Aquinas beloved

Disputed Questions on the Blindness of Love

6:56:00 PMGrace Davies

We often hear the cliche "Love is blind."' Why is this?  Hildebrand clearly opposes the view.  Yet is there not some truth being communicated by the phrase?  Let's tackle this question in the medieval style of St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica.  

Objection 1: It seems that love is blind, for the lover is unrealistic and starry-eyed, attributing goodness to the beloved which is exaggerated.  Furthermore, the lover is blind to any imperfections in the beloved.  At best this seems to be a harmless enthusiasm, and at worst a dangerous delusion.  If the lover is unrealistic, then he does not see the reality of his beloved and his love is therefore blind. 

Sed contra, in his work entitled Man and Woman, Dietrich von Hildebrand says: "It is altogether mistaken to think that love is blind.  Actually, it opens one's eyes." (26)

I Answer That love is not blind. Hildebrand says that the lover sees the true self of the beloved, such that "each of the other person's worthwhile qualities is looked upon as really his, as typical of him.  But his shortcomings are presumed to be unusual deviations from his real self.  Where something undesirable is apparent, the expression, 'That's not like him,' is characteristic of love." (25) 

This, then, is the difference between the starry-eyed lover and the incredulous observer.  Every one of us has faults, yet depending on the presence or absence of love, we will see each other's faults differently.  When we love someone, we see and cherish something precious in them - something enduring, something larger and deeper than any faults they may have - their true self. 

And we see their faults only in this larger context.  

The incredulous observer is not the more "objective" observer, for he does not see the faults of the person in light of the proper context.  If he did, he would see that there is much more to them than their faults.  He would see their true self as loveable; their true self is good and beautiful because it is defined by the "imago Dei," or the image of God, at the core of their being. (25) 

The image of God within each of us is deeply fundamental to our being and goodness.  Thus love's sight is only unrealistic if the image of God is unreal.  It is fitting that when we see this deepest reality in another, we are inspired to love them.  Imagine this: if we could really see each other as God sees us, (I mean really see each other), without the blindness of sin or indifference, we would intensely love every person we met.  

Oftentimes, however, we are incredulous and careless observers of other people.  Because we do not love, we see others in a disconnected and superficial way.  We see a handful of irksome faults, at a glance, and make a careless and critical judgment about that person.  When we do this, we are not reverent enough to see the full picture of that person's greatness.  We are blind to their true self.  

"Faults are irksome in anyone for whom we have little love.  They cause us to become irritable and make us indignant.  We do not see them against the background of the beauty of his personality taken as a whole.  Instead we look at them separately and attribute them to him along with his good qualities." (26) 

This stands in stark contrast to the clear sight of love.  When we love someone, we are not at all neutral or insensitive to the reality of our beloved.  Do we still see their faults?  Yes, we do: "Where there is love, our perception of the other's faults is more objective (in the proper sense of the word) than in instances where there is no love whatever.  We come to grips with reality when we see another's failings in the light of his whole personality, understanding them from within, sorrowing over them because of what the loved one is." (27) 

We are objective in seeing our loved ones because we have no illusions about them.  The sight of love is eminently realistic, for by it we see what is most truly real about our beloved.  We do see their faults, but we see them in the light of the larger context of their true self.  We "understand them from within," not from a superficial perspective, but from the internal perspective of their inherent value.  Their faults are regrettably present, and we acknowledge them.  But we know that they do not constitute the last word about our loved one.  We differentiate between sinner and sin.  

Furthermore, we have a deep sense of solidarity with them, for we know that we are also fallen.  We sorrow over their sins as we sorrow over our own.  We sorrow precisely because we know that our beloved is better than their shortcomings, and so are we.  We know that sin is "a betrayal of the noble essence of the imago Dei" in each of us.  Thus we fight the good fight in true solidarity with our loved ones.  In the words of G.K. Chesterton: "We are all in the same boat in a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty."  

But is there not some truth to the phrase "Love is blind?" Oftentimes, love and a stubborn blindness seem to go together.  For example, a mother may refuse to see any faults in her child.  Hildebrand answers that the blinding factor here is not love, but pride.   

"It is altogether mistaken to think that love is blind.  Actually it opens one's eyes.  But pride, which one finds so often with love, does make one blind - especially where a loved one is considered an extension of one's own ego.  The mother who looks upon her child as an extension of herself believes the child incapable of any faults, of course.  But this is typical of pride and not at all of love." (26)

We ought, therefore, to be realistic in how we see our loved ones.  By this I mean that we ought to see their deepest reality (their true self, beautiful and good in the image and likeness of God), and we ought to honestly see their faults in light of this larger context. And we ought to respect the limits of their being: seeing them honestly for who they are, and not as our pride would have them be.  In order to do justice to their true self, we must avoid the injustices of indifference and pride.  The only proper response to another person is love, after all. 

Reply to Objection 1: Love is not blind, because the lover actually sees more of the beloved.  The one who loves sees the reality of the beloved more clearly than the one who does not love.  The lover sees every goodness and fault in the larger context of the beloved's true self, the image of God within.  The one who does not love, however, sees only a person's faults, disconnected from their true self.  They have a disintegrated and superficial view of the person.  Therefore, it is vision of reality which is impaired - not the lover's. 

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