The Goodness of Home

Human and Divine Love and the Making of the Self

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Natalia Marandiuc
AAR Academy Series
  • New York, NY: 
    Oxford University Press
    , February
     224 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Natalia Marandiuc works out of a Catholic tradition, inflected by her native Orthodoxy. Her basic thesis concerns the importance of “home,” the close attachments we have with a limited number of others; theologically equivalent, one might say, to “nature” or “creation,” the place from which we start. 

The first half the book is devoted to the secular context out of which Marandiuc will develop her theological proposition. A long chapter rehearses Charles Taylor’s work on the nature of the self and “authenticity.” Interestingly, it becomes evident how deeply Taylor’s Catholicism forms the backdrop to his thinking. There follows a chapter on attachment theory, rightly emphasizing that, far from sabotaging autonomy, relationality allows its fruition. One could wish that summaries of the work of others were attenuated, or else that a greater variety of sources were discussed. Feminist work on relationality is also mentioned, again largely focusing on one person, Catherine Keller. Marandiuc believes that human attachments constitute the self (130). Lacking these, human selves will be blunted. 

The book then progresses to theology. God’s love, so Maranduic believes, “is planted constitutively” in humans, “as a seed whose growth needs to be nurtured” (5); the language presumably recalling late medieval talk of a syntheresis, the seed or spark of goodness planted in us, an understanding which had its origin in the Franciscan humanist desire to emphasize that grace truly becomes the creature’s own, so-called “created” grace. Maranduic’s thought resembles this, while she also has an Augustinian sense of grace as “uncreated,” God present in us. Grace perfects our nature, sanctifying our loves. Thus “human and divine love dance together to co-create the self” (19); an age-old Catholic (and I assume Orthodox) position. (Note the Tridentine talk of human “co-operation” with divine grace.)

So far so good. This exercise is not without its merits, especially when directed to those in the Catholic—or presumably Orthodox—traditions. Maranduic shows how a modern slant can breathe fresh life into traditional themes. Major problems arise however through her choice of the Danish Lutheran Søren Kierkegaard as her main conversation partner. Unproblematic in itself, were she to consider him on his own terms, Kierkegaard’s position is profoundly distorted as she reads him through a Catholic/Orthodox lens. Indeed, she “adds” to Kierkegaard, translating him creatively as she says, so that he will “fit” what she would say. The result is total confusion. 

Maranduic is hardly alone among those of a Catholic disposition in failing to grasp that Lutheran Protestantism is to be distinguished from an Augustinian Catholicism. She follows Taylor (not perhaps the best expositor of Luther) in supposing that Luther saw righteousness as alien to humanity and given by divine grace. But Luther is not to be positioned at one end of a (Catholic) Pelagian-Augustinian spectrum; rather is Lutheran thought a shift of paradigm. The Christian lives “extrinsically” by Christ’s righteousness. As my first teacher in Luther, Arthur McGill, well said: “Luther is against all transferto us.” 

This shift cannot but disturb all that Maranduic would say. She makes reference (134, 176) to Luther in the Heidelberg Disputation (1518), that the love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. Did she but recognize it, this is a direct refutation of the medieval doctrine of the syntheresis. Protestantism is not concerned with God building up goodness in us (even though that goodness might arise from our cooperation with infused grace). I do not believe that Kierkegaard ever speaks of “reception” of grace. By contrast, Protestantism is relational (which should interest Marandiuc). As God loves us (irrespective of merit), so are we set free in like manner to love the neighbor. 

It is this dynamic that informs Kierkegaard’s Works of Love. He defines agape (in contradistinction to eros) as that love which loves irrespective of the worth of the object loved. True, he has nothing against eros, or philia, in their own sphere, but it must be difficult to say (as would Marandiuc) that such loves form “another layer” (105) as agape, characterized as the love that it is my duty to exercise universally, culminates in a particular love for chosen others. Rather is agape a different concept of love, to be exercised without exception in relation to each particular person who is my neighbor. Nor is it appropriate to move directly from agape to a discussion of Plato’s higher eros without remarking the difference. 

Further, Kierkegaard speaks only tangentially of relations of reciprocity. Agape is pre-eminently shown through our love for the dead. It must also be said that God is foundational to what it is to be a self for Kierkegaard. We “rest transparently” in God (Sickness Unto Death, 14), who is the “ground of our being,” as another Lutheran, Paul Tillich, will have it. Thus it is not for Kierkegaard, as Maranduic suggests, that an inchoate self comes fully into its own through the relationship with God (119). If not grounded in God, the synthesis of mind and body which is the self falls apart (in Kierkegaard’s language, despairs). 

Marandiuc cites once and again Kierkegaard’s love “builds up.” Yes, of course to be loved is transformative. But we are not in the Catholic, Aristotelian, world of transformation through infused grace. Following Hegel’s characterization of the self in the ‘Preface’ to the Phenomenology, Kierkegaard has a relational, non-substantial self. Maranduic chooses to see Kierkegaard’s talk of “spirit” as the Holy Spirit. But this is askew: we are not concerned with something infused in the human being. Indeed, Kierkegaard tends not to speak in terms of the Holy Spirit, which would suggest an immanent God. There is a “qualitative difference” between God and humanity. 

Lutheran Protestantism is profoundly “secular.” The world is the sphere of humans; therein lies its joy. By contrast, Marandiuc speaks in terms of supernature, of “creaturely goodness” being “perfectible beyond its own human nature by divine grace” so that we “grow toward union with God” (23). Fundamental to her position this may be, but she should recognize that Kierkegaard occupies a very different space. True, the later Kierkegaard does have Augustinian strains as he speaks of love of God. But he is not thinking in terms of the “channelling of divine love towards the earth,” or of “fashioning grace” (103). In relation to God, says Kierkegaard, we are nothing in ourselves. 

Concluding her book, Orthodox themes break through as Marandiuc speaks of persons being taken up into the Trinitarian God. “Grace elevates natural loves to partake in the life of God”; our relational “home” is a “temple of divine indwelling” (196). The glory of God is the glorification of the human. One might ask her to elaborate. In the context of discussing Scotus she comments: “The medieval ontological substratum need not be preserved” (171). Given an Aristotelian, or neo-Platonist, underpinning, her propositions may make sense. But devoid of this context, in quite what does the “grace” of which she speaks consist? That we are transformed through relations is clear (as Luther, Kierkegaard, or Hegel contend). But what might it mean to see “change” in terms of an infusion of grace, or a “flow” of love, apparently differentiated as between divine or human (she speaks of these streams “linking together,” 169)?

About the Reviewer(s): 

Daphne Hampson is an Associate of the Department of Theology and Religion at Oxford University.

Date of Review: 
October 9, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Natalia Marandiuc is Assistant Professor of Christian Theology at the Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.


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