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Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Four Loves

What does it mean to love?

   Of all the words in the English language (currently estimated at around a million), one lone four-letter word seems destined to carry a weight far beyond its size. The word love can mean many things by definition—there are five in the Compact Oxford English Dictionary—and even more by emotion. Yet there is only one word for them all. Thus we are left to say that we love our spouse and we love chocolate, and hope for the best.
   The Greeks had it better. They had at least four words for love: phileo, storge (a hard g, pronounced store-gay), eros and agape (uh-gah-PAY), which describe, respectively, brotherly (or familial) love, affection, erotic love and charity (what Lewis calls God’s love). And while most of us have heard this, perhaps even listened to sermons about it or read books about it, leave it to C. S. Lewis, in his slim volume, The Four Loves, to bring it to us in his fresh and inimitable way.
   Published in 1960 (fittingly by his wife, his one true love, whom he had married only three years before, and who would die of cancer weeks after publication), The Four Loves does much more than explore love between two people. Lewis peers into the issues of love between parents and children, men for other men and women for each other. Also discussed are the questions of sex, possessiveness, jealousy, pride, false sentimentality, manners and love, and even the humor of love.
   How better to pique your curiosity than a few quotes:
   On Affection:
[A]ffection has its own criteria. Its objects have to be familiar. We can sometimes point to the very day and hour when we fell in love or began a new friendship. I doubt if we ever catch Affection beginning.
…Affection would not be affection if it was loudly and frequently expressed; to produce it in public is like getting your household furniture out for a move.
   On Friendship:
Friendship is—in a sense not at all derogatory to it—the least natural of loves; the least instinctive, organic, biological, gregarious and necessary. It has the least commerce with our nerves; there is nothing throaty about it; nothing that quickens the pulse or turns you red and pale. It is essentially between individuals; the moment two men are friends they have in some degree drawn apart together from the herd.
…Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, “What? You, too? I thought I was the only one.”
…The mark of perfect Friendship is not that help will be given when the pinch comes (or course it will) but that, having been given, it makes no difference at all.
   On Eros:
Sexuality may operate without Eros or as part of Eros… . I am not at all subscribing to the popular notion that it is the absence or presence of Eros which makes the sexual act “impure” or “pure,” degraded or fine, unlawful or lawful. If all who lay together without being in the state of Eros were abominable, we all come of tainted stock.
…Sexual desire, without Eros, wants it, the thing in itself. Eros wants the Beloved.
….It is not for nothing that every language and literature in the world is full of jokes about sex… . Banish play and laughter from the bed of love and you may let in a false goddess.
On Charity:
God is love… We begin at the real beginning, with love as the Divine energy. This primal love is Gift-love. In God there is no hunger that needs to be filled, only plenteousness that needs to give.
…[D]ivine Gift-love—love Himself working in a man—…desires what is simply best for the beloved…Divine Gift-love in the man enables him to love what is not naturally lovable; lepers, criminals, enemies, morons, the sulky, the superior and the sneering. Finally, by a high paradox, God enables men to have a Gift-love towards Himself.
Love is not always easy, as Lewis reminds us:
There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.
The Four Loves is classic Lewis, and should be read by all Christians. At the same time, it is a great book for anyone who is interested in how God interacts with human emotion—or someone who wants to understand better the mystery of love.
Wayne S.

1 comment:

Hannah said...

I love that book!