The Four Loves

In The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis, he says that when he contemplated writing about love, he thought there were two types: Need-Love and Gift-Love. Need-love is that of a child for its parents, who meet its needs and comfort when frightened. Gift-love is that of a man who works hard for the well-being of his family. Lewis was going to propose that the latter is more like God because He gives and needs nothing. Need-love, however, seemed totally selfish and not deserving of the name “love.”

But, he reasoned, no one thinks a child is selfish for looking to its parents for comfort or an adult selfish for wanting the companionship of friends. And man’s love to God is almost totally Need-love.

It would be a bold and silly creature that came before its Creator with the boast ‘I’m no beggar. I love you disinterestedly.’ Those who come nearest to a Gift-love for God will next moment, even at the very same moment, be beating their breasts with the publican and laying their indigence before the only real Giver. And God will have it so. He addresses our Need-love: ‘Come unto me all ye that travail and are heavy-laden,’ or, in the Old Testament, ‘Open your mouth wide and I will fill it’ (pp. 3-4).

Lewis also differentiates between Need-pleasures and Appreciation-pleasures. One quote stood out to me here because I see this in online discussions all the time.

We must be careful never to adopt prematurely a moral or evaluating attitude. The human mind is generally far more eager to praise and dispraise than to describe and define. It wants to make every distinction a distinction of value; hence those fatal critics who can never point out the differing quality of two poets without putting them in an order of preference as if they were candidates for a prize (pp. 14-15).

Next he writes a chapter titled “Likings and Loves for the Sub-Human”—about love of nature, home, family, country. There’s much to contemplate here, but I’ll just share this one quote from this chapter: “All natural affections, including this, can become rivals to spiritual love: but they can also be preparatory imitations of it, training (so to speak) of the spiritual muscles which Grace may later put to a higher service” (p. 30).

Then Lewis determined that there were four loves and dedicated a chapter each to each one.

First is Affection, or storge in the Greek (“two syllables and the g is ‘hard,'” p. 41). He describes Affection as “a warm comfortableness . . . satisfaction in being together . . . the least discriminating of loves” (p. 41). Affection is “the humblest love. It gives itself no airs” (p. 43). Affection can be in combination with the other loves or not.

Next comes friendship. You’d think that would be part of Affection. But Affection can be felt for pets and even people we don’t like very much. If I understand it rightly, it’s not as deep as friendship.

This chapter contains Lewis’ famous quote, “The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one'” (p. 82).

“To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it” (pp. 72-73). This book was published in 1960 and its elements were first shared in a series of radio talks. I don’t know if Lewis would say the same today. However, I am sure he would emphasize even more in our day that “It has actually become necessary in our time to rebut the theory that every firm and serious friendship is really homosexual” (p. 76).

Those who cannot conceive Friendship as a substantive love but only as a disguise or elaboration of Eros betray the fact that they have never had a Friend. The rest of us know that though we can have erotic love and friendship for the same person yet in some ways nothing is less like a Friendship than a love-affair. Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; Friends hardly ever about their Friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest (p. 77).

Friendship is also not just between two people, though it can be. A group of friends enhances the friendship of each with the other. “In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets” (p. 77).

Friendship also has its good and bad sides. There is a certain exclusiveness to friendship–we can’t be as close to everyone as we are with our closest friends. But that can turn to snobbishness or cliqueishness. It can also form an “us against the world” attitude where we close off criticisms or efforts to point out problems or disagreements. Friendship must “invoke the divine protection if it is to remain sweet” (p. 111).

The third love, Eros, is what Lewis calls romantic love. I’ve always heard the Greek word eros meant sexual, physical love, but Lewis call that Venus. People can experience Eros and Venus together or just one or the other.

Sexual desire, without Eros, wants it, the thing in itself; Eros wants the Beloved. The thing is a sensory pleasure; that is, an event occurring within one’s own body. . .

Now Eros makes a man really want, not a woman, but one particular woman. In some mysterious but quite indisputable fashion the lover desires the Beloved herself, not the pleasure she can give (p. 120).

Eros, like Friendship, can have good and bad sides. Our fallen nature can corrupt any good thing.

The last of the four loves, according to Lewis, is Charity or agape in Biblical Greek. Lewis warns many times that our natural loves can act as rivals to the love of God. But he also warns that love of God does not erase or demean our naturals loves. Rather, His love infuses them to be what He created them to be.

Lewis gives an example from Augustine (which, in the providence of God, I just finished reading). Augustine had a dear friend, Nebridius, whose death plunged him into despair and desolation. “This is what comes, [Augustine] says, of giving one’s heart to anything but God” (p. 153). Therefore, he concludes we shouldn’t love other people so much. “If love is to be a blessing, not a misery, it must be for the only Beloved who will never pass away” (p. 153). Lewis responds:

Of course, this is excellent sense. . . I am a safety-first creature. Of all arguments against love none makes so strong an appeal to my nature as ‘Careful! This might lead you to suffering.’ To my nature, my temperament, yes. Not to my conscience. When I respond to that appeal I seem to myself to be a thousand miles away from Christ. If I am sure of anything I am sure that His teaching was never meant to confirm my congenital preference for safe investments and limited liabilities. I doubt whether there is anything in me that pleases Him less (p. 153-154).

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken (p. 155).

The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell. I believe that the most lawless and inordinate loves are less contrary to God’s will than a self-invited and self-protective lovelessness. It is like hiding the talent in a napkin and for much the same reason. . . Christ did not teach and suffer that we might become, even in the natural loves, more careful of our own happiness (p. 155).

We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armour. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it (pp. 155-156).

Lewis then goes on to a good discussion of what it means when God says He loved Jacob but hated Esau, or what God meant when He tells us we can’t be His disciples without hating mother, father, etc., which He tells us in other places to love. One helpful quote from this section:

To hate is to reject, to set one’s face against, to make no concession to, the Beloved when the Beloved utters, however sweetly and however pitiably, the suggestions of the Devil. A man, said Jesus, who tries to serve two masters, will ‘hate’ the one and ‘love’ the other. It is not, surely, mere feelings of aversion and liking that are here in question. He will adhere to, consent to, work for, the one and not for the other (p. 157).

But then we’re called to show this agape kind of love to others. And when we try, we quickly see it’s not in us naturally.

The invitation to turn our natural loves into Charity is never lacking. It is provided by those frictions and frustrations that meet us in all of them; unmistakable evidence that (natural) love is not going to be ‘enough’— . . . But in everyone, and of course in ourselves, there is that which requires forbearance, tolerance, forgiveness. The necessity of practising these virtues first sets us, forces us, upon the attempt to turn—more strictly, to let God turn—our love into Charity. These frets and rubs are beneficial (p. 173).

These can be raised with Him only if they have, in some degree and fashion, shared His death; if the natural element in them has submitted—year after year, or in some sudden agony—to transmutation (p. 174).

Even though this is an overly long review, I still feel I’ve only scratched the surface of the book. And even though I gleaned much from the book, I can already tell I’ll need to read it again some time.

I like to read whole chapters of this kind of fiction at a time so I can follow and hopefully retain the author’s thoughts all the way through. But with only six chapters in a 192-page book, the chapters are long. It wasn’t until the last chapter that I hit on the idea of taking it in much shorter bits and chewing on that for a while before moving on. I’ll have to try that through the whole book next time.

As always, Lewis has a way of stating and illustrating some things in a way to make them startlingly clear and convicting.

I’ll close with one last quote sharing the need for surrendering to God:

This pretence that we have anything of our own or could for one hour retain by our own strength any goodness that God may pour into us, has kept us from being happy. We have been like bathers who want to keep their feet—or one foot—or one toe—on the bottom, when to lose that foothold would be to surrender themselves to a glorious tumble in the surf. The consequences of parting with our last claim to intrinsic freedom, power, or worth, are real freedom, power, and worth, really ours just because God gives them and because we know them to be (in another sense) not ‘ours’ (pp. 167-168).

I’m counting this book for the Nonfiction Classic in the Back to the Classics Challenge.

10 thoughts on “The Four Loves

  1. Thank you, Barbara, for your review of this writing of C.S. Lewis. While I have read some of his works, this has not been one of them. The one thing about him that has always blessed me is the way he cared for his dying wife. Such dedication.

  2. Thank you Ms. Barbara. I’ve not read this book by C.S. Lewis, but I’m intrigued to learn more. I did think about your post as I read and my conclusion is, as it has long been, “As God is love, His love is the source for all other love worth experiencing. If we pursue those loves, desires, etc. that spring forth from the roots of His agape love, then it is a worthwhile pursuit indeed.

  3. Really enjoyed this; I don’t think I’ve read it either. I appreciate the length and detail you gave. I do enjoy Lewis, but long chapters by him would be daunting to fully appreciate. Like you, I absorb him better in small quantities so I can think over his words.

  4. Pingback: June Reflections | Stray Thoughts

  5. Barbara, this book is sitting on my bookshelf but I’ve never read it. I think I need to change that … and soon. So much in your review to chew on! I can only imagine what I could learn from the book.

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