Brian Cleeve 2001
Perfect love is the wise giving of all that is good in one’s self to a Beloved. Anything less than this, any demand for a return, transforms love into mere desire and even lust. And for the giving to be truly wise, truly perfect, the Beloved object of Love must be perfect.
There is only one perfect object for our love, one perfect Beloved and that is God. To offer our Love to a human being must involve imperfection. Imperfection in our own lack of wisdom, our unwise choice, imperfection in the object of our love. From perfect love, our love of a human beloved becomes human, imperfect love.
Only if the lover allows God to direct the Love can it regain a form of perfection. It becomes obedience to God, to God’s command to love a human being. In such a case, the true Beloved is still God, and the human beloved is a human companion chosen for the lover for God’s reasons. God is saying to each of the two lovers, “I wish you to love one another in order to serve Me in ways that you could not if you remained separate from one another.”
To those who do not wish to understand it, this definition of perfect love will seem cold, and very far from the romantic idylls of novels and the cinema. It will not seem to be “love” at all. In truth, it is the only love that deserves the name. Each of the two companions will see God’s Will in the other, and their passionate love of God and obedience to God will develop a real love between them, for of course each will by obeying God.
As for the idyllic love of human longings and poetry, “come be with me and be my love, and we will all the pleasures prove….” does it, can it exist in reality? Jane Austen’s lovers who choose each other with wise and admiring judgement and set out for a life of goodness and happiness at the end of each novel – do such lovers exist? To live happily ever after?
One hears of such couples, Emma and her Mr. Knightley living long lives together to become Darby and Joan in loving companionship. Undoubtedly they exist, but inevitably it is a companionship that involves compromises. Jack Sprat would eat no fat and his wife would eat no lean. Emma submits to Mr. Knightley’s wisdom and maturity. Mr. Knightley sets out to teach her to control her arrogance. This is already less than a grand passion, Paolo and Francesca, Dante and Beatrice, Heloise and Abelard, Romeo and Juliet.
Those are the exemplars offered to us by poetry as true, perfect, and each example, each couple is doomed, in human terms. The love only endures in poetry, not in fact, not into old age. Romeo and Juliet grown old suggests pathos, not passion. Poetry recognizes this by condemning passionate, idyllic love to an early death. “When I was young and twenty” oh then! Yes. But “When I am old and gray and full of sleep” then all that remains is the memory of youth, of the idyll.