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How happy ye mortals

Sunday, 2 May 2021

Boethius on Dr John Dunn. How happy ye mortals are,
if the Eros which governs the heaven
does also reign in your heart.

In this passage from the Consolations of Philosophy, Boethius maps the individual experience of Eros onto the cosmic experience.

Very much the same concept is to be found in the contemporary of Boethius, Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, in On the Divine Names.

On this basis the Pseudo-Dionysius can describe Eros as a mighty stream, coming from God and ruling the Cosmos: this is condescending love of the higher for the lower.

Down here on earth Eros also works as a uniting and commingling power in men by urging them to create community,“moves co-equals to a communion,” be it in society or marriage. And finally this life force can be sublimated into a desire for God: it “moves the inferiors to turn towards their superiors in virtue and position.”

So the cosmogonic Eros forms a cycle, originating in God, penetrating the Cosmos, transformed in man into public spirit and sexual desire and returning to its source as love of God.

In the cycle, Love (Eros) comes from God and returns to God.

The pseudo-Dionysius uses the same terminology as the neo-Platonist Proclus’s commentary on Plato’s First Alcibiades.

Boethius and the pseudo-Dionysius, both prominent Christians, appropriated Proclus when they wanted to write about divine Love.

In the mind of Proclus there proves to be in fact a divine descending love, stretching from the transcendental level of Noûs down to the soulsof human beings living on earth.

Proclus’ allegorical interpretation of love in Plato’s dialogue First Alcibiades (about the unselfish love of Socrates for Alcibiades) finds in it the cosmogonic Eros, which emanates from God.

Proclus took his ideas of divine love from the Chaldaean Oracles which had preserved the Orphic myth of cosmogonic Eros.

And in the Renaissance Leo Hebraeus, when writing his influential Dialogues on Love, used Proclus’ ideas on Eros.

The cosmogonic Eros was an Orphic myth. Eros comes out of the world egg.

We may then conclude that cosmogonic, demiurgic, divine Love was conceivedby the Orphics, received by the Presocratics, saved by later unknown mystics, perhaps Orphic, in a period of demythologisation and revitalised by the Gnostics, both pagan and Christian.

The Biblical John shows not the slightest influence of Pauline theology and has no parallel in Jewish or Old Testament literature, but show a very high appreciation of Greek Eros.

This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you. No man has greater love than he who gives his life for his friends (15, 12–13).

To suffer for your friend and to die instead of him was for the Ancients implied in the notion of Eros.

There are examples from Plato and Seneca.

Love will make men dare to die for their beloved-love alone. (Plato, Symposium, translation B. Jowett)

For what purpose then do I make a man my friend? In order to have someone for whom I may die, whom I may follow into exile, against whose death I may stake my own life, and pay the pledge, too. (Seneca, Ep. 9, 10, translation R.M. Gummere)

One of his pupils, whom Jesus loved, was reclining on his bosom during the meal (13, 23).

Hundreds of examples of such special relationships can be quoted from Greek literature. Think of Socrates and Alcibiades.

God loved the world so much . . . (3,16)

The concept of love descending from the ground of Being and coming to the Cosmos is thoroughly Hellenic, as is shown by the Chaldaean Oracles and Proclus.

The cycle represented by John is that the Christian should love his brethren, his beloved friends; this proves he has the love of God within himself and may consider himself to be a child of God, because this Ground of being is the source of all love. Love, all love, comes from God, because God as such is love. Love originates in God, enters the human heart as a unifying force, the foundation of community and brotherly togetherness, and returns as love of God from man to God.

The Orphic and Hellenic tradition on Eros is certainly important to understanding the true meaning of love in the Johannine corpus of the New Testament.

© John Dunn

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