Phenomenology of Love: Love as Visionary
An Objection to “Love is Blind”
When we say that “love is blind”, what do we mean? If we are referring to the mere emotional-affective reaction of a subject to his object of attraction, then, indeed, “love” is “blind”—for in that spontaneous moment of attraction1 the feelings are isolated from reasoning and are “not concerned with the truth of its object.” But feelings are not love—and love is not merely a feeling—though they may be a significant part of love and throughout the journey thereof.
I wish to examine love and its nature of being “visionary”, and thereby disprove the adage that “love is blind.” The love to which I shall refer in this writing is the love between man and woman.
First, love finds its basis a “ value-response” and this is the case for every love, whether it is the love for a father, the love between friends, or the love between man and woman.2 In seeing the values of the person, whether it is his ontological value as a child of God or his personal values such as his kindness, love begins and responds. We respond with our commitment to willing the good of the other—this is the proper response due to every human value. Human persons, being the highest value in the visible world, merits this response that is love. We love another not because the other satisfies our wanting and desires and is useful to us—this is “to use” and it is the opposite of loving.3 Rather, we love because this person is a value, the highest value, that justly merits this due response for its own sake. Already, in willing the good of the other, there is an outward turning toward the other, and an expansion of our sight beyond our mere inward self. The lover thus sees: he sees the inherent value and the personal values of another. This seeing engenders an attraction, which, then requires a sight and sensitivity, a “sensibility.”4
But, at one point in life, we might find ourselves transcending beyond this proper due value-response, to do more than simply will the good of the other. We might find ourselves with the desire to give our hearts to our beloved. In this love between man and woman, we are moved to make a decision to gift our heart, our very self. This movement of the heart and this desire is not a reference to the passions, the fleeting emotions, and whims that come and go. It is a genuine desire that arises within our heart to make the very donation of itself—the greatest gift that we can give to another.
I may be attracted and drawn to the values of the beloved person—his piety, gentleness, modesty, kindness. But, love refers to him, aims at him, and sees him in his totality; the values in his overall beauty as an individual becomes secondary to him . In love, the beloved is entire “thematic” as a person.5 The person whom I love is unique and unrepeatable; thus, even though another may possess the same values and even to a higher degree, I would still love him, and it would not be love if it were not so. His preciousness and beauty express his unique personality to me, awakening a love within my heart and the conviction that “he is the treasure of my heart.” Out of the thousands, we meet and the hundreds we know, it is only our beloved who captures our heart in a definitive and particular way, moving us to desire to commit this life on earth loving this person. It is true that we cannot explain why we love: our heart’s election of our beloved is in a sense a mystery for it is made “by the presence of the incommunicable preciousness of the beloved.”6
This love and this consciousness of the incommunicable preciousness of the beloved plunges us into silence—a silence because of the inexpressible richness of the heart.7 It moves our being to inner recollection, to be fully present with ourselves. Being fully present to ourselves, we are able to possess ourselves to a greater depth and truly give ourselves to our beloved, for we cannot give what we do not possess. Love moves us to see and possess ourselves in a depth—an almost “transformation” experience whereby the eyes of our souls are widened. We become “alert” to a new horizon of beauty and depth in the universe, discover a whole new world of goodness, and see the world in its radiant beauty.8 The beauty of the individuality of the beloved enkindles in us a love; in loving, we see how beautiful the world is; how noble love is; how precious life is; how everything is truly radiant and a pure gift.
When our heart truly sees and loves, it grows in sight of God Who Himself is Beautiful. The beauty of our beloved is only but a reflection of God Himself, Who is the source of all that is good, true, and beautiful. In the most mysterious way, our love for our beloved directs our heart toward the ultimate source of it all, the ultimate Giver of all gifts—even the gift of our beloved. Standing before God and before our beloved, we are deeply humbled and grateful—am I worthy to receive and cherish this gift of him before me? It is a beautiful thing, a miraculous happening—this link between our love for the other and for God—and we cannot seem to grasp it, but we have come to realize the worth of this timeless beauty to which we have freely surrendered. A gentle current this is, this current of love, and it will only draw us out of ourselves, helping us to see and live life so much more fully in Love.
It is a journey of growing in love: a journey of knowing and receiving the self-revelation of the beloved through his telling and actions—even the smallest gestures reveal his character and his particular charm and beauty. These values perceived in the other elicits a response proper to it: my self-giving and commitment. Love thus finds its basis a value-response. It is “visionary” in that it sees the values of the person. It is “visionary” in that it also “reveal[s] to us even the faults of the other in their full import causing us to suffer because of them [because we see how these faults and weaknesses will hinder our beloved’s growth].” Yet, love moves us even further to see not only their faults and values in isolation, but their person as fully “thematic”—we delight in and are drawn to their whole being as an unrepeatable and uniquely precious individual.9 How is it so? Our human frailty causes our nearsightedness; our human limitations prevent us from seeing further beyond the appearance. But, in the most intricate way, God fashioned not only our eyes but our hearts to see beyond the physical: I see him, his heart, all that who he is.10 In loving them, we discover a depth to ourselves and a depth in the universe we have not seen before until our loving them. In loving them, we discover a glimpse of God and a piece of the fullness of His beauty and the magnitude of His love.
Perhaps this is how God sees us and loves us: He sees us as we wholly are in our full potential, uniqueness, preciousness, and our belovedness; He loves each of us as if we are His only beloved in the world. Let us be loved by Him and allow His love to transform us and give us the sight of faith, hope, and love.
With the words of Pope Benedict XVI: “Love is indeed ‘ecstacy’, not in the sense of a moment of intoxication, but rather as a journey, an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God.”11
1 Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility ( New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux Inc., 1981), 77. Read further to understand Wojytyla’s explanation of Personalist Norm.
2 Dietrich von Hildebrand, The Nature of Love, trans. John F. Crosby ( South Bend, Indiana: St. Augustine’s3 Press, 2009), 17.
3 Wojtyla, 25.
4 Ibid., 77.
5 Hildebrand, 76.
6 John F. Crosby, “Introductory Study,” The Nature of Love, trans. John F. Crosby ( South Bend, Indiana: St.7 Augustine’s Press, 2009), xxxvi.
7 Dietrich von Hildebrand, The Heart (Indiana: St. Augustine’s Press, 2007), 44.
8 Von Hildebrand, The Nature of Love, 77.
9Dietrich von Hildebrand, Marriage: The Mystery of Faithful Love (Sophia Institute Press, 1991).
10The same line of thought is expressed in Karol Wojtyla’s Love and Responsibility: “There must be a direct attraction to the person: in other words, response to particular qualities inherent in a person must go with a simultaneous response to the qualities of the person as such, an awareness that a person as such his a value, and not merely attractive because of certain qualities which he or she possesses” (79).
11Pope Benedict XVI, Deus caritas est, Encyclical Letter, Vatican Website, December 25, 2005, http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20051225_deus-caritas-est.html#_ftnref27, sec. 6