The Freudian term “sublimation” has come to be used carelessly for two relationships between high and low, relationships which are not only different but even opposite to each other. I illustrate with sex, his obsession.
In what Freud called sublimation, something that isn’t sublime is stretched out of shape so that it seems to seem different and better. He viewed humans as pressure vessels, and libido as superheated steam. If the pressure keeps building and all the relief valves are jammed, then the walls of the vessel balloon into an unforeseen shape. This, he thought, is how art, religion, civilization, and romantic love arise -- they are merely high-pressure expressions of a thwarted sex drive that cannot be displaced.
Does anything like that happen? I doubt it, but I know something that does. Rather than the low putting on airs of the lofty, that which really is high can be reflected or echoed by a lower thing which in some way resembles it. For example, the sexual union of the husband and wife resembles the spiritual union of God with the soul, just because each one is a communion of the Self with the Other. Because of this resemblance, for us sex can never be just sex, as it is with the animals. In humans it reverberates with music, like the strings of a sensitive violin humming with the chords of a more powerful instrument somewhere else.
So it is that the love of the human lovers arouses two longings, not one. The first longing is to become one flesh, and can be satisfied by the flesh; the second longing transcends the flesh, and flesh cannot appease it. Some lovers ignore the second longing, trying to become like the animals, mutilating themselves in the attempt. Other lovers admit the second longing, but confuse it with the first. Either they make an idol of carnal love, or else, having discovered that their idol is stone, they fall into sadness and disillusionment.
For lovers, the only possible resolution is the one St. Paul speaks of in Ephesians 5, in which the husband and wife submit to the grace by which their love is made a finite likeness of the divine love. He writes, “this mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church.”