Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Williams on Teresa on the perfect lover

Perfect love is simply the imitation of the love of Christ; but, although Teresa can say this, and suggest that perfect love is concerned about giving, not receiving, it would be wrong to read her as claiming that the perfect lover is a self-sufficient, quasi-divine subject, loving out of the abundance of an inner fullness. Teresa's perfect lover is someone aware, first and foremost, of being causelessly loved by God: like it or not, the lover is primarily and inescapably a receiver of love. [...] We are free to give love, not because we need no love, but because (as in Christ's relation to God the Father) we are already recipients of an eternal love, and any need we have is met in advance. [...] It is pious nonsense to say that, if we know the love of God for us, we no longer need human relations of the creative kind Teresa is trying to describe; on the contrary, to pass beyond the hungry and selfish needs of 'normal' love we need to be in love with God's friends, who will give us not what we think we want, a greedy love that mirrors our own, but what we most deeply need in order to be human as God would have us be.

- Rowan Williams, Teresa of Avila (Continuum: 1991), 108.

To give is indeed more blessed than to receive (Acts 20.35), but it is still blessed to receive. And Teresa points out that as creatures reception is the more fundamental reality for us. We need to receive God's gift before we can give. In fact, we need to receive love from one another too. It is not possible to imitate Christ alone.


Jonathan said...

What does "need" mean in this context? Without the context, I find Williams' statement "we need to be in love with God's friends, who will give us [...] what we most deeply need", a bit confusing. Is "we need to receive love from one another too" a summary of what he is saying, or something you are adding?

byron smith said...

The context is that Williams is discussing Teresa's arguments against the dangers of a purely 'interior' (private) spirituality, in which I need no-one but myself and God. My comment at the bottom is an attempt to summarise the gist of this passage.