The Philosopher’s Love

What is love? 

Jesus tells us, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.”

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians tells us the character of love, but what does it mean to us in practical ways? Perhaps the story of the Philosopher’s Love can explain.

You see about two centuries ago there lived a very famous German-Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. Moses Mendelssohn was brilliant and compassionate—but he had one flaw. He was a small, hunchbacked man. Hunchback that he was, he fell in love with a beautiful and charming young woman named Gretchen, the daughter of a prosperous banker. Several months after he had met Gretchen, Mendelssohn visited her father. He asked him, very cautiously, how his daughter might feel about the possibility of marrying him, for he had come to love her very much.

“Please, tell me the truth,” Mendelssohn insisted. The father hesitated and then replied: “The truth is that the girl is frightened by you because…because…” Mendelssohn finished his sentence for him, “…because I am a hunchback?” “yes,” said the father, “Because you are a hunchback.”

Mendelssohn paused. Then after some silence he asked permission to see the daughter on the pretext that he wanted to say farewell to her. The father agreed. Mendelssohn went upstairs and found Gretchen in a room where she was busy with needlework. She avoided looking at him during the conversation, which Mendelssohn eventually directed to the subject of marriage.

In the course of the conversation the young woman asked him if he really believed in the old saying that “marriages are made in heaven.” “Of course,” he replied. “And while we’re on that subject, I might as well tell you that something unusual happened to me. As you know, when boys are born the angels in heaven call out for all to hear, ‘This little boy is destined to have this special girl for a wife. It is decreed from all eternity and no one may change it.’”

“So, when I was born, the angels made the unusual announcement about me, and the name of my future was announced. But then the angels paused and added, ‘But alas, Mendelssohn’s wife will have a terrible hump on her back! Then I shouted out loud before the court of heaven. I cried, ‘Oh, Lord, no. No. a girl who is hunchbacked will very easily become bitter and hard, and the object of awful jokes and hurts. No, Lord, a girl should be beautiful. Oh, Lord, please…please give the hump to me and let her be well-formed.’”

“And you know what, Gretchen? God heard my prayer and I was glad. I am that boy and you are that girl.” Gretchen was deeply moved. She saw Mendelssohn in a whole new way, and so she became his faithful and loving wife.

Whose love made the change? Mendelssohn’s? or Gretchen’s?

Love in my Master’s Name;

Fr Des Smit