I came across a telling quote from Edith Stein in McIntosh* p. 232. She is talking about the contemplative vocation and the desire to be wherever there is suffering in order to help, to assist, to love – simply to be there. This, however, is not possible. She goes on to say, ‘You can be at all fronts, wherever there is grief in the power of the cross. Your compassionate love takes you everywhere, this love from the divine heart.’ This is an idea that needs to be explored. There is certainly a powerful impetus to love, and especially the poor, the suffering and the victimised.

  Not only an impetus to love – there is also the sense of responsibility for the other which Levinas delineates. L’s discussion is, as far as I can see, one-sided, from the point of view of the self. But what goes for the self goes also for the other. There is, in fact, a mutual responsibility arising from a mutual calling into selfhood. The mother addressing her baby by name for the first time initiates his emergence as a self/person. But the baby is responsible for his mother as mother. By responding to her call he evokes her motherhood. 

L does not hold that the face-to-face relationship is a reciprocal one – ‘because it implies that humans are interchangeable, that one may substitute one person for another, trade off rights for goods, justifying exploitation or worse.’

 However, I do not see how the idea of reciprocity can be avoided and I suspect that L defines the word differently. I suspect that he means by it something like tit for tat, a mutual exchange of goods but not something which goes to the essence of those involved. By reciprocal relationship I mean one in which a change in one of the poles of the relationship produces a change in the other. Each of the entities in the relationship has a defining effect on the other.

*Mcintosh, Mark. Mystical Theology: Integrity of Spirituality and Theology , Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers, 1998.

Leave a Reply