Four Loves

Last week I finished C. S. Lewis’ classic examination of love. In his book, Four Loves, Lewis lays out love with the help of the ancient Greeks. They defined love as Storge, Philia, Eros, and Agape – this last one, Agape, is known in Christianity as Charity. Let’s take a moment to see these loves through Lewis’ eyes, then wonder with St. Peter and Jesus how we may respond to love in all its forms.

Storge may be translated into “Affection” – “affection, especially of parents to offspring”; but also of offspring to parents. Thinking about infancy, a child is completely dependent on the mother for nourishment, comfort, and care. Paradoxically, the mother is also dependent upon the little one. She’s dependent on her child through the maternal need to give of herself. It’s a love that needs to be needed joined to the need-love of the child[1].

Storge, Lewis argues, can also be attributed to things other than humans. For example, we can have affection towards our pets, nature, our country, town, or parish. We sometimes hear people say that they love pizza, a movie, or chocolate. All these types of affections are considered storge love – again, affectionate love.

Next comes friendship, or “Philia.” Here, Lewis gives us a contrasting image of lovers and friends. With lovers, we may picture them gazing into one another’s eyes. They are face-to-face. With friendship, however, friends are side-by-side with their eyes fixed ahead.[2]They don’t look ahead at different objects, but stare at the same thing. It’s like going to a concert and you bump into someone you half-heartedly knew, and you look at each and seem to say, “You too? You like this band? I thought I was the only one.” And here begins the friendship where the bond strengthens because of a common interest, love, or desire.

Lewis quotes Emerson who quoted Jesus’ question to Peter found in our Gospel reading this morning, Do you love me? which means “Do you see the same truth? – Or at least, “Do you care about the same truth?”[3] Friends are the ones who after being apart for weeks, months, or even years pick up the conversation, the argument, the discussion where it was left. Time passes, but the common pursuit holds fast.

The next love is Eros which Lewis says is the “state which we call “being in love”; or, if you prefer, that kind of love which lovers are “in.” Where we might have a flexible amount of friends and affections, with eros, we discriminate and are distinct. Lewis writes, “Now Eros makes a man really want, not a woman, but one particular woman.”[4] In our own prayer book’s marriage rite, the woman consents to the man, and the man to the woman when they say they will love, comfort, honor and keep one another in sickness and in health; and forsaking all others, be faithful to this one as long as they both shall live.[5] Theologically, the marriage rite points to the “mystical…union between God and Man,” the Incarnation – or Christ, the bridegroom, and his bride, the Church. Ultimately, Christ as groom gave his life for the bride, the Church, so that she may have new life in him.

The fourth and final love Lewis speaks of is Charity or Agape. For Lewis, Agape love is grace-filled. If storge, philia, and eros are natural loves, then agape is supernatural. It comes from outside ourselves, and we participate in this love like playing with a new gift. We’re surprised by this love, mystified by this love, and forever grateful when we get hints of it – or see it out of the corner of our eye. The great Biblical example of receiving this type of love is the divine fiat of Our Lady in the Annunciation, “Let it be unto me according to thy will.” Listen to Lewis again, “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.”[6] Mother Mary would later learn that her own heart would be pierced like a sword because of her sorrows…because of her charity towards her Son, and thus God.

These are the four loves of antiquity, and in today’s Gospel, the writer plays with half of them. There’s a conversation between Peter and Jesus using agape and philia.

“Do you agape me, Peter?” Yes, you know that I philia you.”

Jesus begins with the highest form of love, a love that is unconditional. He invites Peter into its company. Perhaps it’s too much to ask at this point because Peter desires friendship. I love you like a friend, he might have said. The second time Jesus asks the same question. Peter answers the same way. “I love you like a friend.” Then something amazing happens. It shouldn’t surprise us and at the same time it’s a bit haunting. Jesus asks Peter for the last time, not “Do you love me unconditionally (agape),” but Do you love me like a friend? In other words, Jesus meets Peter where he is in his Philia love. Quoting Lewis again who was quoting Emerson, Do you love me? which means “Do you see the same truth? – Or at least, “Do you care about the same truth?”[7] Peter, answering in the affirmative, is now charged with “tending” and “feeding” Jesus’ sheep. In other words, learning to love others as Christ loves Him. And how did Christ love him? As a friend who laid down his life for him. The scriptures go on to tell us what kind of death Peter would have. It would be a death where he too laid down his life for his friends, and perhaps before then, receiving the divine gift of agape love, of unconditional cooperative love that wills the good of the other.

This week, why not meditate on love? Perhaps you may read 1 Corinthians 13, sometimes called the love chapter in the Bible. Maybe 1 John chapter 4 where John boldly claims that God is Love. Those of you who are married, why not pick up the prayer book and together read the marriage liturgy within it. This week, look for the various nuances of the four loves, and laugh at yourself when you find one. Be surprised by love this week.

[1]                The C. S. Lewis Signature Classics, The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis (HarperOne: New York, 2017), 763.

[2]                Ibid., 786.

[3]                Ibid., 786.

[4]                Ibid., 805.

[5]                The Book of Common Prayer, pg. 424

[6]                Ibid., Lewis, 824.

[7]                Ibid., 786

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