If today, when the history of Christianity is already two thousand years old, we ask ourselves the question, what is its main contribution to human culture, then, almost without thinking, we can answer: the ideal of all-embracing love as the basis of human existence. Christianity immediately recognized itself as the carrier of a fundamentally new, not previously ethical, new understanding of a person, his place in the world, new laws of human existence. The Sermon on the Mount is based on the principles of the removal of ancient morality by the morality of the new, based on the principles of love. New commandments are given most often not as a development of old ones, but as their denial, removal. “You heard what was said: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. But I say unto you, Do not resist evil. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him; and whoever wants to sue you and take your shirt from you, give him your outer clothing … ”(Matthew 5, 38-40).
The ideal of a comprehensive, all-pervasive and forgiving love arose and was formed in the Late Antique world, in the most holistic and complete form in the sphere of religious consciousness, because without sanctification with divine authority he could hardly become the property of the public consciousness of the ancient world and it appeared as a negation of the opposite ideal. If in the Old Testament fear was the main principle of the interaction between God and man, then in the New Testament love became love, which did not completely abolish “the fear of God” but subordinate it to itself.
The very incarnation (incarnation) of the Son of God, all of his activities on earth, the suffering and the shameful death on the cross to atone for the sins of men were understood by evangelists, then patristics, as an action of God’s deepest love for people. “For God so loved the world,” writes John the Evangelist, “that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him ”(Jn 3, 16-17).
Comparing this amazing act of God’s love for people with the level of their consciousness, the Apostle Paul notes that a person will hardly give his life for another, unless someone decides to sacrifice for his benefactor. And “God proves His love for us by the fact that Christ died for us when we were still sinners” (Rom 5, 8), and with this saved us for eternal life. From that great and mysterious time, “the love of God was poured out into our hearts by the Holy Ghost, given unto us” (Rom 5, 5), and “the love of Christ embraces us” (2 Cor 5, 14). It is so great and strong that it surpasses all understanding (Eph 3, 19), because it pours out not only into the external world, but also acts within the Divine itself – it binds the Father and the Son.
“As the Father loved me, and I loved you,” Jesus calls out to people, “abide in my love” (Jn 15, 9). God himself set the example of infinite and saving love for people, and the New Testament, and after it Christian thinkers throughout the history of Christianity, have tirelessly urged fellow believers to imitate divine love. “So, imitate God, as children of the beloved, and live in love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself for us as an offering and sacrifice to God, a pleasant aroma” (Ephesians 5: 1-2).
All three synoptic Gospels transmit (although somewhat in different forms) an episode with the temptation of Jesus by the scribe, who asked him about the greatest commandment of the law and heard in response; “…“ Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind ”: This is the first and greatest commandment; the second is similar to her: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The law and the prophets are based on these commandments (Mt 22, 37-40).
Jesus actually literally repeated the commandments of the Pentateuch of Moses. However, there they are listed among many other manuals and “statutes” and are in different books. Jesus puts them in first place as principal and unites them. The concept of the “neighbor”, referred to in the Old Testament only to the “sons of Israel”, it extends to all mankind, summing up in response to the scribe of the Samaritan despised by the Jews (see: Lk 10, 30—37).
In this case, Jesus does not cancel the commandments of the law, but, on the contrary, strengthens them, brings to the fore and focuses on the second (in his calculation) commandments; love of neighbor. The main, ultimate, ideal in the New Testament is also the commandment of the love of God. All its authors remember it, for love is from God. He brought it to people, loved them, and longed for reciprocal feelings. However, it is impossible without the implementation of the second commandment, without love of neighbor.
“He who says,“ I love God, ”and hates his brother, is a liar; for he who does not love his brother, whom he sees, how can he love God, whom he does not see? ”(1 John 4, 20). Love for the neighbor, that is, for each person, in the New Testament is a necessary condition for the love of God, the main step on the way to him, and therefore it is almost in the center of attention of all New Testament authors. The Apostle Paul ardently convinces the Romans; “… he who loves another, has fulfilled the law,” for all the commandments of Christ “consist in this word; “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to one’s neighbor; so love is the fulfillment of the law ”(Rom 13: 8-10).
Through sermons and personal examples, the Gospel Jesus throughout his whole life on earth passionately inculcated the idea and sense of love towards his neighbor into human hearts. And at the last farewell conversation with the disciples (“the secret evening”), he gives them a new, higher commandment of love, calling to make it the basis of human relationships after his departure. Emphasizing its significance, Jesus repeats it three times during the course of the conversation. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another; as I have loved you, may you love one another ”(Jn 13, 34); “This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15, 12); “I command you this, that you love one another” (Jn 15:17).
Now he calls the disciples, and through them each person, to love each other not only with ordinary human love (“as himself”), but also higher — divine, which Jesus (as well as God himself, for: “I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me ”—In 14, 10) He loved people. Driven by this love, he betrayed himself to a shameful death in order to save his beloved. This love is almost beyond human ability, yet Jesus believes in man and calls him to all-conquering sacrificial love. “There is no more that love, as if one lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15, 13).
The power of this love saves the beloved for eternal life, only it lifts a man out of his slave state, elevates him to the high position of a friend worthy of the friendship and love of God himself. If the Old Testament considered people only slaves of God, then the “Gospel of John” elevates them to the level of his friends. “You are my friends,” says Jesus to the people, “if you do what I command you.” And he commands, first of all, the love of each other. “I no longer call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his lord does; but I called you friends, because I told you everything that I heard from My Father ”(Jn 15, 14-15).
So, the love of people for each other can bring them out of the slave, humiliated state, into which their hatred and enmity have plunged, and make friends not only among themselves, but also God himself. Such a high human thought has never put a man or his, perhaps, the most difficult and controversial feeling – love. Ancient philosophy knew two types of love – sensual love (Aphrodite on earth) and divine eros (Aphrodite of heaven), as a cosmic force, but practically did not know forgiving love of neighbor, which, according to Christian notions, only makes man equal to God.
Love in the New Testament is understood very broadly, and almost all of its aspects are sanctified by divine authority. It is understood as a generally virtuous life, as the fulfillment of all moral and ethical norms that have been developed for centuries in the ancient world and enshrined in Holy Scripture as divine commandments. “Love is that we walk according to His commandments,” says the apostle John (2 John 1, 6).
These commandments, in addition to the main ones – love for God and neighbor, include elementary moral requirements: honor your father and mother, do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not slander your friend, do not wish your neighbor’s property. He who obeys these commandments is a man who lives in love. He is rewarded with the reciprocal feeling of God himself, and this is the pledge of eternal life and endless bliss. “If you keep my commandments,” Jesus promises, “you will abide in my love, just as I have kept the commandments of my Father and abide in His love. These things I have told you, may my joy remain in you, and your joy will be perfect ”(Jn 15: 10-11).
True love is accompanied by joy, spiritual pleasure from complete unity with the beloved, complete merging with him in the act of love, deep knowledge of him, carried out not at a rational level, but at some other, higher spiritual levels. This knowledge is no longer actually human, but divine, for “whoever loves God, knowledge of Him is given to him” (1 Cor. 8, 3).
God is love – in this brief formula, the deep universal human meaning of Christianity, which, alas, still remains a whole misunderstood humanity, and some of its representatives who have comprehended this may be the greatest, ideal of human existence, are revered in our society by crazy, sick, at best, cranks. A vivid example in the national culture is still not canceled the public sentence of the late Gogol, who tried to remind mankind and realize the ideal of Christian love in his work.
Mutual and all-embracing love was erected in the New Testament to the highest level of perfection accessible to humanity of that time — it is identified with God, sanctified by its authority. God, according to the New Testament, loves people so much that he sends his Son to the slaughter for their salvation. And the New Testament authors urge people to love each other so selflessly. For this is promised the highest reward – the possession of God himself. “… If we love each other, then God abides in us, and His love is perfect in us” (1 John 4, 12). “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (1 Jn 4, 16).
Possession of God, that is, complete “knowledge” of him, equates man to God, makes him free and independent, deprives of all fear – not only before the forces of this world, but also before God himself. Love, as the highest state of human existence, removes the “fear of God” prescribed to a person in his everyday life, even the fear of the Day of Judgment. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear is torment; He who fears is not perfect in love ”(1 John 4, 18).
The first defenders and propagandists of Christianity, who taught during the times of persecution of him by the Roman authorities, interpreted the New Testament doctrine of love, primarily as a command of humane relations between people, of humanity as the main principle of social existence.
Relying on the preconditions that emerged in Stoic philosophy, early patristicism attempted to develop and introduce into late-antique society a complex of such relations within a society that would protect the freedom and dignity of the human personality in all its individual identity, in its original self. In place of the philosophical spiritual eros of antiquity, Christianity brought intimate, deeply human, compassionate love for one’s neighbor, sanctifying it with divine authority, divine commandment and producing it from divine love.
Comprehensive, all-pervading love for people becomes the main weapon in the hands of early Christians against all evil and violence, and all early Christian culture strives to embody the ideals of Christian humanism in life. God gave man wisdom and humanity, therefore for Christians religion is in the first place – “knowledge and reverence for the true God”, but right behind it and in close connection with it follows humanity – “mercy or humanity”. Humanity, mercy, compassion, love for people – this is an area of feelings and moral principles, opened by Christianity and put them in the basis of building a new culture.
Following the early Christian thinkers, the Byzantine church fathers paid much attention to the problem of love. The ideas of humanity, humane attitude to each specific person and for them retain their high importance, but here they practically do not add anything new to the ideas of apologists. The finds of the Byzantines lie more in the realm of purely spiritual experience, which, in their deep conviction, based on the New Testament, is impossible without love. “Cognition is carried out by love”, – the greatest thinker of the 4th century AD said aphoristically. Gregory of Nyssa, and the idea of many Byzantine theologians and practitioners of “spiritual work” actively worked in this direction.
The doctrine of divine eros constituted the deepest foundations of all Christian-Byzantine spirituality. Christianity as a worldview and religion, addressed to the widest masses of the population, avoided the abstract complicated forms of expression of their teachings. It sought to express the most complex spiritual truths in forms accessible to the understanding of each believer. Realizing eros, love as the main creative driving force of the universe, Byzantine thinkers sought to convey this idea to all members of the Church, introducing into their consciousness not its cosmic significance, but primarily the social and personal meaning. After all, the Christian God, though we comprehend, but, above all, is a person, and divine eros is manifested for man in the forms of interpersonal, individual and very intimate love. Knowing God, merging with him is, ultimately, a very personal, very intimate, secret act, although it is possible and necessary to prepare for it in a conciliar manner.
The late patristic tradition ascribes to one of the greatest Byzantine theologians, the Areopagitic commentator Maximus the Confessor (VII century), the publication of a collection of statements about love that best express patriotic ideas. The four “sotnitsy” aphoristic judgments, addressed primarily to the beloved of Christ himself, the monks, presented many aspects of the Christian (and broader – medieval in general) understanding of love. Love appears in this collection, primarily as an important epistemological factor, that is, cognitive power. Higher knowledge is acquired by man only on the paths and in the act of immeasurable love for the Absolute.
The knowledge of divine things is possible only in the state of the “blissful passion of holy love” for them, “connecting the mind with spiritual contemplation” and detaching it completely from the material world. “The passion of love sticks” a person to God, his spirit soars to God “on the wings of love” and contemplates his properties, as far as the human mind can. “When, in the attraction of love, the mind ascends to God, then he feels neither himself nor anything of existence. Illuminated by the divine, immeasurable light, he feels nothing of the created, just as the physical eye does not see the stars in the shining sun. ” In a state of infinite and all-consuming love, the mind “moves forward to research about God and receives clear and clear information about him.”
Even faith, which in Christianity as a teaching, first of all religious, occupies the main place, cannot do without love. Only love ignites the “light of reference” in the soul, and, moreover, it is infinite. “Faith and hope,” says Maxim, “have a limit; love, uniting with the infinite and ever increasing, abides forever. And because love is above everything. ” Love purifies the spirit of man from false and base attachments and opens spiritual treasures in himself, in the depths of his “heart”, under which Christianity, as already indicated, means not the physical heart, but a certain spiritual and spiritual center of man.
It is in it that a person who is seized with divine love, “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” finds. In the act of this love, our mind is transformed, becoming like the divine Mind. He becomes wise, kind, human-loving, gracious, long-suffering – “in a word, almost all divine attributes accept him. And the mind that becomes detached from God becomes either bestial, wallowing in voluptuousness, or brutal, inducing to attack people for bestial pleasures. ”
Mergence with God (equal to possessing him, mystical knowledge of him) in the act of divine love is the goal of the life of a Christian; it promises him salvation and endless bliss. “Do not be quick to reject spiritual love, for there is no other way for salvation left for people,” asserts Maxim. And this way goes through the moral and ethical sphere – the correct Christian way of life, that is, through the fulfillment of divine commandments, and, above all, the commandments of love for one’s neighbor. Therefore, Byzantine thinkers paid close attention to it.
Developing New Testament ideas, Maxim calls upon his readers to love all people equally: virtuous “by nature and for good will”, and vicious ones – “by nature” (that is, as brothers) and out of compassion, as senseless and lost in darkness . But the highest kind of love on a social level is love for enemies. “Voluntarily doing good to those who hate is characteristic only of perfect spiritual love.” A man who loves reproaching him and doing good to him, follows the “path of Christian philosophy,” laid by Christ himself, that is, the path of truth.
Carefully studying the relationships of people to each other, Maxim distinguishes five types of love:
1) “for God’s sake” – so virtuous loves all people;
2) “by nature” – love between children and parents;
3) “out of vanity” – the glorified loves the glorifying;
4) “out of greed” – they love the rich so much for the gifts he gives them;
5) “out of voluptuousness” – carnal love, not having the goal of having children.
Only the first kind of love, in the eyes of Christians, is worthy of praise; the second is natural and neutral, and the other three are “passionate” and are criticized by Christian theorists.
Love for people, for each specific person as disinterested service, as constant care for the disadvantaged and helping them, as a constant prayer for all before God, Byzantine fathers were sharply distinguished from fame, wealth, luxury, carnal pleasures). If love of neighbor is the path to unity with God, then “love of the world” turns man away from divine love, because, as Palamas wrote, they are opposite to each other. “The love of God is the root and beginning of all virtues, and the love of the world is the cause of all evil.”
Each of these types of love destroys the other, and their beginnings are enclosed in the dual nature of man. His soul desires spiritual love and spiritual pleasures, and the body strives for momentary carnal pleasures. Therefore, the soul is overwhelmed with love for God, and the body towards the world, and the struggle between these types of love occurs in almost every person.
The successor of Palamas in the episcopal department in Thessaloniki, Nikolay Kavasila, to some extent, summed up the centuries-old patristic tradition of understanding love in the Byzantine-Orthodox region. God is love, and divine eros inexhaustible exudes into the world and impregnates it. God has a special love for his main creation, man, so that “the ineffable love of God and God’s love for our kind exceeds the human mind” and the mysterious “His union with the beloved is beyond any kind of unity, so no one can understand or depict way, ”writes Kavasila.
God initially invested in the souls of people a reciprocal love of self, but because of the free will granted to them, this love was drowned out in them, not without the help of satanic forces, with a vicious love for the world, nevertheless, there is always an “amazing predisposition” to high love in human souls.
Having accepted human flesh, endured suffering and death itself for the sake of people, God vividly reminded them of his love for them, set an example of disinterested love and encouraged them to follow this example in their daily lives. At the same time, Kawasila stresses, God honored his high love not only for human nature, but for each person individually, opening to him an individual path to God.
In people of spiritual love, which ultimately leads to the cognition of the First Cause in the act of mystical merging with it, excitement is carried out in Christianity by including them in the system, the main points of which are determined by interrelated concepts: Benefit – Beauty – Love – Knowledge – Enjoyment.
Already in the very mystery of baptism, Kawasila believes, Christ is receiving his beauty, which arouses such love for him in the hearts, which draws a person far from earthly limits. Appearing persecutors of Christians, she turned them into zealous followers of Christ and martyrs for their faith.
So, the Byzantine culture, continuing and developing many ancient traditions of understanding love, made a new and significant step towards the study of this complex phenomenon of human existence. Early Christian and then Byzantine thinkers and writers saw in love the most important and universal creative principle of the universe, on which its spiritual and vital existence is based. The Byzantines felt well the ambivalent (negative and positive) meaning of sensual love and unconditionally highlighted spiritual love in all its aspects. They paid special attention to the socio-moral understanding of love as the main principle of social relations. All this advances the Christian-Byzantine theory of love to one of the prominent places in the history of culture.