In the current issue of First Things (Jan 2007, num. 169; 20-24), Avery Cardinal Dulles, S. J. has a short article entitled “Love, the Pope, & C. S. Lewis.” It is not my purpose to interact extensively with the piece, but I would like to share one or two of my criticisms.
First, and perhaps less importantly, one would expect (as I did) substantial interaction with Lewis, given the article’s title. Of Dulles’s thirty-six paragraphs, only six of the last seven make any mention whatsoever of Lewis (and even those are rather cursory). Pope Benedict XVI and his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, on the other hand, are discussed in all but six paragraphs.
Also, at the end of his first section, Dulles writes
In summary, Christian thinkers tend to integrate the love of desire with the love of generosity or friendship. They grapple with the problem of showing how a love originating in desire can rise to the point of becoming purely disinterested and sacrificial. The Protestant thinkers we have examined set up an unbridgeable gulf between eros, as a passion arising from below, and agape, as a totally altruistic gift from on high. Catholicism, here as elsewhere, stands for a both/and; Protestantism, for an either/or.
Who are the Protestant thinkers Dulles claims to have “examined” (this being a rather generous reference to his three preceding paragraphs)? First, “the Swedish Lutheran theologian Anders Nygren” and “his well-known book Agape and Eros.” Second, “Denis de Rougement, son of a Swiss Protestant pastor.” Chances are you’ve never heard of both, or perhaps even one of these guys. Personally, Rougement is a mystery to me (and after consulting several theology and recent church history texts, he remains as much). To state my point bluntly, Dulles selected two obscure, early twentieth century figures to serve as representative samples of Protestant thought on the theology of love, before going on to generalize that Protestants, in their “either/or” way, “set up an unbridgeable gulf…” This is commonly known as a hasty generalization. While I believe Dulles’s article contains additional deficiencies, I will exercise constraint.
In his defense on one count, perhaps Dulles found little choice but to cite Nygren and Rougement as representative of the Protestant position. Of course, C. S. Lewis was a Protestant, and in my opinion his position is not susceptible to Dulles’s objections. Nevertheless, I (at least) am unable to call to mind other Protestant theologians who treat the theology of love, but then I haven’t published an article on the matter.
Not surprisingly, I disagree with Dulles on many points. This, however, does not mean that I lack respect for him.