Academic journal article Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture

"I Become a Thousand Men and Yet Remain Myself": Self-Love in Joseph Ratzinger and Georges Bernanos

Academic journal article Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture

"I Become a Thousand Men and Yet Remain Myself": Self-Love in Joseph Ratzinger and Georges Bernanos

Article excerpt

'"Each is the farthest away from himself'--as far as ourselves are concerned we are not knowers."


"O God, I pray you to let me know myself."


THESE TWO QUOTATIONS preface Walker Percy's Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book (1) and act as an interpretive key to the underlying argument of the book that cryptically reveals the oxymoronic nature of self-help. That is, self-help is like trying to pull oneself out of a bog by pulling on one's own hair. (2) According to Percy, we can only know ourselves through God, hence Augustine's prayer. There is a remarkable parallel between self-knowledge as laid out by Percy and self-love according to Joseph Ratzinger. In both cases the self is only that which is in relation to God. Accordingly, like self-knowledge, it is only through loving God that one loves the self. Yet, in saying that one is struck by the paradoxical nature of self-love. If love of God equates to love of self can we properly speak of self-love, or would it be better to excise the first half of the compound word (self), so that we would simply be left with love? The concept of self-love raises another quandary: how can we reconcile the dominical statements about denying the self, losing one's life in order to save it, (3) or even hating one's life in order to follow Christ (4) with "you shall love your neighbor as yourself"? (5)

The subject of self-love also repeatedly comes to the fore with the protagonist in Georges Bernanos's Mouchette and The Diary of a Country Priest. It is my contention that Ratzinger's account of self-love, which is based on a relational ontology, elucidates the actions of the protagonists and adds another level of depth that is consistent with the theme of the novels. In what follows we shall examine Ratzinger's view of love, the self and the human person, and penultimately self-love. Finally, we shall turn to Bernanos and look at what light Ratzinger sheds on this great French novelist and how in turn these two authors provide an answer to the aforementioned questions.

I. Love

What is love? Ratzinger's fundamental reflection on love echoes Josef Pieper's notion that love signifies affirmation: "It is good that you exist; it's good that you are in this world!" (6) With this phrase we hear the affirmation "and it was very good" of Genesis, and this connects us to another important aspect of love that Pieper highlights: unity. Looking at the root of the word love, he writes, "amor and amare have something to do 'with the radical notion of likeness.' More specifically, they are related to the Greek hama ('at the same time'), the Latin similis and English 'same.'" (7) Herein lies the connection with the affirmation of Genesis: love is based on a pre-existent relationship. That is, we can love because God loved us first (i Jn 4:19). The premise of love is relational unity. Thus, love is not simply union but reunion. It is the reuniting of what was broken in the Fall.

Love is the affirmation of one's existence. There are two sides to this coin. First, the lover delights in the very being of the beloved and not simply in her attributes. This is the ecstatic outward movement that is directed to the other and for the sake of the other. Here the lover is blind to his own needs or wants, and this brings us back to creation. In an article on creation Rowan Williams lucidly writes, "God loves us so that we may come to our highest good, not so that God's good may be served." (8) Creation does not serve a divine need; similarly, affirmative finite love begins as a selfless movement. However, in the second moment the outward movement returns back upon the lover like a boomerang: (9) "It is only in a second moment (not of time but of fact) that the lover discovers that in this way, because your existence is good, my own existence too has become better, more precious, happier. By saying 'yes' to another, to 'you,' I receive myself made new and can now in a new way say 'yes' to myself thanks to you. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.