Agape and Eros Summary
by Anders Nygren

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Agape and Eros Summary

Eros and Agape is a treatise in the fields of philosophy and religion. It was written in 1930 by the Swedish theologian Anders Nygren, who held a professorship at the University of Lund and also became bishop of Lund in 1948. In his (nearly 800-page) tome, Nygren defines and contrasts two types of love. The book is divided into two volumes. The first is a presentation and definition of these terms, and the second is a historical discussion on the reception of these words in antiquity and through the Protestant Reformation.uum

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The title comprises the two ancient Greek words that are commonly translated into English as "love." Eros is the the sensual and self-interested kind of love (often based on the acquisition of the object of one's love). This form of love was a major concept for Plato and so featured in the Neoplatonic philosophy that endured through the Hellenistic era and beyond (a philosophy on which many early Christians drew).

The other kind of love, apape, is a selfless love, unmotivated by desire for something material or transcendent. God provides this love to humans and so imparts to humans a capacity for it. Agape is the love demonstrated in Jesus's teachings in the gospels.

Nygren explains that there was originally little association between the two words, but Christian rhetoric erroneously brought them together, and it was not until the Reformation under Martin Luther that agape was re-distinguished as the only love appropriate in discussions of Christianity.


(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 to humanity, heavenly eros is an upward movement and an attempt to ascend from humanity toward God. Although salvation depends on grace from the perspective of agape, from the perspective of eros, people achieve their own salvation through their own efforts. According, even heavenly eros is egocentric. It involves the self-assertion by individuals of what is best and highest in themselves. Because eros springs from desire, it is a matter of lacking; it depends on want and need, rather than on the abundance of agape. For this reason, eros is an expression of the will to get and to possess, rather than to give. This Hellenistic conception of love is at core a human love. Even when it is directed toward God, it is the human...

(The entire section is 1,227 words.)