C. S. Lewis and 'The Four Loves'


'I am a product [...of] endless books’, said C. S. Lewis. ‘My father bought all the books he read and never got rid of any of them. There were books in the study, books in the drawing room, books in the cloakroom, books (two deep) in the great bookcase on the landing, books in a bedroom, books piled as high as my shoulder in the cistern attic, books of all kinds reflecting every transient stage of my parents' interest, books readable and unreadable, books suitable for a child and books most emphatically not. Nothing was forbidden me. In the seemingly endless rainy afternoons I took volume after volume from the shelves. I had always the same certainty of finding a book that was new to me as a man who walks into a field has of finding a new blade of grass.’

In this way, it seems that Clive Staples Lewis (1898–1963) was set up in his childhood to become one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth century. His predilection for books and the significances that they contained led him into the role of Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Oxford University, and then, in 1954, to the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University, a position he held until his retirement. Lewis himself wrote more than thirty books, reaching millions of people and still attracts thousands of new readers every year through works such as Mere Christianity, Out of the Silent Planet, The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, and of course the children’s classic series, The Chronicles of Narnia, which have sold over 100 million copies and which have been made into radio serials, television series and major films.

From the outside, as an Oxford and Cambridge intellectual, Lewis looks like a simple establishment figure, propounding the religion of the English state in a number of ways. But he was not only a novelist -he was a poet, a medievalist, a broadcaster, a lecturer, a literary critic, an essayist, a lay theologian, and a Christian apologist. The ‘number of ways’ in which he promoted Christianity -in which, if you like, Christ seemed to be ‘in his blood’- is itself interesting.

It’s a well-known fact that fellow Oxford intellectual and novelist J. R. R. Tolkien was Lewis’s close friend. Together they formed part of the informal Oxford literary group known as the Inklings, and Tolkien was instrumental in Lewis’s return to Christianity. According to Lewis' memoir Surprised by Joy, he was baptised in the Church of Ireland, but became disaffected with the Church during his adolescence, only becoming a member of the Anglican Communion under protest at the age of 32. Lewis married late in life, his wife Joy Davidman dying in 1960, soon after their marriage.

When Lewis writes about Love, then, it is from a heavily intellectual background. He begins by categorising three main kinds of Love: a ‘need-love’, characterised by dependency, which he at first thought was a ‘bad’ thing but quickly realised that, like the love of a child, it wasn’t that simple; a ‘gift-love’, which is the classic Love flowing outwards to someone or something, filling another’s need in most cases; and a third kind, appreciative love, which appears to be separate.

He then takes as the basis of his book, The Four Loves, the ancient Greek words for different kinds of love. These are summarised here for you:

Storge (storgē, Greek: στοργή) is an affection, a liking someone or something -a fondness, a familiarity, such as we might feel for family members or people who relate to us in familiar ways. One of the clearest examples is the natural love and affection of a parent for their child (or a child for their parent). Storge is natural, emotional, and widely diffused of loves, there is no force associated with it. The feeling is one of warmth, comfort; it doesn’t place an emphasis on another’s qualities or features, but there closeness and familiarity. It’s able to transcend discrimination, to overcome prejudice. Lewis says that, though it is dependency-based, affection includes both need-love and gift-love. He considered it responsible for most lasting human happiness. As we will see, though, affection has its own weaknesses and tends to be taken for granted; it can easilt turn, Lewis says, into smothering or jealousy.

Philia (philía, Greek: φιλία) is what we call friendship, the love between friends as close as siblings in strength. Friendship is the bond existing between people who share common interests, values, or activities. Examples might be the comradeship shared between supporters of the same football team, or fans of the same books or films. Lewis differentiates friendship from the other types of affinity: it is, he says, 'the least biological, organic, instinctive, gregarious and necessary...the least natural of loves'. Friendship is not ‘necessary’ as such -we don’t biolgically need it in order to reproduce, it doesn’t arise out of maternal or paternal warmth, it is a freely chosen relationship, based as much on reason as emotion. In classical and medieval thinking, therefore, it was highly valuable. Lewis explains that true friendships, like the friendship between David and Jonathan in the Bible, are now rare and thinks that modern society dismisses friendship. He goes on to say, '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’. For Lewis, friendship was an appreciative love -but he also saw the risks in it of pride, rebellion and isolationism.

Eros (erōs, Greek: ἔρως) is the classic concept of ‘being in love’ with another. For Lewis, this was distinct from the raw sexuality of what he called Venus. Lewis explains it as the difference between 'wanting a woman' and wanting one particular woman. Man, for Lewis, was both an animal and a reasoning creature and so Eros was a way of turning the lust of Venus into an appreciative love. It could, however,lead to selfishness in the extreme. Lewis concludes that Eros (or being in love) is in itself neutral: he accepts that Eros can be an extremely profound experience, but also suggests that it could lead to suicide or murder, as well as to insane refusals to part, 'mercilessly chaining together two mutual tormentors, each raw all over with the poison of hate-in-love'.

Charity (agápē, Greek: ἀγάπη) is intellectual love, the love that operates regardless of change. Lewis recognizes this as the greatest of all, and sees it as a specifically Christian virtue. The chapter of his book on this love emphasises the need to subordinate the other three natural loves to this love of God, who is full of charitable love. Only in this way, Lewis says, is it possible to prevent what he termed the 'demonic' self-aggrandizement of the other forms of affinity. Lewis tells us that just as Lucifer—a former archangel—perverted himself by pride and fell into depravity, so too can love—commonly held to be the prime emotion—become corrupt by attempting to be something that it is not.

You’ll read much more about these forms of love -affection, friendship, erotic love and charity or intellectual love- and how they interrelate in the book How Relationships Really Work. Already, you are probably grouping the relationships in your life into those categories. Some people, usually family members, fall naturally into the types of relationships based on affection, warm feeling and closeness; others are determined by the shared interests of friendship. The relationships based on ‘eros’ are normally quite distinct and clear. Charity may not at first be quite so recognisable to many, while for some it is the force to do good for others that drives their whole lives.

There are obviously some overlaps too: those with whom we ‘fall in love’ may once have been ‘just’ friends, and then often become targets of affection; those for whom we feel affection can also be friends. There are situations in which ‘wires become crossed’ too -blends of love which lead to insanity and occasionally criminality. By examining these types of affinity and the possibilities and difficulties associated with them, and applying some simple tools and approaches, we can transform our lives.

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