Saturday, 8 May 2021

Amoris Laetitia: love as courtesy

 The two paragraphs nn.99-100 of Amoris Laetitia are a part of Pope Francis' reflection on St Paul's account of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, under the general heading "Our Daily Love".  In the English translation, these paragraphs have a sub-heading "Love is not rude"; the Italian sub-heading is "Amabilita" (rough translation: "lovable-ness", perhaps with a nuance of "gentleness" implied by the context; Italian has the words "cortesia" and "gentilezza" to express more explicitly the idea of courtesy); and the French: "Amabilite" (which my French dictionary translates as "kindness" or "courtesy"). The Spanish is "Amabilidad" and the Portuguese "Amabilidade", neither of which I am able to translate directly, but which probably represent the source of Pope Francis' choice of terminology. 

The sub-heading is not the only aspect of these two paragraphs where a reading of the Italian and French translations aids understanding. Pope Francis wishes to draw our attention to an idea of love expressed in the courtesy, gentleness of every day living.

Setting on one side Pope Francis' citation of Octavio Paz' The Double Flame (of which more below), part of n.99 in the English translation reads somewhat enigmatically:

[Courtesy] is not something that a Christian may accept or reject. As an essential requirement of love, "every human being is bound to live agreeably with those around him".

The corresponding Italian translation reads:

Essere amabile non è uno stile che un cristiano possa scegliere o rifiutare: è parte delle esigenze irrinunciabili dell’amore, perciò «ogni essere umano è tenuto ad essere affabile con quelli che lo circondano».

Translating directly from the Italian, in the light of the French, gives:

To be courteous is not a style that a Christian can choose or refuse: it is part of the indispensable demands of love, since "every human being is obliged to be courteous with those who surround him".

The terms "essential" and "irrinunciabili" (indispensable) need to be read in a metaphysical sense, as indicating that courtesy is of the essence of what it means to love rather than being an incidental to that love. It is intrinsic as part of love and, as such, is not something that the one who loves either chooses or refuses - it is simply given.

N.99 ends with a quotation from what must be one of Pope Francis' most memorable General Audience addresses, where he speaks of three expressions for the every day living of family life, most easily stated in English as  "please", "thank you" and "sorry". It is worth reading this Audience address to  grasp the practical intention of the term "courtesy" as intended by these two paragraphs of Amoris Laetitia: General Audience 13 May 2015.

N.100, though addressed specifically to the relationships within family life itself, nevertheless reads as if it applies to how family life affects society as a whole:

Loving kindness builds bonds, cultivates relationships, creates new networks of integration and knits a firm social fabric. In this way, it grows ever stronger, for without a sense of belonging we cannot sustain a commitment to others; we end up seeking our convenience alone and life in common becomes impossible.

Pope Francis' citation of Octavio Paz is from a book that represents a wide ranging study of the relationship of eros and love in the history of literature and culture. The immediate citation is somewhat nuanced, and refers to an idea of love as courtesy in a historical and literary cultural context. Paz's discussion here parallels approximately in a secular sphere the discussion of eros and agape that Pope Benedict XVI pursued in a specifically Christian context in Deus Caritas Est nn.3 ff. Writing of stories of lovers in literature from all parts of the world, Paz comments (in English translation):

Their encounter requires, in turn, two contradictory conditions: the attraction that lovers experience must be involuntary, born of a secret and all-powerful magnetism; at the same time, it must be a choice. In love, predestination and choice, objective and subjective, fate and freedom intersect. The realm of love is a space magnetized by encounter.... 

But sometimes reflection on love becomes the ideology of a society; then we find ourselves in the presence of a way of life, an art of living and dying, an ethic, an aesthetic, and an etiquette. A courtesy, to use the medieval term. 

Courtesy is not within the reach of all: it is a body of knowledge and a practice. It is the privilege of what might be called an aristocracy of the heart. Not an aristocracy founded on bloodlines and inherited privileges but on certain qualities of the spirit. Although these qualities are innate, in order that they be manifested and made second nature, the adept must cultivate his mind and his senses, learn to feel, speak, and sometimes remain silent. Courtesy is a school of sensibility and selflessness.... 

"Courtly love" is learned: it is a knowledge of the senses illuminated by the light of the soul, a sensual attraction refined by courtesy.

Pope Francis cites from the Spanish original of Octavio Paz's work, and, in the English translation of Amoris Laetitia, it appears as follows: 

Courtesy "is a school of sensitivity and disinterestedness" which requires a person "to develop his or her mind and feelings, learning how to listen, to speak and, at certain times, to keep quiet".

A glance at the French, Italian and Spanish translations of Amoris Laetitia, and the translation from the original work above, suggests that a reference to the cultivation of the senses in Paz's original text has dropped out of the English translation of Pope Francis' citation though it is present in other translations; and there is as a result an ambivalence as to how far the term sensitivity/sensibility refers to the senses or more generally to a sensitivity/sensibility of spirit. 

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