‘Love’ (Eros) Alone is No Basis for Marriage

Emil Brunner rightly asserts that

… monogamy is the only possible union of the sexes which does justice to the personal need for full community.

Hence, marriage (naturally between persons of the opposite sex) is societally significant as it serves as the foundation for all other proper communities.  Where there is no community, there is no society.

But the basis of monogamous marriage cannot be ‘love’ (Eros) as that term is usually understood.  Brunner continues a bit further on

Where marriage is based on love all is lost from the very outset.

But how can such a thing be asserted?

The lover cannot guarantee that his emotion of love will be either permanent or directed solely to the one person: such a marriage, because it is only possible as a hypothesis, is broken the moment it has been concluded; or rather, it never existed.

Our fascination with and addiction to ‘individualism’ is at the root of modern culture’s misunderstanding of the purpose and strength of marriage.

It is this subjective individualism, more than anything else, which has caused the present crisis in marriage.

Marriage, theologically understood, is community and the foundation-stone of all community.  That is why it’s important, and that’s why it matters.  Marriages based on commitment to the other are marriages that are biblical.  Marriages entered into for the sake of self fulfillment or self satisfaction (or lust) are doomed and no marriage at all.

In short, marriages rooted in αγαπη are true marriages (and since αγαπη is rooted in God and given by God, only those marriages established by and in God qualify as true).  Marriages, on the other hand, rooted in ερος, are rooted in self and since so, doomed to fail, doomed to be truly inauthentic.

19 thoughts on “‘Love’ (Eros) Alone is No Basis for Marriage

  1. Danielle 29 Sep 2010 at 1:27 pm

    Dear Dr. West, I certainly agree with your point that Eros exclusively cannot be the basis of marriage and that a Biblical marriage is based on commitment. But your post leaves me wondering whether you believe there is a place for eros at all in marriage? After all, God also created sex. It seems to be that the Biblical vision of marriage places a high value on the desire of the lover for the beloved, and this desire is used as the main picture of God’s love for His people. I think of the marriage analogies throughout Isaiah and Hosea and the high eroticism of the Song of Songs. Further, the consummation of all things is pictured in Revelation as the wedding supper of the lamb. God truly delights in his people “as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride” (Isaiah 62:5). We certainly need to provide an alternative vision to subjective individualism; I think we can do this not by getting rid of eros (which would be not only impossible but I also think, contrary to the Biblical vision of love), but rather by submitting eros to agape. I propose a basis for marriage that holds agape and eros in tension; I like the term theologian Vigen Guroian uses for this: “crucified eros.” The promise that agape makes doesn’t take the place of erotic love–rather agape allows eros to flourish.

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    • Jim 29 Sep 2010 at 1:28 pm

      eros is an element of marriage just as its an element of life. but BASIS of marriage is the key.

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  2. steph 29 Sep 2010 at 1:48 pm

    pfft what a cold, clinical, cynical, passionless, artless, heartless, inhuman analysis. Brrrrrrunner dripping with ice from his Swiss mountain village.

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  3. Michael Barber 29 Sep 2010 at 3:52 pm

    Great post, Jim!

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  4. Jim 29 Sep 2010 at 3:54 pm

    michael we probably agree that the ‘communal’ aspect of marriage is the missing piece in much modern ideology. marriage isn’t just about one person. it isn’t ‘one person’s civil right’. it is a communal reality and it has wide reaching consequences for all of society.

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  5. steph 29 Sep 2010 at 4:02 pm

    it’s actually nobody else’s business. Keep out of the marriage partners’ bedroom.

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    • Jim 29 Sep 2010 at 4:09 pm

      its actually everyones business because the destruction or decay of the most foundational level of society affects every layer above it.

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  6. steph 29 Sep 2010 at 4:34 pm

    and naturally I disagree 😀

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    • Jim 29 Sep 2010 at 4:34 pm

      whhhaaattttt??????

      😉

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  7. steph 29 Sep 2010 at 4:36 pm

    ha 😀 I always love you even though you’re quite often wrong – and never Wrong!! (who is never wrong anway)

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    • Jim 29 Sep 2010 at 4:39 pm

      i do admit to having been wrong. once. years ago. when i thought i was wrong, for just a moment, about something. turns out i wasn’t

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  8. Doug 29 Sep 2010 at 5:29 pm

    Well, doc, you are a better man than I, who, according to his wife, is often persuaded by his wife that he is wrong.

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    • Jim 29 Sep 2010 at 5:31 pm

      i didnt say anyone else thinks im right.

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  9. Doug 29 Sep 2010 at 7:46 pm

    Well, in that case, we are both right.

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  10. steph 29 Sep 2010 at 8:21 pm

    You’re both Wright-like in some respects. Even Wrong knows you’re wrong when you’re wrong and Wrong is always right.

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    • Jim 29 Sep 2010 at 8:36 pm

      oh that was mean. id rather be called tintin

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  11. Michael Barber 30 Sep 2010 at 1:54 am

    Jim:

    I strongly agree. I also think that part of the problem is that people think that love is merely an emotion. It is not. Many people speak of “falling in love” as if love were a pit that you somehow “fall” “into”–and then you’re stuck. “Uh, oh. I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”

    Love is not simply a passive response to external stimuli. It is the result of an act of the will. You love–you don’t fall into and then get trapped in it against your will–though some would wish to think of love in these terms. Such thinking can justify any illicit relationship (e.g., loving a person married to someone else). The truth is, you make the decision to commit yourself to another.

    Once someone told me that they were concerned about getting married because they feared they might “fall out of love”. I’m sorry: love is a commitment. You either decide to love or you don’t. Love is not just a feeling. Love is not about making yourself feel good. It’s not about selfishness but selfless.

    NOTE: I am not saying that a person should continue to remain in a situation where they are being abused–please don’t twist my words to mean that.

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    • Jim 30 Sep 2010 at 7:13 am

      right- love is a verb, much more than a noun. and it is a commitment.

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  12. steph 30 Sep 2010 at 9:51 am

    no I would NEVER call you Tintin. Vanity of vanities, egomaniacisical cringeful ICK. Epitome of revulsion.

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