Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Four Loves

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 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. (CS Lewis, The Four Loves)
The Four Loves is a marvelous study on the various types or kinds of love within human experience. The Greek language has four terms with which to convey these various meanings or distinctions of “love,” whereas the English language knows only one term. That is, the transliterated Greek terms storge, philia [also phileo], eros, and agape; we translate simply as “love.”

But while we differ from the Greeks in our language of love, clearly, we do not differ from them in our experience of love. And so, I would like to contemplate how we experience these “four loves” within the context of marriage.

Hollywood has it mostly wrong. It tends to know only one sort of love between the sexes: Eros. Eros, in Hollywood, is the beginning and ending [and so often the ending is so close to the beginning that one can scarcely differentiate between the two] of all things between a man a woman. In fact, Hollywood not only knows one sort of love, but even that which it knows; it knows wrongly.

Hollywood, more often than not, simplistically equates eros with “sexual desire.” (From eros comes erotic.) But eros is more than sexual desire and sexual desire is quite often less than eros. Human sexuality may operate within eros or without it. (When it operates without it, it is little more than--in fact it may properly be thought of as less than--animalistic.)

Eros, as conceived by Lewis, is the state of “being in love.” We may rightly equate eros with “romantic love.” Healthy marriages certainly enjoy eros. But eros in marriage cannot simply be enjoyed. It must be encouraged. Godly spouses will seek to stir eros in their covenant lover’s heart, as well as in their own heart.

Yet, as vitally important as eros is to marriage, it is but one aspect of it. We dare not elevate eros too highly. We must not make a god of him as Hollywood has done. As Lewis observes, “Eros, honored without reservation and obeyed unconditionally, becomes a demon…what costlier offering can be laid on love’s altar than one’s conscience?”

How many homes have been decimated, honor betrayed, and hearts vitiated--in the name of “love”? Eros must be submitted to Christ and His word. And when it is, it is glorious.
Rejoice with the wife of your youth. As a loving deer and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times; and always be enraptured with her love (Proverbs 5:18b-19).
Healthy marriage will also enjoy what the Greeks called storge. This, Lewis correlates to affection. Genuine, mutual affection fosters enduring, healthy marriage. In fact, Lewis points out,
As for erotic love, I can imagine nothing more disagreeable than to experience it for more than a very short time without this homespun clothing of affection. Appreciative love [affection] lies, as it were, curled up asleep, and the mere ease and ordinariness of the relationship (free as solitude, yet neither is alone) wraps us round. No need to talk. No need to make love. No needs at all except perhaps to stir the fire. (The Four Loves)
Storge is content and tender. It is a kind of fondness or endearment. I saw storge in action just recently. As I drove through my home town I passed an elderly couple leisurely strolling, arms linked, lost in each other’s company. Were they holding each other for comfort or balance or both? Well, I can’t see how it matters one way or the other to storge. Affection is like that. It is altogether unassuming. Have you ever glimpsed storge in a facial expression, brush of the hand, or tone of the voice? Every marriage needs a healthy dose of storge.

Every marriage also needs philia or phileo. This, of course, is where Philadelphia, the “City of Brotherly Love,” gets its name. Philia best corresponds to friendship. The best marriages are those between best friends. Lewis remarks, “Eros will have naked bodies; Friendship naked personalities.” Friends love each other for who they truly are: no masks, no pretenses.

Who knows or understands each other better than lifelong covenant companions? Friends share almost everything. They delight in each other’s company. There is no fear between friends. Friends stick together and stand up for each other. Friends don’t always see eye to eye and sometimes they fight. But they fight fair. And they never cease loving. Friends respect each other. They respect each other’s thoughts, feelings, and individuality. Find a healthy marriage and you will discover two friends.

Finally, agape is essential to Christian marriage. Here, Lewis is speaking of that which he calls “Divine love” [as opposed to the aforementioned “natural loves”] or “charity.” You will notice that up to this paragraph I have employed the term “healthy marriage,” but now have used “Christian marriage.” This is not an inconsistency.

The love of God shared with and between spouses sets healthy Christian marriage apart from healthy non Christian marriage. We are not saying that agape is absent or entirely distinct from the natural loves. Rather, agape, godly love, inheres in the Christian and elevates the Christian’s natural loves. Thus the Christian spouse is a godly lover, companion, and friend.

Therefore, the Christian spouse does not experience or express less of the natural loves, but more. Lewis writes, “Charity does not dwindle into merely natural love but natural love is taken up into, made the tuned and obedient instrument of, Love Himself. Nothing is either too trivial or too animal to be thus transformed.”

May each of us--married, widowed, or single--determine to delight ourselves in the God who is Love and in His holy gift of marriage. (Yes, the widowed or the single can indeed rejoice in the divine institution of matrimony.) And may His love in Christ transform us each and every day to the praise of His glory alone.


  1. Stumbled across your blog when I Googled "C. S. Lewis' The Four Loves." Thank you for your great synopsis of the book and helpful definitions of the four types of loves! I am looking forward to sharing these insights at our discussion group at church next time we meet!

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting! May the Lord bless you and your study group.

  2. This is really good Steve, and really needed to be defined to most of us. In this world we live in today, the word 'love' has been thrown around way too much. We have seen it from every perspective except Gods.

    1. You are absolutely right! Thank you for reading and commenting.