or rather insanity,’ a view shared also by his successor Pius IX. The freedom of conscience and of religion, as well as free speech and free press, were all rejected by the Church. Yet with Pope Leo XIII there emerged a gradual change of perspective, an opening to the world and its concerns and discourses, that enabled the Church’s increasingly large role in the articulation and promotion of human rights. The Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain, advisor of both Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI, famously played a central role in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and wrote the foreword of the same. The Church explicitly endorsed human rights in the encyclical Pacem in Terris of Pope John XXIII (1963) and embraced the human right to freedom of religion in the second Vatican Council’s Dignitatis Humanae (1965). Since then, it has been so vocal an advocate of human rights that Pope John Paul II was asked to address the United Nations on the occasion of the 50 year anniversary of the Universal Declaration.

However, the Church’s relationship with human rights does not lack ambiguity. Despite calling the nations of the world to sign the declaration of human rights, the Holy See has not done so itself. And while ecclesial canon law lists the ‘duties and responsibilities’ of the faithful, it lacks a declaration outlining the inalienable and universally possessed rights of the individual. Moreover, while the second Vatican Council’s defense of the dignity and freedom of the human individual follows the line of reasoning that undergirds the UN Declaration, it does not adopt the latter’s secular phraseology. Most importantly, perhaps, there appears to be a gap between the Church’s advocacy of human rights in the world and its respect of human rights in its own, inner affairs.

Such at least was the assumption of a recent conference on the Church’s implementation of human rights 50 years after Pacem in Terris: The Church, this critique suggests, falls short of its own insight that, as Walter Kasper has put it, ‘if we understand the Church as the institution of Christian freedom, its task should be to stand up for human rights within the Church and outside of it as the fundamental precondition of Christian freedom.’[1] The Church’s failure to enable the individual’s democratic participation in Church politics, its rejection of freedom of conscience in the secular sense of the term, its limitations on the speech of theology professors and its failure to come anywhere near contemporary understandings of gender equality constitute only some of the Church practices that are often perceived as violations of human rights on the part of the Church. As such, they undermine the Church’s credibility, and hence compromise her ability to mediate in international conflicts that violate human rights. The perceived discrepancy between the Church’s stance on human rights ad intra and ad extra increasingly creates tensions also with the modern state and its attempt to ensure respect for human rights: calls for state interference in Church affairs are arguably bolstered by the Church’s seeming inability to live up to its own standards.

Whether or not we share the view that various aspects of the Church’s inner structure and practices violate human rights, we must note that they, at the very least, sit uneasily with a host of the human rights the Church advocates in the world. Indeed, the very perception of an inconsistency between the Church’s stance ad intra and ad extra can be seen as a reflection of the Church’s own unclarity about its position with regard to human rights as they are currently being proclaimed and endorsed.

What does this unclarity consist in? As I would suggest, the Church champions the dignity and inviolability of each and every human person, yet struggles to convey this in its own traditional language. It is in the face of this communicative impasse and a general opening of the Church to the world, that the Church has been on a keen lookout for new ways of defending some of its core beliefs about the human person and their moral implications. This is one factor in the Church’s endorsement of human rights. At the same time, it seems that the Church remains uneasy about the plurality of principles undergirding the concept of human rights. Despite Jacques Maritain’s eloquent defense of it, the pragmatism underlying the drafting of the Universal Declaration always sat ill with the Church’s universalizing tendency and its missionary spirit. The ever growing list of (increasingly contradictory) human rights seems to cast further doubt on the sustainability of embracing human rights on different principles. It is, indeed, hardly obvious whether, when speaking of human rights, Church and world even have in mind the same subject. This is complicated by the fact that the Church is struggling to formulate a contemporary account of the human being, while many other signatories of the Declaration are skeptical of (and hence uninterested in) the mere attempt to  develop a systematic answer to this question. Hence, it remains unclear, for instance, to what extent the idea of human rights can or cannot be separated from the kind of modern notion of human autonomy that Veritatis Splendor (1993) rejects (VS 46). (This may be one reason why the Church today seems more sympathetic to social rights as opposed to political rights, where the divisive issue of human autonomy becomes most pressing).

If the contemporary Church has an uncertainty regarding the question of whose rights we are even talking about, it seems hardly more confident regarding the concept of rights itself. In imagining the societas perfecta, and hence the kind of humanity we must strive to foster, the Church has arguably taken recourse to a language of Love more than to one of rights – a tendency perhaps exacerbated by the modern crisis of natural and, to some extent, canon law(neither of which enjoys particular respect among contemporary theologians). The Christian ideal, one might say, is not one of mutually recognizing one’s rights but of being united in the Spirit, who is Love. Such an account does not, of course, rule out the notion of rights but has trouble elevating this to the status of an ideal. In effect, however, it arguably obstructs its own cause: without the mutual respect of one’s rights, neither freedom nor love will take root.

If the Church wishes to continue its advocacy of human rights in the world, it must clarify its stance towards them also in respect to its inner life therefore. This arguably requires a creative appropriation of the concept in relation to Christian anthropology and to the Church’s natural law tradition, without which the idea of human rights might never have come underway.

[1] Walter Kasper, Theoloische Bestimmung der Menschenrechte im neuzeitlichen Bewusstsein von Freiheit und Geschichte, in Johannes Schwartlaender (Hg.) Modernes Freiheitsethos und christlicher Glaube. Beitraege zur juristischen, philosophischen und theologischen Bestimmung der Menschenrechte, Muenchen 1981, 285-302, 301-302.


Public Role of the Church: Justice or Love?

Vincent van Gogh,  The Good Samaritan

Vincent van Gogh, The Good Samaritan

Ellen Van Stichel

If one wants to discuss the public role of love within Christian theology, one cannot escape the question of the relationship between love and justice. For rather than love, justice is generally conceived as the public virtue. Within the Christian tradition, however, the Gospel message focuses on love. Hence, should not the public role of Christianity be identified with love as expressed in the 7 works of mercy and exemplary shown in the parable of the Good Samaritan? One cannot deny that this kind of charity belongs to the core business of our faith. But has not a one-sided focus on love as charity often resulted in so-called ‘agapism’, which is very good in treating the symptoms of social issues by fulfilling immediate needs, without having to deal with the structural causes grounding these problems?

What is often minimalized in this ‘agapist’ approach is the importance of justice in Christianity. A mere glance into the writings of the prophets in the First Testament immediately shows the importance of justice for the Jewish people. Amos, for instance, famously reacts against well-intended offers by the Jewish people if they are not accompanied by acts of justice, understood as care for the anawim, the excluded (i.e. the poor, the widows, the orphans, etc). In fact, the harsh distinction between justice and love/charity seems to be a particular interpretation; for, as the biblical scholar John Donahue (1977) has argued, “[t]he traditional contrast between obligations in charity and obligations in justice is foreign to the Bible.”

Besides the Bible, Catholics can also refer to their social teachings, which have emphasized the importance of justice from their official beginnings in the 19th century. That justice should be realized within society is unquestionable; whether it also belongs to the task of the Church to make this happen, however, is the object of debate. Inspired by Latin-American developments, the synod of bishops of 1971 was very clear: supporting the Jewish idea that liturgy without acts of justice is insufficient, the bishops firmly stated that “action on behalf of justice is a constitutive element of preaching the Gospel.” Quite some ink has flowed on the meaning of ‘constitutive’ here, but I would stand with those who see justice as an essential characteristic of Christian faith and thus as part of the mission of the Church.   

Moreover, the bishops laid the groundwork for a particular concept of justice that was later much elaborated upon by the US Bishops in the letter on the economy (1986), a letter with sustained relevance for today.  The synod introduced the idea of justice as participation in Catholic social teaching. It is not enough to ensure one’s needs are met or respected, they argued. Rather, we should consider whether all have the opportunity to participate in society as political, social and cultural actors. Do people have access to the global economy? And if so, in what way? Do they belong to their political society? In fact, this notion of justice as participation is nothing else than updating Amos’ call: include into society the excluded.


All this may seem very abstract, but during the expert seminar on Politics of Love, Leo Penta sketched for us how this might look in practice with a concrete example: the German movement of broad-based community organizing. His main challenging question was “how can diverse people in and through their civic groups and institutions act collectively in the public arena for the common good over the long term?” By building relationships, this community organizing aims to bind people who can then act politically in search of justice.

From a theological-anthropological point of view, what is interesting here is Penta’s view on personhood. One the one hand, the project is realistic enough to realize that self-interest is at the basis of the involvement of concrete persons: it is because they are worried about something, or find themselves in a particular situation, that they are looking for relationships which can help them. Because they are on their own, they lack the necessary political power to resolve their problems. On the other hand, relationality is considered as ‘constitutive’ of the human person, which makes them also willing to undertake this collective action. In this context, “actively building relationships across boundaries” is considered as “an act of public love”. In contrast to many civil society actors, community organizing does not start from a single issue, but from the need to build relationships in order to gain collective empowerment. Penta summarized this in the notion of “enabling community”: it is the community as such that needs to be enabled; but at the same time, it is the community which enables. Its end goal is exactly the participation and inclusion of outsiders, such as ‘immigrants, disabled and disenfranchised persons’. For this reason, community organizing is an example of the Church actively participating in the struggle for justice while giving flesh to its mission of love.

Maybe things should not be so black and white. We cannot ignore the amazing results and implications of this focus on short-term loving acts for society, as the majority of current public services in the field of health care and education arose from Christianity through its religious congregations and orders. And although they fulfill certain (immediate) needs, one can hardly hold that these are mere acts of charity, considering their structural consequences for those who benefit from them. On the other hand, there will always be ‘tears which the bureaucracy won’t see,’ such that love, as seeing the face of the other in its particularity through the structures, will always be necessary. 

Ellen Van Stichel is a post-doctoral researcher at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies (KU Leuven) and member of the Anthropos research group.  

“Little Rock” and Religious Education

Johan Ardui & Pieter De Witte

Religious education seems problematic in our times. One of the reasons for this could be the alleged decrease of interest in religious matters in Europe and North America. It is possible, however, that the real challenge of religious education should be described in terms of theological anthropology. Education has often been related to the question of what it is to be and become human. If education is more than the acquisition of a set of skills that are useful for society’s smooth functioning, then it can only be defined as the formation of human beings. It is difficult to imagine education beyond the moulding of highly functional cogwheels in the production process without an explicit or implicit idea of what it is to be human, an idea about what is intrinsically (and not only functionally) valuable about human existence. The problem with religious education is that religious traditions have their own vague or more distinct anthropology. The challenge is how to reconcile (or rather: how to organize the clash between) anthropologies implied in contemporary educational practices and in religious traditions. One way this clash is visible in contemporary thinking about religious education is the call for more ‘relevant’ practices of religious education, with more emphasis on communication, identity formation and interreligious dialogue. This would prepare young people for their active participation in a pluralistic world. Sometimes it is felt, however, that such emphases prevent teachers from offering a comprehensive discussion of what religions have to say about human beings.


One way to start reflecting on this issue is to be inspired by some ideas of Hannah Arendt (1906-1975). Arendt was first of all a political thinker, but she also wrote on education. Her idea of political action converges with the dominant emphases (mentioned above) in large sections of the contemporary discourse on religious education (plurality and interaction between individuals). At the same time, Arendt’s view on education does not converge with the call for more politically relevant education. Quite to the contrary, Arendt believes that education will only prepare young people for a life in the polis if they are to a certain extent protected from the confusion and pressure of the public sphere. They first have to learn in a relatively untroubled atmosphere about the world and the way it is traditionally conceived. Only when education is to a certain extent ‘conservative’, children will later be able to change the world in unforeseeable ways. The paradoxality and sharpness of her ideas on education is perceptible in her essay on ‘Little Rock’.

The ‘Little Rock Crisis’ refers to the events in 1957 in a school in Arkansas. A group of African American students wanted to be enrolled in this all-white school and they met serious resistance. In the end the American government forced the group’s entrance into the school, even using military strength. Hannah Arendt wrote a challenging and even provocative essay on this issue. There is no doubt about Arendt’s support for racial desegregation. Yet, she questions the way education was used as a means to implement this desegregation.

Arendt writes:


“I think no one will find it easy to forget the photograph reproduced in newspapers and magazines throughout the country, showing a Negro girl, accompanied by a white friend of her father, walking away from school, persecuted and followed into bodily proximity by a jeering and grimacing mob of youngsters. The girl, obviously, was asked to be a hero–that is, something neither her absent father nor the equally absent representatives of the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] felt called upon to be […] The picture looks like a fantastic caricature of progressive education which, by abolishing the authority of adults, implicitly denies their responsibility for the world in which they have borne their children and refuses the duty of guiding them into it. Have we now come to the point where it is the children who are being asked to change or improve the world? And do we intend to have our political battles fought out in the school yards?” (Hannah Arendt, Reflections on Little Rock)

Arendt’s point is clear. It is a highly dubious pedagogical procedure to pass on the problems adults cannot solve themselves to youngsters and children. Yet this is exactly what also happens today in our schools. Adults face the challenges of racial segregation, multiculturalism, inter-religious encounters, clashes between irreconcilable ideologies, political indifference, nationalism and many more. Often they are not able to settle such problems in the public sphere. What happens quite regularly is that such problems are more or less directly introduced in the classroom in order to prepare the future generation of citizens. Crucial skills and attitudes such as dialogue, tolerance and civic commitment are fostered for this purpose.

Arendt points out, in her Reflections on Little Rock as well as in her essay The Crisis in Education, that the result of this is undesirable in all respects. Adults do not assume their responsibility of dealing with these issues in the public sphere. Instead, they introduce the turmoil of politics in the place where newcomers should learn in relative serenity about the world. Adults live with the illusion that they are doing something about these challenges, while in fact they are excluding the possibility that the newcomers will ever be able to do something about them. For only the relative quiet of study and learning will allow young people to overcome the clichés and ideological catchphrases that dominate the public arena. Only when they are not exposed to the pressure of the life of the citizen will they be able to surmount banality and to really learn and think about realities like race, religion, culture, political history and national identity.

Perhaps Arendt’s reflections should inspire us in our thoughts on contemporary religious education. Many assumptions are at work in current discourses on religious education in a pluralistic world: “Religious education should be the place of interreligious dialogue”, “Religious education can help solving the problems related to religion in the public sphere”, or simply: “Religious education should foster religious tolerance”. Obvious as such assumptions may seem, they are highly questionable in a world where adults themselves do not succeed in speaking and acting thoughtfully when it comes to religion.

This post is an excerpt of a paper given at the workshop Politics of Love? Christliche Liebe als politische Herausforderung (org. Anthropos Research Group and Katholische Akademie Berlin), Berlin, 21-23 March 2013.

Dr. Johan Ardui teaches Catholic religion at the Teacher Training Program of the Limburg Catholic University College (LCUC, Belgium). Dr. Pieter De Witte is researcher at the LCUC and prison chaplain in the prison of Mechelen (Belgium). Both are involved in the research project (2012-2014) “A Plausible Course? In Search of a Teaching Methodology for Roman-Catholic Religion” at the LCUC.

The Political Problem of Christian Love

Jared Schumacher

The relationship between Christian love and political problems is complex. It seems natural to address the complexity by first seeking to answer the fundamental question: Is agapè relevant to political life?  

Zak Benjamin     Come Dine

Zak Benjamin

Come Dine

But to do this, I would argue, presupposes two fundamental definitions that are in no way obvious:  namely, what is Christian love (and how might it relate to other "loves"), and what is a polis?  All-too-often, definitions for these essential words are assumed rather than elaborated by those seeking to reconfigure theology and its relation to politics.  The practical outcome of this habitual omission is that the relationship is construed according to an unannounced cache of meaning, incapable of being fully understood and, when necessary, scrutinized. 

Perhaps this is why it is so refreshing to read pre-modern "political" theologians.  Because their primary emphasis was on the communication of what they understood to be the truth,  their concern to be overt about their meanings is ostensible.  For example, in his classic De Civitate Dei, Augustine of Hippo stridently defines both Christian love and the polis.  Interestingly, they are essentially and definitionally related.

De Civitate Dei, Book 14 Chap. 28

Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God. 

For Augustine, love is the foundational movement of city life.  This means that there is no such thing as a loveless city.  The theo-political question par excellence is, rather, what/who we love, as this determines the tenor of our political lives.  For Augustine, the truly public thing (res publica) is the City of God, whose rightly ordered love of God and his creation organizes all of life.  The city of man, in contrast, organizes itself according to a perverted notion of glory, securing for itself a temporary order based on merely human achievement.  This city is disordered to the extent that love of self to the exclusion of God is the binding agent of its polity.  

augustine CoG.jpg

From this definition of polis as a public thing 'devoted to glory, united in love', two crucial elements arise for an Augustinian political theology.  The first is that love is essential to all cities, both terrestrial and divine.  Again, there is no loveless city. And second, that there are a duality of irreconcilable cities.  The city of God cannot be collapsed into the city of man, and vice versa, because this would radically reorganize the foundational love at the core of the enterprise of the public thing. For Augustine, Christian love is the center of the City of God. Precisely because the love which organizes the earthly city is finally irreconcilable to this love, it must - as all earthly things must in the end - pass away.  In relation to the earthly city, then, Christian love is a political problem to the extent that it is unable to be fully integrated into a merely terranic life.  Those who set themselves apart from Christian love to expedite political agendas can only view it with suspicion. 


One recent example of this suspicion is Vincent Lloyd's recent book, The Problem with Grace: Reconfiguring Political Theology.   As he sees it, the traditional theo-political account (read: Augustine's) is problematic to the extent that it wounds the structural integrity of material reality, denigrating it with pipe-dreams of a better world.  He argues that what is needed is a greater appreciation for "the ordinary", which seems to mean 'the world as it is.'  What he calls "the supersessionist logic" of the traditional account is at the heart of what is wrong with confessionally Christian politics, in the way that it sullies the ordinary.  He therefore offers to "reconfigure" political-theological language of its supersessionism, to make it more faithful to the ordinary.  Unsurprisingly -  given its centrality in Augustine's account and the greater Christian tradition - he begins with love.   It is quite difficult to offer a brief summary of his own account of love, but at its core is the attempt to immanentize love, to make it a matter between consenting individuals, who for ordinary reasons decide to work out the messiness of human life together.  

Certainly Lloyd offers us no systematic account of human love, no doubt because such an account could only be supersessionist. His primary concern is to pull down the traditional theological accounts of love because these he finds politically oppressive; and at the end of the day, this is precisely what makes him a political pragmatist.  Thus, he wants to bend christian love (and the entirety of its theological heritage) through his "ordinary" prism, because it is politically expedient to do so.  

If man is merely a political animal, as Aristotle famously declared, then Lloyd's is a reasonable attempt to undermine the oppressive artifice of transcendental love;  in short, it is a rational attempt to overcome the messianism or indifference which Christian love has been known to inspire.  However, if - as Christians believe - man is a more-than-political animal, a being whose creation in Imago Dei calls him beyond himself to a life which can only be described as eternal, then Lloyd's political anthropology of love doesn't undermine false idols so much as neuter humanity's capacity to reflect the divine.  

What should be cherished in his account is the attempt to rid Christianity of oppressive logics which have all-too-often enslaved Christian devotion, bending it towards merely immanent ends.  But the attempt to severe man's capacity for transcendental reference might be just the thing that prevents the overcoming of human brutality.  Only a transitory love of the ordinary, hallmark of Augustine's depiction of the City of God on pilgrimage through this world, can inspire men and women to do extra-ordinary things, for example, to become a true res publica - the Kingdom of God.

What is shrewd in Augustine’s account - and here might be room for partial raproachment with Lloyd - is his concern to detail the ‘messiness’of life this side of eschatological fullfilment.  Augustine’s ecclesiology, unlike that of Robert Bellarmine, is not perfectionist.  Rather, the church is a corpus mixtum, a mixed body, full of wheat and tares. Moreover, the temporal goods of the earthly city, though transitory, really are good according to Augustine.  This is why he can say of this earthly city, in Book 19.26:

Yet even this people has a peace of its own which is not to be lightly esteemed, though, indeed, it shall not in the end enjoy it, because it makes no good use of it before the end. But it is our interest that it enjoy this peace meanwhile in this life; for as long as the two cities are commingled, we also enjoy the peace of Babylon. For from Babylon the people of God is so freed that it meanwhile sojourns in its company.  And therefore the apostle also admonished the Church to pray for kings and those in authority, assigning as the reason, “that we may live a quiet and tranquil life in all godliness and love.” And the prophet Jeremiah, when predicting the captivity that was to befall the ancient people of God, and giving them the divine command to go obediently to Babylonia, and thus serve their God, counselled them also to pray for Babylonia, saying, “In the peace thereof shall you have peace,” Jeremiah 29:7 — the temporal peace which the good and the wicked together enjoy.

Ordinary life, life on pilgrimage, is full of wheat and tares.  Both authors agree on this.  The fundamental difference is that Lloyd sees fit to pitch his tent in the ordinary, while Augustine recapitulates the scriptural vision of a love which moves humanity to extra-ordinary heights.  


This post is an excerpt of a paper given at the workshop Politics of Love? Christliche Liebe als politische Herausforderung (org. Anthropos Research Group and Katholische Akademie Berlin), Berlin, 21-23 March 2013.

Politics, Love and the Inner Life

Julia Meszaros

What, if any, is the role of Christian love in the political sphere? Where politics is understood as the Machiavellian effort of securing power over others, of erecting barriers rather than of breaking them down, the answer is, most likely, ‘none’. The case is similar where Christian love is deemed to obstruct a Nietzschean will to power, where it is seen to breed nothing but weakness and resentment. Is Christian love not inherently paternalistic, as the problematic implications of traditional forms of development aid might suggest?

Even a more favourable view of Christian love does not amount to its political relevance. Christian love, like other moral and religious convictions, is, so contemporary manifestations of liberalism tend to imply, a private matter. Good citizenship, so this argument would imply, rests on whether we hold to the principles of freedom and justice, keep the law, and cast our vote.

Indifference as a failure of love


Yet, can these important ‘public’ acts and commitments be separated from my ‘private’ life, from my interior disposition and, more particularly, from Christian love? The fact that the default mode in which we live our lives is one of indifference towards the other suggests otherwise. Retreating, by and large, into the private sphere of work, homes and cars, we typically vote only according to our own immediate (especially financial) interests; we have a flippant relationship with the law (tax law being a prime example); and we often look past the old, the sick and the homeless. These tendencies slowly but surely undermine our political structures and principles in a way that inevitably damages first of all those who are most vulnerable. 

And this, I now want to suggest, is because our sins of political indifference and materialistic individualism constitute nothing less than failures of love. They manifest a lack of passionate concern for the other and for the Good that unites all human persons. And it is for this reason that they present an almost insurmountable political challenge. For love cannot be politically enforced.

Love’s ground in the inner life

Interior Castle.jpg

One reason for this is that love, like its opposite, indifference, consists in a particular disposition towards the world. As much as it is an act, love implies a valuation of and delight in the other, a profound longing for the other’s well-being. And as such, love is inseparable from a particular inner life—from the cultivation of truthful perception for instance and of our conscience and, ultimately, of a life of prayer. For love is ultimately rooted in a love of Love itself—in that Spirit of Love which animates our own love.

The inner life as a political challenge

The political importance of our inner lives that follows from this is one of the modern state’s greatest challenges. For contrary to socialism’s assumption that the political sphere can foster, even produce, the kind of persons it needs for its own vitality (on the principle that a good society makes good individuals), love is not learnt through political programmes and policies but only through love itself—that is, through free relationships of love. And contrary to contemporary political liberalism, a state religion of neutrality and disinterestedness is likely to foster a hazardous sense of the political irrelevance of the inner life. 

What, then, is the political realm to make of the fact that love and, with it, the individual person and their inner life, form the inevitable foundation of a vital society? How can we acknowledge the political relevance of our inner lives without giving up on our liberal principles of freedom and toleration?


An albeit rather personal response to this difficult question was, perhaps, offered by the new Pope Francis, minutes after his election. After greeting the cheering crowds, the Pope, a powerful leader, bows before them. And before giving them his blessing, he asks them to pray for his blessing. And rather than asking them to say the ‘Our Father’, he asks them to pray in silence, thus underling the simultaneously communal and individual nature of prayer. This act of humility is at once a political act and an act of love: the leader places his trust in his flock and unambiguously affirms the importance of each individual and his or her inner life of prayer and of love, for the whole. In doing so, Francis boldly proclaimed that even in a world tormented by war and poverty the individual’s turn inwards, Augustine’s reditum ad cor, is no luxury. Indeed, it is the first step towards building the fraternity of the true polis.

This post is an excerpt of a paper given at the workshop Politics of Love? Christliche Liebe als politische Herausforderung (org. Anthropos Research Group and Katholische Akademie Berlin), Berlin, 21-23 March 2013.

Julia Meszaros is a post-doctoral researcher at the K.U. Leuven and a member of Anthropos, a research group in theological anthropology.

Political Animals With Love?

Yves De Maeseneer

When he received the Nobel Prize for the European Union (EU), the Christian-democratic politician Van Rompuy admitted that the EU has brought the art of compromise to perfection. ‘Boring politics is the price to pay for peace.’ However, this pragmatism was interrupted by a moment of passion:

 “To me, what makes it so special, is reconciliation. In politics as in life, reconciliation is the most difficult thing. It goes beyond forgiving and forgetting, or simply turning the page. To think of what France and Germany had gone through, and then take this step. Signing a Treaty of Friendship [Paris, 1963]. Each time I hear these words – Freundschaft, Amitié –, I am moved. They are private words, not for treaties between nations. But the will to not let history repeat itself, to do something radically new, was so strong that new words had to be found.”

(speech Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, Oslo, 10 December 2012)

New words that connect politics and love, but what kind of love is driving Europe… To me the paradigmatic image to think about the paradox of love and politics is to be found in the old cathedral of the French town Vézelay.

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Behind you see a statue of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, the twelfth century mystic of love who wrote an influential comment upon the Song of Songs. And the one who he gave in Vézelay, 1146, a famous sermon in the presence of the king of France, convincing the political powers of his time to go to Jerusalem for a second crusade. Take up your cross, all united against the infidel enemy.

In front of him a rude piece of wood. The plaque reads as follows:

"1946 - Europe emerged from the Second World War destroyed and ruined. "Christians needed to gather in prayer to overcome the forces of hate which had destroyed the world" in celebrating the anniversary of the preaching of the Second Crusade. The pilgrimage was an event of forgiveness and peace-making. Fourteen wooden crosses were carried along the roads from England, Luxembourg, Belgium Switzerland, Italy and different departments of France converging on the basilica.

Certain German prisoners held in a camp in the vicinity of Vézelay asked to join the procession. Hastily, a fifteenth cross was made from the roof beams of bombed houses. This became a powerful symbol of reconciliation for the world. 30,000 people gathered at Vezelay. During this event, Vezelay became a place of prayer for reconciliation and a peaceful Europe."

A moving story of reunion and sacrifice. I have been told that some of the pilgrims volunteered to stay in the camp, taking the German prisoners’ place during the time of the procession. It is hard to assess how much this Crusade of Peace, beginning of a movement later continued under the name ‘Pax Christi’, contributed to a decisive shift in European history. The contrast between Bernard and the Cross of Reconciliation gives us to think about that strange creature we are, political and called to love.

This post is an excerpt of a paper given at the workshop Politics of Love? Christliche Liebe als politische Herausforderung (org. Anthropos Research Group and Katholische Akademie Berlin), Berlin, 21-23 March 2013.