Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 264
Anders Nygren's Eros and Agape (volumes 1 and 2 published in 1930 and 1936, respectively) is a theological/historical/philosophical text, and so the characters are not protagonists and antagonists as in works of fiction. That said, insofar as the text's second volume contains a historical discussion of the trajectory of these two terms, the characters featured are historical figures.
Nygren discusses the contexts, development, and historical usage of eros (a sensual, selfish love that desires either an object or transcendent knowledge) and agape (a selfless, unmotivated love, such as love for one's neighbor or for God).
Nygren discusses Plato, Augustine, and Luther. First, he explains that, as love is a central concept to Christian thinking, Christian theology marginalized the central idea of agape (which rightly belongs to the New Testament) and synthesized it with eros. This happened as a result of the influence of Plato's demonstration of eros in his Symposium (in wide circulation in the ancient world).
St. Augustine, according to Nygren, is responsible for this misguided synthesis of eros and agape. Augustine was influenced by Neoplatonists (especially in his early life) and was very influential to both his contemporaries and modern theologians. His influence meant that agape and eros would remain muddled for centuries.
Martin Luther, the German theologian who brought about the Protestant Reformation, was responsible for re-distinguishing these forms of love. Agape, according to Luther, was the proper Christian form of love. Luther also clarified that this love is without motivation or reason. God's love for humans is a representation of agape, and God equips humans to love in this same, selfless way.