Nearly half a century has passed since the appearance in French of Gérard Gilleman's Le primat de la charité en théologie morale (1954, ET 1959), a seminal text in the contemporary development of so-called virtue ethics. In the following decade, the work of Jules Toner on the phenomenology of love and Gene Outka's examination of agape in the 1970s have fired scholars to look afresh at the biblical, moral, and theological underpinnings of the character and application of love. Even more recently, Edward Vacek's illuminating study, Love, Human and Divine (1994), Diana Fritz Cates' Choosing to Feel (1997), and Timothy Jackson's Priority of Love (2003) have all contributed to a Christian moral philosophy of love.
As a kind of primer for this literature, Bernard Brady, a professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, has written a general introduction to the overall concept. He uses select texts from the Christian tradition, and splices these with a cogent, if economical, commentary of his own. The broad canvas allows relatively easy access for the initiate and it is therefore recommended for undergraduate courses in ethics, especially the history of Christian ethics.
Christian Love begins in the witness of the Hebrew scriptures and is immediately followed by extracts from the gospels and St. Paul's letters. Brady then jumps to a discussion of St. Augustine. Though he completely ignores the contributions of other Church fathers, Brady handles the diversity of Augustine's thought as well as anyone could expect. A further leap into the mystical world of Bernard of Clairvaux, Hadewijch, and Julian of Norwich precedes a short, but tantalizing chapter on "troubadours and troubled romance" whose main protagonists are perennial favorites Abelard and Heloise.
The remaining chapters explore Thomas Aquinas' understanding of love as friendship with God and this is followed by a meditation on Martin Luther's insistence on Christians as servants. Both the spiritual and personal dimension of loving find support in the other-centered work of Soren Kierkegaard, Anders Nygren, and Reinhold Neibhur and are typified by those whom Brady calls "love activists": Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, and the present pope. Having built his foundation on the history of a Christian experience of love, Brady's last two chapters are more speculative insofar as they engage current understandings of love as self- and other-regard (Outka), mutuality (Martin D'Arcy), liberationist views of loving (Gustavo Gutierrez), and the justice of committed loving (Margaret Farley).
Brady is running at a very fast pace here. This necessitates the omission of some rather important ideas Christians have accepted in practice and principle. For instance, he skimps on certain intellectual shifts from within the middle ages, such as consent and desire. Both notions reshaped the medieval understanding of spousal relationships. Although Brady attends to Bernard of Clairvaux's homilies on the Song of Songs, he neglects the role the monk's interpretation has in the history of sexuality, to say nothing of future Cistercian commentators in dealing with such topics as friendship and fraternity.
Additionally, there is little room for any sustained discussion of love of beauty. Thomas Aquinas once wrote, "Ubi amor, ibi occulus"-where there is love, there will also be an eye. For Thomas, the beloved is not merely an object for one's gaze, but a signal for potential affirmation of true, authentic humanity. There is an aesthetic appeal that is made through the queen of the senses, in order to bring the viewer into relationship. Love means contact with the other.
Finally, there is no attention given to a contemporary challenge: homosexual love. Because there is no paucity of opinion among Christian writers (from Andrew Sullivan to Cardinal Ratzinger) and because this subject ranks high among other nettlesome cultural issues for undergraduates, even a brief comment or excerpt on love between homosexuals seems warranted.
If these complaints sound like unrealized hopes, they can also be construed as prompts for those instructors using Brady's book to move from the general to the particular. The text can make for good teaching at the introductory level.