- Gender and Relationships
Romantic Love in Christianity and the Bible
Christianity sees romantic love as a passionate, exclusive and sexual aspect of marriage that must be characterized by selflessness and service in the name of Christ. In spite of its omnipresence in modern culture, romantic love has but a minor role in the Christian Bible, theology and tradition.
Romantic love in Christianity can be traced back to Ancient Greece with its distinction between the god of passionate love, Eros, and the god of selfless love, Agape. Christianity chooses to preach a selfless love as seen in Jesus Christ and to caution against erotic love, which may lead to sins of the flesh.
"The contemporary way of exalting the body is deceptive. Eros, reduced to pure sex, has become a commodity, a mere thing to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity. This is hardly man’s great yes to the body. On the contrary, he now considers his body and his sexuality as the purely material part of himself, to be used and exploited at will. Nor does he see it as an arena for the exercise of his freedom, but as a mere object that he attempts, as he pleases, to make both enjoyable and harmless[...]
Christian faith, on the other hand, has always considered man a unity in duality, a reality in which spirit and matter compenetrate, and in which each is brought to a new nobility. True, eros tends to rise in ecstasy towards the Divine, to lead us beyond ourselves; yet for this very reason it calls for a path of ascent, renunciation, purification and healing."
Encyclical letter deus caritas est
Pope Benedict XVI
Romantic Love In The Bible
With respect to romantic love, the Bible says little. The Song of Solomon (3rd century BCE) is a compendium of lyric poems about love, courtship, and marriage. It was included in the Hebrew Bible by interpreting the lover as God and the loved one as Israel. Christian tradition has interpreted this text as a metaphor for the love of Christ for his bride—the church.
The New Testament uses marital love as an allegory of Christ’s eschatological return. St. Paul talks about marriage with the command that husbands are to love their wives (Ephesians 5:25), presenting love as a virtue of goodness: love is patient, kind, and humble. (1 Corinthians 13)
Falling In Love and Marriage
Marriage was determined by economic and social status for a long time, romantic love not being an expectation for most of Christian history. It was only in the Middle Ages that the concepts of courtly love and passion was introduced into the Western notion of love. By Shakespeare's time, however, these concepts had been absorbed by the common population, who began to hope for romance and passion in their love relationships. Nevertheless, the notion of romantic love did not yet gain a direct relation to sexuality.
Modern concepts of romantic love include a passionate relationship that is sexual by definition. People began referring to “falling in love” as though romantic love was a force that could be imposed on passive agents. Romantic love was perceived as crucial if people were to be happy and feel complete. It was thought that the best way to communicate romantic love is through material gifts of flowers, jewelry, and food.
Romantic Love In Modern Christianity
The modern Christian concept of romantic love stood to criticize these developments, arguing that love must be selfless and holding that the modern concept of romance is primarily a projection of selfish desires. In Christian thought, exclusive love is something that should stand in opposition to the materialistic world-view.
Today, romantic love in Christianity is publicly communicated through the kind of marriage that is a free act of the will. According to Christianity, only free acts have moral value and love must be controlled by the will, because Christians are commanded to love each other (John 13:34). A very important message that is communicated in this understanding of romantic love is that the lifelong commitment that one makes in marriage must negate the concept that people are passive when they fall in and out of love.
In summary, the objective of Christian marriage is to actualize the love of Christ and to personalize this love through the selfless love of a spouse and children. Service, not gifts, communicates this love. Although a Christian requires companionship in the worship and service of God, but a person is not considered incomplete if unmarried or without a romantic relationship.