On the topic of marriage an important question is, “what kind of response should the Catholic have to ‘gay marriage’?”
We won’t answer the whole question at this time, but we will deal with one IMPORTANT part, which is the currently-popular assertion that “love is love,” at all times and in every way.
Is that true? Are all kinds of love the same? Must I affirm that the love claimed in relationships defined by the so-called “LGBT community” is equivalent in all ways to all other kinds of love?
To Answer: The Catholic Church believes, almost dogmatically, that which many human cultures throughout the world have believed, that there are different kinds of love. Love is not always love.
Love is sometimes filios.
Love is sometimes eros.
And love is sometimes – most important when you’re talking to a Christian – agape.
This lesson comes mostly from a letter of Pope Benedict XIV, and it is deeply rooted in the Bible where all three of these words are used for different kinds of love.
Agape is the greatest love: being truly self-sacrificial for the good of another person. It is the prefect, all fulfilling love of Jesus Christ. But it does not obliterate other loves. It pairs with them, and makes them more pure.
Eros is lesser in depth, although still very powerful and therefore necessary to cultivate in a good way, good within its proper limits. It is the love of desire to be near another person to enjoy them. It has a sexual character, it is fair to characterize it as sexual attraction; but it cannot be reduced to “instincts” because as a kind of love it always remains open to the recognition of the other person, in relationship outside of sexual acts. When eros becomes a grasping at pure self-satisfaction, it ceases to be love and becomes depravity.
Lastly, filios is love as genuine friendship. It is rooted in natural goods without any intrinsic connection to sexuality. Filios also can fall short due to sin. It is limited. But filios is not evil because it is not as profound as agape. Filios will point to agape when it is cultivated as a natural and healthy friendship.
Now, this applies to how we approach people in the LGB categories. Their filios is a good kind of love. We do affirm that. There might even be the small beginnings of agape in their relationships, although we all are woefully short on our measure of agape. We wish their filios and agape both to grow.
But as for the main questions above, I absolutely will not go about affirming that “love is love” when those proposing the phrase to me wish strategically to blur all forms of love, and drag them to the lowest common denominator.
When people in society want me to say the love of eros between two men, or between two women, is “good” because “love is love,” I won’t say it.
Secular voices in society want us to say it is good for people in LGB relationships to indulge in eros, to enjoy sexual experiences together, to arouse each other physically, and cultivate a physical (genital) intimacy. We say no!
Eros is the kind of love which has its right place only between a man and a woman who are oriented towards a marriage commitment. On this we have said much in other places, most recently here.
So we just affirm again, eros is a kind of love that needs proper bounds. It needs prudence and temperance to control it, at all times. It is not good to be cultivated as a fulfillment of “instinct” or “nature” or “self-identity” in homosexual relationships. This statement is my Christian conversation stopped on the proposal that “love is love.”
But if anyone is open to a conversation about the love of filios between any two people in any way, I welcome the conversation, and look forward to the opening, where I hope to speak not only about where I have found these definitions of different kinds of love, but also about the source of the agape I have encountered in my life.