The Four Loves

This post is a book review I accomplished for my MA Theology course at Ohio Dominican University.  C.S. Lewis is a prolific writer (Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters).  The Four Loves was written in 1960, three years before he passed.  I share this because of a life-long understanding that our modern use of the word ‘love’ has more connotations than we care to consider.  Lewis presents us with other English words we could be using, and by doing so keep from confusing ourselves about our feelings and intentions.  I am very excited to share my new discovery with you.  J.Z.

Lewis, C[live]. S[taples]. The Four Loves An Exploration of the Nature of Love. 1960. New York: First Mariner Books, 2012. Print.

The course of current and recently past events of Western Culture in our world continually insists on the singular use of the work ‘love’ for wide arrays of purposes. We ‘love’ our pets, and we ‘love’ candy, and we ‘love that zombie TV show. We ‘love’ those clothes in the storefront window, the car in the commercial, and the woman shown driving the car. We ‘love’ our friend, our significant other, our mother, and our children. And we ‘love’ God’. How can we love all of these in the same way such that we use the same word to describe our commitments? Lewis takes up the challenge of educating us about our own language and how we fail to understand the need to use different words for the feelings we are working to describe. It is a work, he states in his introduction, wherein he too learned of his own inadequacies of language, thinking at first how easy this should be to accomplish, and found how much more he had to consider while bringing the project to completion.

The posture of the work is that of a parlor conversation one might have with a peer or friend on an afternoon or evening suitable to such an occasion. Some words require defining and Lewis starts this with a discussion of Need-love across several levels. Need-love is that initial love we have to get from God, always existing and always available yet never satisfied. He tells us we are most closely engaging in this when we cry for Divine help. An analogy follows to explain reaching fulfillment, about climbing a hill, reaching the top, and following a dangerous path down. At the top of the hill we are close to the village we are walking to. To reach to village the path follows a circuitous route, one that moves far away from our endpoint before returning us back toward and finally reaching it. Along the course we find love for the sake of love, love of country, and erotic love, all pressing upon us with demands of Need-love, and what precarious turns we may make if these Need-loves become our gods.

Lewis’ first twist away from our village along the path is immediate. He doesn’t discuss love even at a human level, but begins with an examination of sub-human love. The ‘need’ for a drink of water or food to satiate hunger may be temporary. The water received, the food ingested and the need dissipates. This is as opposed to the need of an addict. Lewis describes an alcoholic’s need for the drink, and certainly in his life there were other examples as in our own. The drug addict, sex addict, food addicts all experience the insatiable desire for that which owns their bodies. These ‘needs’ are not satisfied. Likewise Lewis relates basic pleasures as ‘needs’. The pleasure of a flower’s aroma drifting in a window is not a need but an appreciation. Similarly a successful play in a sports game may be appreciated and remembered, but not ‘needed’. Lewis shares his idea of the aroma of breakfast cooking before we’ve eaten, and then the difference after. By the end of the chapter we have a basic structure for the discussion of the four loves. Need-pleasure, gone as soon as satisfied, Need-love, just as transitory, Need-love for God, which never ends, though we are cautioned our sense of it can diminish. Appreciative-love that says ‘thank you’ is compared to a Need-love that says ‘my life rises and falls upon yours’. Upon these simple definitions a hierarchy is constructed that Lewis will build his concepts of four levels or intents of love; Affection, Friendship, Eros, and Charity. There is a fluidity of use in that we move between them easily and readily. Some combine more readily, but all combine only in Charity.

Affection is the first and lowest of the loves. It may be recognized by its absence, as some demonstration of feeling is nominally required, say a funeral, and is not demonstrated. Affection being a human trait may unite those who otherwise might not be united. It may include a light and polite kiss, the light touch of a hand to another. Affection holds within it Need-love, as we ‘need’ the attention of others. The assumption is that it is instinctual in humans, so much so that it may be expected because we are social creatures. Affection is that love we learn first for our siblings and our parents. It may extend with the closeness of other relatives, the favorite Aunt, the jovial Uncle, those cousins we spend our lives growing up with. Affection is held for that old stuffed bear that graced our childhood bed, for the home of the same period, the tree we climbed with those cousins, and the streets we ran in those summers long past. And Affection holds within its own a measure of common-sense, else it becomes distorted.

Friendship requires some work to develop, according to Lewis, because it is not natural. Affection is well understood as is Eros through experience. Each of these requires those involved to look each other in the eyes. Friendship, though, has the parties involved looking at a common objective. He comments how much more difficult it seems of the time of writing to be less experienced than in previous times.   The cause he proposes is the social view that human life is nothing more than the development of an animal origin. And, Friendship becomes a dangerous component of the social mix when Friends gather to promote a given cause. We can take the current issues of the social questions active in our politics and understand this concern with any one of them apart from the rest, through those ideas which form Friendships around political party platforms of ideas. Friendship brings two or more together in the sharing of ideas about the object. By listening to each involved describe an observation we note the others’ responses and see something in a way we never did before. Our view of the object, and surely and feasibly our view of our lived may be altered.   Lewis cautions against the façade of Friendship and calls this façade ‘Companionship’. This is continued focus on the common object without the sharing of the ideas and the experience of learning about the object from others. Friendship will nominally be between men and men, or women and women. Men and women more likely find each other in Affection and Eros, seldom in Friendship, though finding each other in Friendship may lead to either or both of the other.

Lewis states from the beginning of his description of Eros that it is uniquely human and involves more than engaging in sex and sexuality. There is no love required to engage in the reproductive act and even the animals do this. He begins this way to clear the conversation of moral arguments so as to concentrate only on the discussion of what Eros is. Eros requires commitment between two, the keeping of one’s word, the just treatment of the other. Venus is Lewis’ word for sexual encounters. She may develop because of Eros she may be the impetus for beginning Eros. And to repeat, she may be absent from Eros.   We dare not take Venus too seriously, nor treat her with anything less than respect. Caught up in her we will lose our common-sense required for Affection, and all sense of what brought us to the point of this union from the start. Lewis goes about developing how Eros may come about between two people and provides a fair discussion of the conjugal act of Eros, even a theological overview. Though Eros may make us look beyond ourselves, to ignore our own happiness, and/or completely transport us beyond ourselves, it is dangerous in that it has the power of a god and may pull us in directions not meant for our lives.

Affection is the foundation. Friendship is that which is of human creation. Eros raises each and both to a higher calling of commitment. Lewis gives the Greek for Affection as ‘storge’ and writes ‘Eros’ directly for a higher step. ‘Agape’ is the Greek word for Charity. And Charity is described as beginning and ending in God. The first approach of Charity is a rephrasing and recalling of Eden and God’s relation with the first man and first woman. From this Lewis moves to the negative of the image using St. Augustine’s examples of what drew him away from Charitable love. What are any of the previous loves if they do not have as a foundation the element of the Supreme? Charity then is the Gift love we give back to God in the ways God has expressed to us to love. We give to those God places in our lives, as God gives to us. We give without any expectation of return. We give no matter the pain or the angst returned. As Christ gave all His humanity for the Church, so the husband to the wife, the parents to produce and then raise children, Charity is our fulfilling the Need-love of others as God fills our own Need-love. Charity is ‘Gift-love’. And as Lewis started by quoting John’s Gospel, he ends in the affirmation that “God is Love”.

Lewis challenges us with his style. I wrote at the opening of his professorial conversation in a parlor, whether in one’s living room or in the hallowed halls of Oxford. The comfort with which I emphasize this image is the reason for my engineer’s frustration with his presentation. He runs off on a tangent at the slightest of his own suggestions. He quotes Shakespeare without referencing the play. He quotes King Lear as if we were in the theatre watching it unfold. He speaks of his peers as if we know each personally as well as by reputation. One sentence alone brings no less than six literary names, followed by the cast of The Wind in the Willow. At one point he takes us from Greek mathematicians forming conversation groups through Mr. Wordsworth’s and Coleridge’s conversation through Methodism, Reformation, Renaissance, even stopping to comment on Mr. Coleridge’s domination of their conversation. All these and other interruptions make it difficult to discern concept through the prose. An accomplished reader may find this distracting. Those more used to common daily language may be lost. But let this be a caution rather than a deterrent, for certainly any and all can appreciate and come to comprehend the four loves.

Lewis has given us a timeless philosophy to lay in our hearts and minds, in spite of his circuitous mountain path. Schools of English language, classroom lesson plans covering grammar and secondary schools, and tomes of literary wisdom piled on shelves throughout our culture do not come close to the simplicity of division so necessary to our Need-love for it. A comprehension of these need be taught in our schools from the earliest days, and a richer and more sound a culture we will have for it.


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