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What does it mean that “God is love”?


Diego Velázquez | Public Domain

Philip Kosloski - published on 02/08/23

When St. John writes that "God is love," he is referring to a deeper sense of love than the modern world's definition.

Love can be defined in a variety of ways. In the modern world, it is often linked to feelings of love that one person has for another — romantic feelings of love, or familial or frindly affection.

This definition of love can make the statement, “God is love, confusing. Is God a feeling of love? Is God present whenever we have warm, fuzzy feelings of romance or affection?

What does it mean that “God is love”?

Pope Benedict XVI answered that question with his encyclical under the same title, God is love (Deus caritas est).

God is Eros and Agape

He explains in his encyclical that “God loves, and his love may certainly be callederos, yet it is also totally agape.”

Benedict XVI defines these Greek terms for love, showing how God loves us in both ways.

[E]ros, as a term to indicate “worldly” love and agape, referring to love grounded in and shaped by faith. The two notions are often contrasted as “ascending” love and “descending” love.

While at first glance it may seem that these two types of love are contrary to each other, Benedict XVI argued that united together they are the true definition of God.

Yet eros and agape—ascending love and descending love—can never be completely separated. The more the two, in their different aspects, find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realized. Even if eros is at first mainly covetous and ascending, a fascination for the great promise of happiness, in drawing near to the other, it is less and less concerned with itself, increasingly seeks the happiness of the other, is concerned more and more with the beloved, bestows itself and wants to “be there for” the other. The element of agape thus enters into this love, for otherwise eros is impoverished and even loses its own nature. On the other hand, man cannot live by oblative, descending love alone. He cannot always give, he must also receive.

God loves us with a passionate love, a love that is personal and intimate.

At the same time, his love for us is entirely self-giving, a love which sacrifices everything for the good of the other.

In this way, God is both eros and agape, an intimate, passionate love that is self-sacrificial in nature.

God’s love is a deep and fathomless love, which we can experience whenever we love God and one another with the type of love that goes beyond warm, fuzzy feelings.

Pope Benedict XVIRelationshipsSpiritual Life
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