(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Anders Nygren identifies his purpose in writing this work as to investigate the Christian idea of love and to examine the changes this idea has undergone throughout the history of Christianity. He describes his approach as “motif research.” This means that he looks at the essential ideas that characterize Christianity and Hellenism, the cultural and spiritual orientation of Greco-Roman antiquity. The essential ideas about love can be distinguished by the Greek words agape and eros.

Through study of the Gospels, Nygren finds that the characteristic feature of agape is that it is God’s love for humans. Agape comes down from God to humanity as a sacrificial giving. It is a matter of grace, in which salvation comes from God. Agape is unselfish; God gives freely and abundantly without seeking anything. When human beings love according to agape, they are patterning themselves on God. Agape, further, is spontaneous and unmotivated, and it does not consider whether those who are loved deserve to be loved. Finally, agape creates value in the object of love: Those who are loved become worthy because they are loved.

Nygren finds a different and unrelated kind of love in non-Christian, Greco-Roman antiquity. He traces this kind of love to Plato and to Plato’s heirs and followers. Plato distinguishes between two kinds of love, described as varieties of eros. The first is “vulgar” eros, love for things of the world and of the body. The second is “heavenly” eros, love for heavenly things. Nygren spends little time on vulgar eros, because its difference from Christian love seems immediately evident to him. In his view, heavenly eros is also quite different from agape. Eros, whether vulgar or heavenly, is a matter of desire and longing.

While agape involves a downward movement from God...

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Agape and Eros Bibliography

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Hall, Thor. Anders Nygren. Reprint. Makers of the Modern Theological Mind series. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1991. The best available examination of Nygren’s thought, written by the foremost expert on Nygren.

Johnson, William A. On Religion: A Study of the Theological Method in Schleiermacher and Nygren. Leiden, the Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1964. Consists of two parts. The first looks at the conception of religion by the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher. The second looks at Anders Nygren’s conception of religion and then discusses the relation of Nygren’s ideas to Schleiermacher’s.

Kegley, Charles W., ed. The Philosophy and Theology of Anders Nygren. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1970. A collection of essays on the work of Anders Nygren. The first chapter is an intellectual autobiography; the last is Nygren’s reply to his interpreters and critics. The seventeen other chapters cover Nygren’s philosophy of religion, his method of motif research, the meanings of love in his work, his theology, his ethics, and cultural and ecumenical concerns in his work.