Thursday, May 2, 2013

The "Kiss of Love" and Conjugal Chastity

"Greet one another with the kiss of love."--1 Pet 5:14.

The "kiss of love" (ἐν φιλήματι ἀγάπης, with the kiss of love), is something that all Christians are called to give each other, according to St. Peter. While it is a common idea that we do not need to give each other a literal kiss if it is not a common practice in our culture, the idea of showing Christian love to each other in a physical expression still exists today, especially in the liturgical "kiss of peace" that has been brought back in the Roman Sacred Liturgy of the past century and which is often reserved to hierarchs in the Sacred Liturgies of the Eastern Churches. The "kiss of love," though, could, in a less literal way, be interpreted as applicable to specific groups of Christians as well, and that is what I wish to discuss here.

Though I am by no means a student of ethnology, sociology, and "cultural anthropology," I would risk the possible scientific falsity to say that a kiss is a common act used to show romantic affection among all cultures. In some cultures the kiss can be more widely used, which is what St. Peter refers to, but in all cultures, I think, a kiss, particularly a kiss on the lips, is used between those romantically involved to show affection. It would thus constitute one of the "affective manifestations," or, literally "significations of love" (amoris significationes), spoken of by Ven. Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae §21. A "kiss of love" would thus be a "signification of love," and thus fall under the auspice of conjugal chastity.

Pope Bl. John Paul II, in his Theology of the Body (Man and Woman He Created Them), discusses conjugal chastity and its role in conjugal spirituality, and he often refers to these "affective manifestations." While the conjugal act is a particular affective manifestation for its procreative aspect, there are many other affective manifestations that "are exclusively an expression of the personal union of the spouses" (TOB 128:6). In modern Catholic teaching, there are two ends of marriage: the procreative and the unitive. (In traditional language, the unitive end would be divided into "mutual help" and "remedy of concupiscence.") The conjugal act is where the procreative end is expressed physically, but there are many acts in which the unitive end is expressed physically: these are all the other affective manifestations. The "kiss of love" is one of these "affective manifestations" by which the spouses express their personal union. A kiss, then, is in line with one of the ends of marriage.

How does this connect with conjugal chastity? As a general idea, conjugal chastity means recognizing and reverencing the spouse in all his or her personal dignity and acting accordingly. Part of this means recognizing that the human body, and thus the human person, is directed towards personal communion (this is what John Paul II calls "the spousal meaning of the body"). The two ways of fulfilling this drive to communion and its attendant drive to self-gift (for it is by giving the self fully to another that true personal communion comes about) are in consecrated celibacy and in marriage. Thus, part of marriage and of conjugal chastity means fulfilling the drive to personal communion, and a kiss, as an affective manifestation, is a physical way of bringing spouses into communion and of expressing their communion.

An interesting linguistic point could be made here. The Greek word for "kiss," as used in St. Peter's exhortation, is φίλημα. We can see here the word φίλος, the word for filial love, that is, fraternal love. This is the love that Peter declares he has for Christ when questioned by Him (Jn 21). A kiss, according to the Greek etymology, thus seems to be related to a fraternal love, a love between those who are close to each other, such as brothers. A connection can be seem between this and John Paul II's treatment of the Song of Songs and the Book of Tobit, in both of which a wife is referred to as "sister" (cf. TOB 109:3-110:4, 114:2-4). He explains this in terms of the "common belonging" spouses feel for each other and the "disinterested tenderness" they can feel (TOB 110:1-2). For the Greeks, then, a kiss between spouses could imply this fraternal love of their love, the sense of togetherness and closeness, with no reference to eroticism (in either the modern, limited sense or the Platonic, wider sense (cf. TOB 47-48 and 112-113 for some treatment of eros)).

Part of conjugal chastity also means not violating the personal integrity of the spouse by removing his or her fertility. The only way to space births, then, if there is grave reason to do so, is by abstaining from the conjugal act during a woman's fertile time. The couple must refrain from that particular affective manifestation that is the conjugal act. However, they may still perform other affective manifestations, such as a kiss. Refraining from the procreative act does not necessitate refraining from all expressions of personal communion. When the couple cannot express their communion in the fullest physical form, in the conjugal act, they can still express it in lesser forms, such as a kiss. A kiss can thus be used to express personal communion without the conjugal act, thus responding to the spouse's entire personal dignity correctly: it is an act that responds to the spousal meaning while recognizing the use of intelligence and the virtue of continence in refraining from the conjugal act for grave reasons.

The second half of St. Peter's phrase can come into play here. This kiss is a "kiss of love," but this "love" is a particular love: the love of ἀγαπή. This is the self-giving love to the full. This is the love by which God so loved (ἠγάπησεν) the world that He gave His Only-Begotten Son to die for us (Jn 3:16). This is the love by which Christ, loving (ἀγαπήσας) those of His in the world, He loved (ἠγάπησεν) them to the end (Jn 13:1). This is the sacrificial love expressed in Tobit but not in the Song of Songs, the love praised by St. Paul in his famous "hymn to love" (cf. TOB 112:4-5, 115:2; 1 Cor 13). This kiss of agape means that those kissing are kissing with a love that is dedicated to the other to point of sacrifice, even to the point of giving up one's own life for the other. In a lesser sacrifice, it means that a couple is willing to sacrifice the pleasure of the conjugal act when it is good to do so. This aspect of the" kiss of love" could also apply to those who are still progressing towards the fullness of a spousal relationship, with its attendant personal communion and sacrificial love: that is, among those discerning marriage, the" kiss of love" can express the sacrifice of the pleasure of the conjugal act in order to not abuse it by committing fornication. Instead of performing the conjugal act, then, a couple will be satisfied with a "kiss of love," keeping their arousal in tune with the proper emotion (cf. TOB 129:2-130).

What, then, could the "kiss of love" tell us about conjugal chastity when applied to spouses? It shows two aspects of the love of spouses: the filial love of belonging and communion and the sacrificial love of self-gift. The first aspect recalls how spouses must always strive to love each other and deepen their personal communion with each other, and one aspect of this is the physical affective manifestations, such as a kiss. The second aspect recalls how spouses must sacrifice their own desires in order to love the other spouse and reverence his or her personal dignity in its fullness, and one aspect of this is abstention from the conjugal act when necessary. The "kiss of love," then, especially with the knowledge of the etymology of the Greek, when applied to spouses, expresses many aspects of conjugal chastity, all within one simple phrase that also describes an affective manifestation. Well, then, it would be for spouses to accept as particularly directed to them the call, and at the same time the challenge and task, of greeting one another, at all times, with the "kiss of love."

Nota Bene: The Theology of the Body references are to the edition by Dr. Michael Waldstein, published by Pauline Books & Media in 2006.

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