A review of
Francois Fénelon: A Biography, The Apostle of Pure Love
Reviewed by Alex Joyner
By the time Paul McCartney asked what was wrong with “Silly Love Songs” in 1976, we were in deep. Having gorged ourselves on pop culture confections of romantic transcendence, we were in danger of running out of new clichés to apply to this crazy little thing called love. Even McCartney himself grasped for new words by the end of his song. “How can I tell you about my loved one?” he repeated without answer over the disco beat that was drumming in a new age of cynicism about love. Things were about to get a lot more complicated.
Or perhaps just re-complicated because, as Peter Gorday reveals in his new biography of the pre-Enlightenment French archbishop Francois Fénelon, love has always been a many-splintered thing, the source of great passions, great inspiration, and great controversy. In Fénelon he finds a rich spirituality of “pure love,” a theme Gorday feels “speaks to the disillusionment that so many people feel with regard to conventional religiosity” (208). If contemporary society has fallen victim to narratives of self-love or to the cheap packaging and fleeting fulfillment of Osteen-style faith, Fénelon gives us a journey to God that is less about us and more about God – less about consumer and more about cross.