For Valentine’s Day: Honest Christian Talk About Eros

"The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa" is the central sculptural group in white marble set in an elevated aedicule in the Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome, Italy. It was designed and completed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1652.

By Mark Judge Published on February 14, 2023

Much of the culture war over the last fifty years has been fought over sex. It is an area where Christians have struggled to make our philosophy persuasive. The left appears to have won the public battle, as incoherent as its view really is: That mutually consenting adults should be left alone to do whatever they want in private — and the rest of us should be forced, by law if need be, to celebrate it in public. As at Stalin’s Party congresses, the first one to stop applauding gets a bullet in the head.

Mutual Submission and Love

Conservatives by habit are uncomfortable talking about sexuality, which we consider sacred. Yet it may be time to re-emphasize what Jesus, the Bible, centuries of tradition, and the natural law all tell us. One of the best sources is the book The Christian Meaning of Human Sexuality by the brilliant Jesuit priest Father Paul Quay, who died in 1994.

Fr. Quay observes that during the sexual act the woman “opens herself up to the man,” and the man “penetrates the woman with his essence.” The act itself is one of mutual submission and love. Fr. Quay goes on “The woman offers her beauty, tenderness and love to the man, and the man puts his physical strength, courage and love into the service of the woman.” In other words, the bodies themselves have powerful spiritual meaning and greater symbolism.

Created for Wonder

In the book Called to Love: Approaching John Paul II’s Theology of the Body by Carl Anderson and Fr. Jose Granados, the authors argue that human creatures are created to wonder. Such wonder is inseparable from love. And that love is what gives our lives meaning. Wonder can be come from reflecting on the majesty of the natural world, of course, but reaches its greatest intensity in love: “Our response to true love fulfills our experience of wonder and puts in our hands a compass to guide our quest for meaning to the goal of true happiness.”

Wonder, and the love that it produces, is powerfully expressed in our bodies, most obviously when we are making love: “The body manifests the person.” We are creatures, but creatures with souls that respond to wonder, and strive for the transcendent. A person who can’t wonder — and yes there are quite a few — is doomed to a dull life, through nobody’s fault but his own.

Not Hypocrites, Just Sinners

Do we sometimes fall short of this Christian ideal of human sexuality? Of course. I know that I do. In fact it’s easy for the left to call us hypocrites, because we all fall short. As if we should dumb down our ethics to match whatever we find it easy to do.

Sometimes we live in the truth, which offers freedom. That freedom should allow us to be more clear and even brush up against some uncomfortably obvious language about our bodies and sex. There are a lot of confused kids out there who I think are desperate for the affirmation of what their hearts are telling them.

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For the left, sex is there to be deconstructed. Our wonder should be quelled in service to lessons about anatomy, reducing our souls to plumbing. Chasing this nightmare for too long winds up with cases like Madonna, who is unrecognizable at 64 and still incoherently babbling about the importance of rebelling against society’s norms. It’s sad.

The Holy Joy That New Life Brings

Our sexuality expressing what Fr. Quay said it expresses is an irreducible truth. Our artists know this and our pop culture, no matter how corrupt, cannot help but proclaim it. Pop songs continue to cry out for a love that transcends the physical world. We thirst and yearn for God.

Several years ago I saw the great jazz singer Kurt Elling, who is a former divinity student at the University of Chicago. While performing, Elling combined the classic romantic ballad “My Foolish Heart” with “The Dark Night of the Soul” by Saint John of the Cross. The sacred part came halfway through the song, whose beginning those familiar with the Great American Songbook should already know:

The night is like a lovely tune
Beware my foolish heart
How white the ever–constant moon
Take care my foolish heart
There’s a line between love and fascination
It’s hard to see on an evening such as this

Then at the break, Elling began to chant:

One dark night
Fired with love’s urgent longings
Clothed in sheer grace
I went out unseen
My house being all now still
On that night
In secret for no one saw me
With no other light that the one that burned in my heart
This guided me more surely than the light of noon
To where she waited for me

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It was a poem by St. John of the Cross. Elling was combining “My Foolish Heart” with a 16th–century Christian mystic. This wasn’t a cheap appropriation, or uncomfortable preaching, but a perfect match of the themes of Eros and Agape. Anyone who listens to “A New Body and Soul,” written after Elling’s daughter Luiza was born in 2005, and does not experience the transcendent, holy joy that new life brings is simply not alive:

Waiting too long for a sign you would come was what
Nearly killed the spirit in the house within me
And when you appeared you brought an answer after praying
Like a sailor sighting landfall on horizons of green
Or sunrise after endless nights of burning scenes
Or having sense be restored to me.
Finally the music has a reason to be singing.

Our bodies reflect our souls, and our sexuality as expressed in marriage are, as Pope John Paul II said, “an icon of the interior love of God.” All the twerking in the world can’t change that.

 

Mark Judge is a writer and filmmaker in Washington, D.C. His new book is The Devil’s Triangle: Mark Judge vs the New American Stasi.

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