John Heard: We don’t know much till we know love

28 May 2008

By The Record

There is, of course, no reason to accept the view as original here; but there is some truth in the idea that we don’t know much until we come into love.

John Heard

That is, it might be right to say something like this: that a man is not fully human until he feels himself loved, for himself alone; and loves that way in return.
Such a view is embedded in the notion that there is something important, indeed something critical, in how human beings relate to other people, and in how we are treated in return.
This is ethics. What makes any set of such propositions a properly Christian ethic, however, what turns any conception of the good life, and its formulas for flourishing, into a Christian statement (or re-statement), is the way Christianity puts love at the centre of all our strivings.
As the Holy Father has written:
“We have come to believe in God’s love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life… In acknowledging the centrality of love, Christian faith has retained the core of Israel’s faith, while at the same time giving it new depth and breadth… love is now no longer a mere “command”; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us.”
Which is not to denigrate the crucial witness of Israel, rather the Holy Father uses this passage to point up the unique re-orientation of man’s understanding of his relationship with God, and other human beings, brokered by the Incarnation.
The fact that “being Christian is not [merely] the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person” sets Christians apart.
In philosophical debates, and other contexts then, where seekers ask to see the proof of Christians’ claims about goodness, and truth – or ask for some sense of the foundations of one’s statements about how to live, and what to do – Christians might sometimes point to this network of empirical connections, or to that set-piece of a priori reasoning, but we are most authentically Christian when we point relentlessly to Christ.
After all, it is an encounter with Him, with Love Crucified, that “gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”.
Where such an answer does not immediately satisfy modern minds, or fails to achieve some hoped-for coup among philosophers, for instance, Christians should be prepared to accept two, seemingly conflicting, diagnoses.