The following letter and response pertain to this article from Issue 6.
My first reaction after I finished reading Michael Bradley’s essay, “Eros Beyond Sex” in the Summer 2013 issue of Fare Forward was to grab my copy of The Four Loves and give the chapter on Eros a reread. Bradley attributed a few points about Eros to C.S. Lewis that seemed to mischaracterize his description of Eros, and I wanted to see if he was correct.
Well it turns out that, in the first instance, he was. At least partially. Bradley says that Lewis characterizes Eros as a “characteristic ‘need love.’” When I first read this I thought that it must be wrong, for I distinctly remembered C.S. Lewis saying, “Eros… wonderfully transforms what is par excellence a Need-pleasure into the most Appreciative of all pleasures.” He does then, however, go on to clarify that Eros does contain Venus, the needy, appetitive sexual desire with which everyone is all too familiar. So then, Eros does have a needy component, so in a sense Bradley is right. But the distinguishing factor between Eros and Venus is that Eros shifts the focus of the lover from his own needs to the good of the beloved, who Eros shows him as admirable in herself. Therefore it seems clear that Eros is, in Lewis’s own terms, quite the opposite of a need-love, even if it does contain a needy component.
Toward the end of his essay, Bradley speaks about sex “divorced” from Eros and implies that such sex is motivated by mere lust. It may not have been Bradley’s intention to make this implication, but it is certainly not a far-fetched inference to make. I hope that he did not mean to make it, for C.S. Lewis himself deliberately distances himself from this interpretation. He explains, “Most of our ancestors were married off in early youth to partners chosen by their parents on grounds that had nothing to do with Eros. They went to one another with no ‘fuel,’ so to speak, than plain animal desire. And they did right.” Eros does indeed, as Bradley explains, transform human sexuality so as to mature it into an authentic love which seeks the good of the partners involved, but that does not mean that it need be present at every act of intercourse, or even at all. I think Bradley is right to assert that Eros can, and is even very effective, at helping to ensure that people have sex chastely, but to say that it is a necessary component of chastity is going too far.
Otherwise, I very much enjoyed Bradley’s essay. The section on how the pursuit of desires is not inherently selfish—for, indeed, humans can act in no other manner—was very much needed in a culture that wishes to divorce moral action from the pursuit of happiness.
Matthew Dugandzic, Washington, D.C.
Matthew Dugandzic cites C.S. Lewis by way of objecting to two of the main theses in my recent essay, “Eros Beyond Sex”: First, that Eros is essentially a need-love, and second, that sexual union, to be morally licit, must implicate Eros. I don’t wish to focus on what Lewis does and does not believe about Eros; The Four Loves speaks for itself. Rather I will endorse again the arguments I encountered not only in the thought of Josef Pieper but of Pope Benedict XVI as well, as the latter expresses in Deus Caritas Est.
I stand by my claim that Eros is essentially a “need-love,” though such an assertion invites clarification. By “need-love” here I mean a love that comes out of man’s fundamental incompleteness qua creature and in turn is an expression of his unalterable desire for union in and through a reality beyond himself. In Benedict’s words, “union with God” is “man’s primordial aspiration.” God is the perfective object—the ultimate good goal—of man’s erotic love.
Benedict explains Eros as the “idea that man is somehow incomplete, driven by nature to seek in another the part that can make him whole, the idea that only in communion with the opposite sex can he become complete… Eros is rooted in man’s very nature.” We can obviate our erotic love—our need for completion in the other—no sooner than we can obviate our very creatureliness. Contra Dugandzic, Eros always comes out of “our own needs.”
As to the second objection: Lewis is simply wrong when he says that man’s “plain animal desire” is sufficient for “right” sexual action. Sexual acts that spring neither from an erotic desire for total union (the uni-duality of two body- soul composites) nor from a sense of sacrifice or service or the duty to have a child (which are expressions of Eros-perfecting agape), but from nothing other than “plain animal desire,” (Venus) are exactly the sort of acts that the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes as lustful (2351). The entire Judeo-Christian sexual ethic becomes instantly unintelligible if Lewis and Dugandzic are correct in this regard.
Michael Bradley, South Bend, IN