(This is a simul-post with Ignitum Today.)
It’s a commonplace we’ve all heard in one form or another: “Love is blind.” But is it really? It may be true that our passions, in their uncultivated condition, can color falsely our way of seeing, but even this has in itself the seed or material for seeing truly and bears within itself a truth about human nature, indeed about reality itself. Even uncultivated passion and desire show that human beings cannot live “within themselves”: we are always looking beyond ourselves for what will complete us and give us rest, and this thirst reaches down to the roots of our being. We might even call our existence a “going out of ourselves,” an ex-istence. However, following this thread to the kind of love that sees rightly requires us to go beyond the imperfect, damaged love that comes so easily. In this condition such love remains, in part at least, a “love for me,” a self-love in which I go out of myself just to take hold of what I love and to keep it for my own satisfaction– a love, in short, which is also part exploitation. Insofar as love remains of this kind, it grows back in upon itself, frustrated from its proper outward orientation and blossoming-forth. Only a love that has been purified of this imperfection, as free of the alloy of exploitation as possible, can begin to see what it loves without the damaging factors that have given love the false name of “blind.”
This kind of love, though it acknowledges its need for the one it loves, does not thereby reduce the beloved to an object of exploitation for its own satisfaction. Rather than oppressing or disfiguring the beloved in this way, such love first gives room for the beloved to be as she is—to show herself forth as she truly is, not as selfish intrusions would objectify her. This first step of “going out of ourselves,” then, does not reach out to exploit what we love but instead watches and waits with attentiveness, even with reverence. The first step of love is not a step forward but rather a step back.
This reverential letting-be, in which the lover sees what she loves as it shows itself, involves a recognition of what is loved as purely given– whether it be a moving musical masterpiece, a beloved spouse, or the Giver of all that is good. Ultimately, to gaze with loving eyes (true-loving eyes, that is, formed by a love purified of self-love) is to see the truth about what we gaze upon, to recognize it as gift, as sheer gratuity and thus as beautiful. This goes for all things but holds true in a particular way for that particular kind of love which is romantic: in the midst of the myriad imperfections and flaws that damage our actual loves, in itself this kind of love embodies with radical intensity something of the reverence, the wonder, and the awe which arise from recognizing things as gift. Through this kind of love, unique in how vividly it impresses itself upon so many of us, one person begins to see the irreplaceable beauty and splendor of another—the full richness and goodness of the creature God creates in love.
We might say this represents the only true way to know something as it really is, as loved into being by God. Since our own acts of knowledge are themselves but the faintest retracing of God’s own knowing the created order into being, and since this act of God’s knowing is the same as the one act of God’s love, we only begin to know things as God knows them—as they are in reality—insofar as we begin to share and participate in that loving-knowing-creating which is God’s one eternal act. Real knowledge, then, is not a matter of some imagined neutrality (coldness)—all too often a mask for the will to power, for the desire to exploit—but rather of reverence before the face of the beautiful, gratitude for the gift, love for a beloved creature of God. The philosophical traditions of the West have posited two categories for things, corresponding to the different ways we relate to them as objects of knowledge: sensibilia— sense-ables, things we first come to know through our senses– and intelligibilia— intelligibles, things we come to know only through our abstracting intellect. With this insight about love, however, we might say that both meet as amibilia— lovables, to be received and cherished in gratitude because recognized as the sheer good gift of God, who alone is Creator of both “things visible and invisible.” To know a thing rightly requires us above all to be able to see through eyes that recognize things as unmerited gifts, gratuitous expressions of God’s bountiful love.
For human beings united in a bond of love, this recognition of gift means each is constantly re-discovering the other, reawakening to the amazement of first recognition. Here our relationships, fallen but redeemed by Christ, can at their best echo something of that vision of Beauty Himself, in which the blessed are ever discovering anew greater depths of God’s love. Just as true lovers are drawn toward each other through the transcendent Third who sheds His love upon them both, the blessed are ever drawn out of themselves in ecstatic abandon toward the God who by His love makes all things new. Far from being “blind,” love alone lets the scales fall from our eyes so that we can contemplate the truth, wherever it is found, in ever greater depth.