2 A Brief Survey of Divine Love in Historical Theology
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A Brief Survey of Divine Love in Historical Theology
Plato’s Conception of Love
The following survey introduces the main themes and issues regarding divine love and provides a glimpse of the long history that offers context for this study. Major figures have been selected that demonstrate the nature of the issues involved.1 The issue of divine love in systematic theology has a long history, including a considerable connection to Greek philosophy. Therefore, discussions of divine love often begin with Plato.2 At least three main points of Plato’s doctrine are essential to this study: (1) his ontology of the two worlds, the supersensible and sensible, especially the veneration of timelessness, simplicity, immutability, self-sufficiency, and perfection; (2) the notion of the highest love as rational desire for the Good, the proton philon; and (3) the prominence of insufficiency and need as conditions of desirous love, which is limited to human love in contrast to divine love. Among other things, for Plato, eros is of a rational, purposive character and emotion is downplayed.3 “The Platonic lover ← 39 | 40 → rises above . . . leaving emotionality behind: his love is not an attempt to express or purify sensuous feelings but rather to supplant them by sheer rationality.”4 This fits with Plato’s idealization of reason and the reflective life of the philosopher.5 Perhaps Plato’s most discussed contribution, however, is his treatment of desirous love. It is difficult to extract Plato’s own view from his writings with any...
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