This Saturday I have the opportunity to present a paper at the Midwest Region Evangelical Theological Society conference. This year’s theme is “The Church and its Call to Sexual Holiness.” My paper, “’Wondrous like Love, and Mysterious like Marriage!’: Johann Georg Hamann on Sexual Holiness and the Image of God,” examines Hamann’s work Essay of a Sibyl on Marriage (1775).

The work, like the majority of Hamann’s corpus, is an occasional piece. Hamann was awakened early one morning by the arrival of unexpected guests. The guests were Johann Friedrich Hartknoch and Albertine Toussaint, who had just gotten married. In honor of their nuptials Hamann set out to write on marriage, a wedding gift fitting for Hamann’s publisher, Hartknoch.

The Essay of a Sibyl on Marriage plays off of Theodor Gottlieb von Hippel’s essay “Über die Ehe” (1774; On Marriage) but also uses Genesis 2 as the foundation for the work. Hamann argues that Eros is a matter of divine love, witnessed in the Trinity and creation. This is not to say that God participates in Eros, but rather, divine love defines Eros. Human expressions of Eros must originate from the divine image in which we are created and the divine command to procreate.

As Eros is rooted in the love of the Trinity and the Trinity’s act of creation, human expression of Eros must not deviate from this foundation. However, Eros is part of the human makeup. It is not antagonistic to what it means to be human. At the same time, no amount of human love can produce a rich and vibrant expression of Eros. Nor should Eros be understood as a postlapsarian alteration due to sin. For Hamann, Eros is not a passion of love but a quality of love.

Eros, as a human characteristic, is solely due to the fact that we are created in God’s image. The “pensive god of love” “took counsel with himself” to proclaim: “Let us make human beings, an image, which is like us.”[1] This is where Eros becomes part of the human makeup. We are created in God’s image to possess, experience, and express Eros. Love and Eros is part of what it means to be created in God’s image. In other words, the question of sexual identity is not merely a matter of hetero, homo, or bi. Such categories have not fully perceived the issue of sexual identity. Rather, sexual identity is a matter of divine identity.

[1] Johan Georg Hamann, Sämtliche Werke, 6 vols., ed. Josef Nadler (Vienna: Herder, 1949-57), III, 199; Gen 1:26

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