The Ecstasy of Love in Thomas Aquinas

Dissertation, The Catholic University of America (2002)

This dissertation analyzes Thomas Aquinas's understanding of the ecstasy of love. Three chapters examine the principal texts. An appendix gathers the 84 passages on extasis in Aquinas's writings. ;In the Scriptum super Sententiarum , extasis names the lover's departure from his own "form" through love's transformative power. As the roots of his affection are transferred, he is drawn out of himself and takes on the beloved's form. In the commentary on the Divine Names , all love is shown to involve ecstatic transcendence, whether it be the total oblation of creature to Creator, the reverence of any inferior for its superior, the generosity of a superior to its inferior, or the mutual affection and help of equals joined in friendship. Love and ecstasy are not companions of chance; the latter infallibly indicates the former's type and tenor. Love of things as instruments generates a quasi-ecstatic love that journeys outward to return inward, bearing gifts for the subject. Love of persons for their own sake generates a truly ecstatic love in which the self is borne as a gift to another subject by sharing a common life aspiring to common goods. The article on extasis in the Summa theologiae sharpens our perception of love's effects and ensures a nuanced reading of what love essentially is as well as what initiates and sustains it.A remarkable interplay ensues between the article on mutua inhaesio and the article on extasis, yielding a picture of the dialectical or circulatory structure of love, its power to dominate multiplicity and shatter solitude while amplifying spiritual singularity in the gift of self. ;Thomas teaches that God does not, properly speaking, undergo extasis, for, as unmoved Mover, He is rather the first efficient and final cause of every ecstasy. Yet owing to His infinite transcendence and correspondingly total immanence, the effects of His activity on behalf of creatures are sovereignly ecstatic, the least divine gift exceeding in its liberality all the toil and groaning of creation. The pure enstasy of His being dictates the pure ecstasy of His effects
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