Yesterday’s matins reading from Saint Gregory Nazianzen for the feast of two of the Cappadocian theological giants provides warmth in our emotional Pleistocene. Gregory presents an intensity of friendship that this loveless age with its queer puritanism of right and left cannot seem to fathom.
Eros, the impassioned journey from self to other (the perfective transcendence of embodied spirit not simply reducible to sexuality) has been exiled from the American soul, and all sides have colluded in this fundamental act of secularization, of contraction into self. Without eros, the wellspring of friendship as well as of romance, there can be no social body. There can be no republican solidarity without existential love.
Every January 2nd, the breviary continues Christmastide joy by catching us up into Saint Gregory’s account of his profound friendship with Saint Basil. It stands at the beginning of the calendar year, and points us to love, the beginning and the beyond of everything.
“When, in the course of time, we acknowledged our friendship and recognized that our ambition was a life of true wisdom, we became everything to each other: we shared the same lodging, the same table, the same desires, the same goal. Our love for each other grew daily warmer and deeper.
“…We seemed to be two bodies with a single spirit. Though we cannot believe those who claim that ‘everything is contained in everything,’ yet you must believe that in our case each of us was in the other and with the other.“Our single object and ambition was virtue, and a life of hope in the blessings that are to come; we wanted to withdraw from this world before we departed from it. With this end in view we ordered our lives and all our actions. We followed the guidance of God’s law and spurred each other on to virtue. If it is not too boastful to say, we found in each other a standard and rule for discerning right from wrong.
“…Our great pursuit, the great name we wanted, was to be Christians, to be called Christians.”
It’s all here: human love rooted in a shared eros for wisdom and for virtue and for becoming Christian.
True love. There is no life without it. Every true love we are blessed with causes us to be more alive, more trustful of the Father’s goodness, a trust born of gratitude. Love makes us open, expansive. When we trust in another person and in the God the Giver of love, we are free to run the risk of bounding into the future, on unknown ways and into unknown lands. We know that there is a good God working His way, somehow, in this mess of history, this mess of everyday life, a God Who grants us love when we were not expecting anything new.
And given someone to love and who loves in return, we know we have a companion who will supply for our faults, who will think better of us than we think of ourselves, who will see us as the Father sees us. Spurring each other on to excellence, friends are on the royal road to the New City of holiness and universal intimacy.