Romancing the Apostasy
In the course of Robert A. Johnson’s We, the author rightly identifies the advent and deep impact of romantic love on the western psyche, but while he thoroughly details the pioneering influence of the Tristan and Isolde myth, Johnson fails to fully identify the underlying cause. Johnson, in describing the birth of romantic love, claims the new love was born to restore balance in the “sadly distorted world” western man—symbolized by Tristan—inhabited after femininity, as defined by Jung, had been lost to patriarchal conquest (Johnson 17). Though Johnson’s claim is not without substantial merit, the restored gospel suggest the false doctrines of the Great Apostacy were the weapons responsible for inflicting “the great wound in the Western Psyche.” And, as expected, the restoration also offers antidotic truths to restore the healing potency of romantic love.
A statement by Joseph Campbell hints at the preeminent role the great apostasy played in the birth of romantic love. Campbell states that the “person-to-person” experience of romantic love is “completely contrary to everything the [early Catholic] Church stood for” (Campbell 233) in light of their attempts to crush similarly personal expressions of religiosity to satisfy the Church’s “power impulse” (248). This same era coincides with the establishment of the Nicene and other post-biblical creeds which, according to Elder Dallin H. Oaks, replaced the “personal God described in the Old and New Testaments” with an “abstract, incomprehensible deity” (Oaks 85). By refuting the existance of a personal God, the apostate church eliminated interpersonal relations between the Bridegroom and His bride and introduced a gaping void in the western psyche.
According to both Campbell and Johnson, by the twelfth century A.D., our modern psychological era ushered in a new sense of worth for personal experience, including that of romantic love (Johnson 16)(Campbell249). Romantic love’s incarnation was dubbed courtly love at this time. Being conceived as a means by which a brave knight might be inspired to be “noble, spiritual, refined, and high-minded” through pious worship, courtly love attempted to mend the wound inflicted by the Bridegroom’s absence.
Though a living person with both parts and passions may have shown some promise in filling man (and woman’s) need for interpersonal relationships, several centuries of apostate schooling had trained knights and their ladies to treat all spiritualizing relationships as incompatible with the tangible world. As their image of God had become distorted, the imago dei they superimposed upon their new object of worship carried the same contortions. Even as some were undoubtedly unable to refrain from touching the idol they had created for themselves, true interpersonal relationships were negated in order to maintain the cognitive distance the illusion of perfection required. In such cases the transubstantiation of religious love into courtly or romantic love remained impotent in the wake of compounded personal and collective apostasy.
The romantic farce that survives to this day is most painfully manifest in the instantaneous, born-again, amorous conversion to false and incomprehensible gods. In Escape From Intimacy, Anne Wilson Schaef confirms the impersonal world of a romance addict in all its painful detail. In fact, Shaef directly states that the disease of the romance addict may manifest itself without even a “pseudo-relationship,” relying solely on the buzz they receive from their devotion to one idyllic “cause” or another (Shaef 47). Regardless of the expression of the disease, romance addicts “do not want to know” the object of their adulation; an unknowable lover, like the unknowable god of the apostasy, more readily facilitates fantasy as it eschews the responsibility of a truly interpersonal relationship.
With all the destruction exercised under the influence of romantic dreams, the chivalrous, selfless, and lofty ideals associated with romantic love has likely had a positive impact in many instances. After all, loving the divine even when we are not able to comprehend it fully is an exercise of faith not to be repented of, and there is much of the divine in both man and God that we cannot fully comprehend in mortality.
In the very least, the infusion of romantic love may have been intended by the Bridegroom to act as a preparatory law for the western world. As noted by Campbell, true romantic love is a deeply personal and individualistic experience and has the power to elevate an individual from a state of mindless conformity to become a knight in shining armor on a holy errand. He describes it as a love born particularly of personal agency, placing an accent on the individual which makes the western tradition “different from all other traditions” (Campbell 233-234), and even directly associates this influence with the conception of the reformation, which suggests that it may have even played an exceptionally significant roll in the birth of the Restoration (Campbell 248).
If romantic love was intended by God to act as a preparatory law, did its value expire when the fullness of times ushered in? I don’t believe so: romantic love has the capacity to blossom in the light of the restored gospel. Along with the true nature of the Bridegroom, the true nature of mankind has been restored; our divine and personal nature is coeternal with that of God, as also our potential for intimate relationships. While our finite mortality renders this breathtaking reality temporarily incomprehensible, romantic love hints at the unlocked and forgotten potential between man and woman, goading us on to greater personal and interpersonal heights in the pursuit of eternal intimacy.
One of the most powerful ways in which romantic love serves this divine end is in employing our naivete to thrust us into relationships which inevitably wound the fragile ego, humbling us while assuring greater wholeness awaits those who preserver. In this way, romantic love may add selflessness to an individualism which might otherwise become egocentric. According to Johnson, romantic love has the power to transform the ego which “joins with the soul, and consents to give up its tiny empire in order to live in the immensity of the greater universe” (Johnson 151). This greater universe represents greater intimacy with both the divinity within and without.
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice illustrates this beautifully. Elizabeth declares that until her ego had been wounded through Mr. Darcy, she had never truly known herself or her frailties (Austen 137). At the same instant that she became aware of her own weakness, she became more fully aware of Mr. Darcy’s strength of character, and as Mr. Darcy underwent a similar transformation through due process, the two were able to surrender the “tiny empire” their respective egos had constructed.
In my own life, this wounding and re-wounding of the ego, coupled with a spiritual reverence for a wife whose divine nature will take an eternity to comprehend, has been the means by which God has softened my heart. While apostate versions of romantic love beg a falling away from our eternal nature as interpersonal beings, being impressed with true romance has lead me to fall into the refiners fire. As my soul becomes more pliable in the hands of the Bridegroom, I have found myself gradually becoming like Him: eternally and selflessly attuned to loving and worthy to be called beloved.