Journal of Religious Ethics 21 (1):87 - 115 (1993)

Many moral philosophers and theologians recently have criticized traditional Christian concepts of a pure, self-denying, disinterested love (agape, charity) partly on the grounds that such a love is neither possible nor desirable, especially in special relationships such as marriage. This article draws from the teachings of St. John of the Cross on the theological virtue of charity to argue that such a pure love is both desirable and humanly possible. John holds that charity includes not only God's love, but also the perfection of a natural human love that can be meaningful for secular as well as Christian ethical thinkers. John's disinterested charity requires only an interior loss of desires for friendships and other temporal goods, not the literal sacrifice of these goods; thus, this love can and does support the building of friendships and communion in marriage and other special relationships.
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