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Book Summary: The Four Loves – Contemplations on Affection, Friendship, Eros and Charity

The Four Loves (1960) is an exploration of love in its different forms. By tracing how each form is motivated, author C. S. Lewis identifies love’s gifts and shortcomings, and reveals how God’s Divine Love can beautify all our relationships.

Book Summary: The Four Loves - Contemplations on Affection, Friendship, Eros and Charity

Content Summary

Genres
Who is it for?
What’s in it for me? Understand the nature of love so you can grow closer to God
Different types of love can be categorized into two distinct groups, according to what motivates them
Familiarity creates Affection – the first type of love
Friendship – the second love – unites us with kindred spirits
Eros – or romantic love – teaches us how to love God
Charity – the fourth love – is Divine Love working inside us
Final summary
About the author
Table of Contents
Overview
Read an Excerpt
Review/Endorsements/Praise/Award
Video/Podcast/PDF Preview

Genres

Religion, Spirituality, Christianity, Literature and the Arts, Christian Life, Spiritual Growth

Who is it for?

  • Christians seeking to deepen their connection with God
  • Bighearted folk who want to improve their relationships
  • Scholars of humanity who want to understand the nature of love

What’s in it for me? Understand the nature of love so you can grow closer to God

Love – it’s a word we throw around a lot. We might say we love pizza or swimming when what we mean is that we really like them. And in some languages, like French, the word for like and love is the same.

So what do we actually mean by love? And is the love we feel for others the same as the love God has for us?

These are the questions author and theologian C. S. Lewis set out to answer by sliding love under the microscope, teasing out its various forms, and then exploring them in the context of Divine Love.

In these blinks, we’ll look at the distinct types of love that Lewis identified and how they can help us foster our relationship with God. But even if you’re not especially religious, unpacking the different types of love in your life can still help you gain a deeper understanding of them.

Different types of love can be categorized into two distinct groups, according to what motivates them

C. S. Lewis is probably most famous for his children’s book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Lewis was a close friend of author J. R. R. Tolkien, who wrote The Lord of the Rings. They met while they were working in the English faculty at Oxford University and were two of the founding members of Inklings – a renowned literary discussion group.

Tolkien was deeply religious and his faith inspired Lewis to renew his relationship with God after he’d abandoned Christianity in his teens. This return to the church had a huge impact on Lewis’s writing. If you’ve read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and you’re familiar with Christianity, you won’t need anyone to point out how allegorical the story is.

But Lewis didn’t just explore his faith through novels about magical wardrobes and lions that rise from the dead. He used writing as a way to meditate on and explore different aspects of Christianity.

One subject that fascinated him was love.

When Lewis set out to explore love in his work, he figured it’d be fairly straightforward. After all, the Gospel according to John says that God is love. Simple, right?

Well, not really.

As soon as Lewis started unpacking that three-word explanation of love, he realized that love in its different forms could be categorized into one of two groups, depending on what was motivating it.

Lewis called the first group Gift-love.

Gift-loves are generous, boundless, and self-renewing. They’re what inspires you to care for the people that are important to you without expecting anything in return. You see Gift-love in action when a parent tends to their child every single day, when a partner comforts or supports their beloved, or when a stranger reaches out to help someone in need. Gift-loves also help you forgive someone who’s hurt you.

This category of love reflects Divine Love – the love God has for us. God is complete and abundant. He gives his love to us endlessly. Even when we turn our backs on him, his love is still there, waiting for us to receive it, if we open our hearts to him.

But while we can emulate God by practicing Gift-love in different ways, we’re far from complete and abundant. We’re riddled with yearnings that span all aspects of our being – from our minds and bodies to our emotions. And this leads to the second classification group, which Lewis called Need-love.

Need-loves arise from a place of lack or longing. They can be greedy, desperate, and demanding, or motivated by fear. For instance, when a child is scared, they’ll rush into the arms of their parent. The need for comfort motivates them to seek out someone who makes them feel safe.

Now, you’re probably thinking that this category of love sounds pretty substandard compared to God-like Gift-love, and that’s totally reasonable. But Need-loves play an important role not only in our relationships with others but in our relationship with God. We’re going to explore that in more detail, but for now, let’s focus on why Need-loves are so important.

Think about a time when you were hungry. What did you do? Headed to the kitchen and made yourself a sandwich? Or grabbed a bite in a local cafe? You ate your meal. Your hunger went away. You satisfied your need.

Need-loves operate in the same way by motivating us to seek each other out when we’re in need of comfort or advice. The frightened child runs to its parent. Or in a moment of crisis, we ask God for his help. Or even if there isn’t a crisis, we seek out God’s wisdom and guidance, so that we can better understand how we should live.

Need-loves stop us from drifting through the world, disconnected from each other and any source of knowledge. In that way, they create a foundation that Gift-loves can then sit on, a bit like the way the roots of a tree support its trunk. And when we meditate on how different types of love evolve, we can start to trace how Need-loves often grow into Gift-loves, ultimately inviting Divine Love into our hearts.

Familiarity creates Affection – the first type of love

If you take a moment to think about the people in your life, you’ll notice that you don’t feel the same way about each of them. Some of them you may not like at all, but let’s stick to people you feel positive about so that we can untangle the nature of love.

If you’re lucky, there’ll be a few core people you feel deep love for – your partner or lover perhaps, your immediate family members, the children in your life. Then there’ll be other people who are dear to you – like your friends.

But it might not end there. You could have colleagues or mentors that are important to you and a swag of other people who may not play a huge role in your life but who you appreciate for the small moments of joy they bring.

So at this point, it’s probably pretty obvious to you that not all the iterations of love you feel are the same. And distinguishing one from the other was what Lewis set out to do.

Lewis posited that there were four distinct types of love. We’re going to take a look at each one in turn.

Let’s begin with the first type, which Lewis called Affection. It’s often the earliest form of love we know when we’re babies and relying on our parents for survival. Because of this, Affection falls firmly in the category of Need-love, that classification we explored earlier.

Affection is the most common type of love you’ll experience because it doesn’t discriminate in the way that other loves do. You can feel it for people you don’t have much in common with – like the neighbor in your apartment building that you never socialize with but still like to chat to when you bump into each other in the hallway. Or you can feel Affection toward someone who’s completely different to you – the kind of person who’d drive you up the wall if you were in a close relationship but who you have a fondness for anyway, maybe even because they’re so different to you.

You can feel Affection toward animals too, and animals of different species can feel it for each other. Most of us have squealed with joy over YouTube clips of chickens snuggling up to their dog buddies, or cats who like hanging out with sheep.

Familiarity is the basis of Affection. It grows between people who see each other regularly. But unlike when we love a friend or partner we see all the time, Affection isn’t based on shared interests or heady passion. The key difference is that we choose our friends and lovers, but the people we feel Affection for have randomly entered our lives.

This is what makes Affection special. It brings together people who wouldn’t otherwise be close. Say, for instance, you move into a share house, and you don’t know any of your housemates. They might be wildly different from you – people you’d never normally cross paths with. But over time, you start appreciating their quirks and, after a while, you realize you’re quite attached to them.

Because of this, Affection plays an important role in broadening our minds. Being thrown together with people you haven’t chosen gives you the chance to learn about other perspectives and experiences. That’s why it’s important not to view Affection as a lesser type of love. The fact that it doesn’t discriminate the way friendships and romantic relationships do is precisely what makes it so valuable.

The problem with not choosing people means that sometimes we end up taking them for granted. Even if you haven’t specifically chosen someone in your life, you still need to put the effort in. Just like any other relationship, Affection relies on kindness, patience, and ongoing nurturing. Without that – well, we all know how quickly things go sour when someone feels taken for granted.

Friendship – the second love – unites us with kindred spirits

Friendship – Lewis’s second love – also needs nurturing if it’s going to survive. But it couldn’t be more different from Affection. Where Affection brings random strangers together, Friendship is like a magnet that attracts like-minded people.

Think about the people you’re friends with. Can you pinpoint a shared passion or interest that drew you to each of them? Perhaps you both shared a love for stamp collecting, or you met because your interest in singing led you to join a choir. Or maybe you were both volunteering for a cause you feel deeply about and you connected that way.

But Friendship in the sense of Lewis’s loves is more than just companionship. True friends are on a journey of some kind – pursuing that shared hobby or sport, fighting for that cause, or practicing a shared faith or profession. A key element of Friendship is that friends support each other on this journey. They’re both invested in making the journey because they see the value in it and they want to help their friend on that journey too.

This makes Friendship sit squarely in the Gift-love category. True friendship isn’t driven by a need to be needed, it’s motivated by that shared passion. We don’t need our friends for survival in the way that we might need someone to feed us when we’re young. It also doesn’t involve sexual need, which is part of Eros – the love we’ll look at next. And so, free from the needs that hound other types of love, friends can just get on with being friends, working alongside each other as they pursue their mutual passion.

Friendship doesn’t just free us from that sense of need, it also frees us from the labels that other types of love stick on us. Think back to a time when you discovered someone shared your passion. In that moment, you didn’t care about how old that person was, their personal history or how much money they made. Next to your shared passion, all of your new friend’s other characteristics became incidental. Over time, you learned more about this person, but none of those details were fundamental to forming – or maintaining – your friendship.

This means that when we’re with our true friends, we can shake off other labels that we might carry around, like boss or parent or colleague or spouse. And once we’ve done this, what remains is simply who we are. In that raw essence, we can set off on our journey with our true friends. And with them at our sides to cheer, support, and guide us, we can become truer and truer to ourselves. Because of this, Friendship brings out the best in us. Among a group of true friends, you’ll probably be humbled and amazed, wondering how you managed to find such an incredible group of people who share something you love. But in truth, they’ll be thinking the exact same thing about you.

Sadly, there’s a fly in this otherwise fabulous ointment. When we’re surrounded by like-minded people, we run the risk of living inturning into an echo chamber, where our views are constantly affirmed by people who think the same way as us. This means we’re more likely to dismiss other points of view – for better or for worse. It’s one thing to ignore people who tell you that stamp collecting is dead boring and a complete waste of time. But what if you ignored people who were offering you important new information, like those brave, early meteorologists who were trying to convince others that storms weren’t made by witches?

That’s why Affection is an important way to temper the side effects of Friendship. When the two work in tandem, we can simultaneously foster our passions while keeping our minds open.

Eros – or romantic love – teaches us how to love God

Now, you probably know a few couples who started out as friends and then fell in love. People who experience this transformation are truly lucky. They get to pursue their shared passion with someone who adores them. And the icing on the cake of course is sex.

When Lewis started meditating on the third love – romantic love or Eros – he needed to think about sex as well. For many people, sex will be a component of Eros. But since you can have sex with people you’re not in love with, sex itself doesn’t necessarily indicate the presence of Eros.

Sexual desire in its purest form seeks out sensual pleasure. But Eros wants more. It wants the beloved completely, and it wants the beloved specifically. No one else will do. The sensual pleasure that the beloved might offer the lover in return during sex is almost incidental. The lover’s desire to admire, celebrate, and please the beloved outweighs their own yearning for sexual pleasure.

Just a short aside here that might interest you, given Lewis’s deep faith and the conservative time he was living in. Lewis believed that British society and the church took sex far too seriously, to the point where people were either bewildered by it or just plain terrified. He didn’t see sex as a great impediment to spirituality – a view that was touted from many pulpits. In his view, it was more likely to be the minutiae of married life – like the daily chores and obligations – and not sex itself, that stood in the way of prayer.

So, back to the matter at hand. After mulling over sex in its various contexts, Lewis decided to set aside purely sexual relationships from his study, not on a moral basis but because his goal was to examine love.

Lewis described the act of falling in love as becoming completely and delightfully preoccupied with another person – and not just because of physical attraction but because of who that person is. The lover will spend their time thinking about all the wonderful qualities they’ve discovered in their beloved and will be ready and willing to turn their life upside down to please them. Because of this, Eros is anchored firmly in the Gift-love category.

This doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness though. Western society has been trying to sell us the notion that love leads to happiness for who knows how long. But Lewis didn’t think Eros could care less about happiness. He saw Eros as the reason that people stayed together through tough and miserable times. And this is both the triumph and terror of Eros.

Because, in fact, Eros has the power to drive us to do terrible things. Some people exalt Eros so much that they’d rather suffer deeply or even commit terrible crimes than part ways with their beloved. Don’t be mistaken; a love that drives people to murder in its name isn’t a passing crush or a sexual fixation, it’s Eros at its most potent. That’s why we must always remember that Eros isn’t some elevated, spiritual state – which is the message that poetry, music, and TV shows often try to sell us. Eros well and truly lives in the domain of humankind.

But it’s not all bad news. Paradoxically, Eros also offers us a way to grow closer to God. If we love God with the same devotion and abandon that we do our beloved when we’re falling in love, then our relationship with him will deepen immeasurably. We’ll no doubt fall short from time to time, just as we do with our beloved. But we can recommit ourselves again and again. Like a couple whose relationship is strong enough not to break up over daily squabbles, we can find our way back to loving God, knowing that he will never turn his back on us.

Charity – the fourth love – is Divine Love working inside us

So, as we’ve seen in the blinks about the first three loves, each of them has the potential to go sour. The randomness and familiarity of Affection means we can take people for granted. Friendship can turn into an echo chamber and narrow our views. And Eros – well, most of us know how its potency can make us behave terribly.

There is an antidote to this though. We can stop these loves from going sour by holding onto God’s Divine Love and actively nurturing all our relationships, no matter what type of love they are. It’s a bit like if you had a garden and your loves were the plants growing there. They might thrive at first, flowers bursting out in every color, attracting birds and butterflies. But if you don’t tend to the garden by weeding it, fertilizing it, and even doing a bit of pruning now and then, your plants will suffer. Over time, they’ll stop flowering and might even die. But if you tend to the garden consistently, it’ll flourish.

But there is one love that doesn’t go sour, Lewis’s fourth love – Charity.

Charity happens when humans practice the purest form of Gift-love. Just a reminder – Gift-love is the kind of love that’s based in generosity. You desire only what’s best for someone else, without any self-interest or hidden agenda. It’s the kind of deep love you might feel toward someone very dear to you.

But Charity takes Gift-love a step further. It’s the kind of love that motivates you to care about people who aren’t actually very lovable. That could be someone who’s ill or hostile or infirm. It could be someone who infuriates you or even your enemy. Or it might be a stranger that you help, and in doing so, you serve Christ.

Charity is also what helps us love the people in our lives when they’re behaving badly, like when a child is throwing a huge tantrum in the middle of a mall. They might be pressing every button their mother has, but she still loves them. Or when our partner is being obnoxious, Charity helps us look beyond their behavior to see how tired and stressed they are, and what they really need in that moment is tenderness.

This is an important gift Charity offers us – it’s the love that’s given to us when we’re unlovable. And this makes it the love that we all need most.

Ironically, most of us crave a different type of love. We want to be loved because we’re attractive or brilliant or talented. Because of this, we’re often shocked and humbled when someone offers us Charity.

For instance, imagine you fell terribly ill not long after your wedding. You and your spouse were faced with an awful new reality – that your health would never fully return and that you’d need care for the rest of your life – which might be decades.

You’re both devastated, but your spouse takes this all in their stride, caring for you without complaint. This act of selfless love affects you deeply. You can’t understand why your spouse would choose to embrace this new life for your sake. You just can’t believe that they’d love you that much.

This example is extreme but the truth is that we all have unlovable characteristics. We’re human, after all. The great blessing of Charity is that we can be loved – and are loved – in spite of what makes us unlovable. God’s Divine Love – working inside us – is what makes this possible.

We can decide to infuse all the other loves with Charity – that’s what will make them flourish like our metaphorical garden. Sharing a joke with an acquaintance to brighten their day, playing a game with our kids, making love in the truest sense to our partner – these are all Charity in action. When we console or forgive others, we invite Charity into our hearts. And it’s in these moments that we deepen our connection with God by manifesting him in the way we love.

Final Summary

When it comes to love, it’s clear that no two loves are the same. The love we feel for our neighbor might seem far less valuable than the love we have for our spouse. But the truth is that all forms of love have worth because they’re an opportunity to offer Charity to others. And when we do this, we become a conduit for the greatest love – the Divine Love of God.

About the author

C. S. Lewis was a renowned British author and theologian. He wrote over 30 books, including The Chronicles of Narnia series which has sold over 100 million copies, and nonfiction books such as Mere Christianity and The Problem of Pain.

Born in Ireland in 1898, Clive Staples Lewis gained a triple First at Oxford and was Fellow and Tutor at Magdalen College from 1925-54, where he was a contemporary of Tolkien. In 1954 he became Professor of Mediaeval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge. C. S. Lewis was for many years an atheist, until his conversion, memorably described in his autobiography ‘Surprised by Joy’: “I gave in, and admitted that God was God … perhaps the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.” He is celebrated for his famous series of children’s books, the Narnia Chronicles (which have been filmed and broadcast many times), as well as his literary criticism and science fiction. C. S. Lewis died on 22nd November 1963.

Table of Contents

I. INTRODUCTION
II. LIKINGS AND LOVES FOR THE SUB-HUMAN
III. AFFECTION
IV. FRIENDSHIP
V. EROS
VI. CHARITY

Overview

A repackaged edition of the revered author’s classic work that examines the four types of human love: affection, friendship, erotic love, and the love of God—part of the C. S. Lewis Signature Classics series.

C.S. Lewis—the great British writer, scholar, lay theologian, broadcaster, Christian apologist, and bestselling author of Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, The Chronicles of Narnia, and many other beloved classics—contemplates the essence of love and how it works in our daily lives in one of his most famous works of nonfiction. Lewis examines four varieties of human love: affection, the most basic form; friendship, the rarest and perhaps most insightful; Eros, passionate love; charity, the greatest and least selfish. Throughout this compassionate and reasoned study, he encourages readers to open themselves to all forms of love—the key to understanding that brings us closer to God.

C.S. Lewis’s famous work on the nature of love divides love into four categories: Affection, Friendship, Eros and Charity. The first three are loves which come naturally to the human race.

Charity, however, the Gift-love of God, is divine in its source and expression, and without the sweetening grace of this supernatural love, the natural loves become distorted and even dangerous.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER I: Introduction

“God is love,” says St. John. When I first tried to write this book I thought that his maxim would provide me with a very plain highroad through the whole subject. I thought I should be able to say that human loves deserved to be called loves at all just in so far as they resembled that Love which is God. The first distinction I made was therefore between what I called Gift-love and Need-love. The typical example of Gift-love would be that love which moves a man to work and plan and save for the future well-being of his family which he will die without sharing or seeing; of the second, that which sends a lonely or frightened child to its mother’s arms.

There was no doubt which was more like Love Himself. Divine Love is Gift-love. The Father gives all He is and has to the Son. The Son gives Himself back to the Father, and gives Himself to the world, and for the world to the Father, and thus gives the world (in Himself) back to the Father too.

And what, on the other hand, can be less like anything we believe of God’s life than Need-love? He lacks nothing, but our Need-love, as Plato saw, is “the son of Poverty”. It is the accurate reflection in consciousness of our actual nature. We are born helpless. As soon as we are fully conscious we discover loneliness. We need others physically, emotionally, intellectually; we need them if we are to know anything, even ourselves.

I was looking forward to writing some fairly easy panegyrics on the first sort of love and disparagements of the second. And much of what I was going to say still seems to me to be true. I still think that if all we mean by our love is a craving to be loved, we are in a very deplorable state. But I would not now say (with my master, MacDonald) that if we mean only this craving we are mistaking for love something that is not love at all. I cannot now deny the name love to Need-love. Every time I have tried to think the thing out along those lines I have ended in puzzles and contradictions. The reality is more complicated than I supposed.

First of all, we do violence to most languages, including our own, if we do not call Need-love “love”. Of course language is not an infallible guide, but it contains, with all its defects, a good deal of stored insight and experience. If you begin by flouting it, it has a way of avenging itself later on. We had better not follow Humpty Dumpty in making words mean whatever we please.

Secondly, we must be cautious about calling Need-love “mere selfishness”. Mere is always a dangerous word. No doubt Need-love, like all our impulses, can be selfishly indulged. A tyrannous and gluttonous demand for affection can be a horrible thing. But in ordinary life no one calls a child selfish because it turns for comfort to its mother; nor an adult who turns to his fellow “for company”. Those, whether children or adults, who do so least are not usually the most selfless. Where Need-love is felt there may be reasons for denying or totally mortifying it; but not to feel it is in general the mark of the cold egoist. Since we do in reality need one another (“it is not good for man to be alone”), then the failure of this need to appear as Need-love in consciousness–in other words, the illusory feeling that it is good for us to be alone–is a bad spiritual symptom; just as lack of appetite is a bad medical symptom because men do really need food.

But thirdly, we come to something far more important. Every Christian would agree that a man’s spiritual health is exactly proportional to his love for God. But man’s love for God, from the very nature of the case, must always be very largely, and must often be entirely, a Need-love. This is obvious when we implore forgiveness for our sins or support in our tribulations. But in the long run it is perhaps even more apparent in our growing–for it ought to be growing–awareness that our whole being by its very nature is one vast need; incomplete, preparatory, empty yet cluttered, crying out for Him who can untie things that are now knotted together and tie up things that are still dangling loose. I do not say that man can never bring to God anything at all but sheer Need-love. Exalted souls may tell us of a reach beyond that. But they would also, I think, be the first to tell us that those heights would cease to be true Graces, would become Neo-Platonic or finally diabolical illusions, the moment a man dared to think that he could live on them and henceforth drop out the element of need. “The highest,” says the Imitation, “does not stand without the lowest.” 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.”

Thus one Need-love, the greatest of all, either coincides with or at least makes a main ingredient in man’s highest, healthiest, and most realistic spiritual condition. A very strange corollary follows. Man approaches God most nearly when he is in one sense least like God. For what can be more unlike than fullness and need, sovereignty and humility, righteousness and penitence, limitless power and a cry for help? This paradox staggered me when I first ran into it; it also wrecked all my previous attempts to write about love. When we face it, something like this seems to result.

We must distinguish two things which might both possibly be called “nearness to God”. One is likeness to God. God has impressed some sort of likeness to Himself, I suppose, in all that He has made. Space and time, in their own fashion, mirror His greatness; all life, His fecundity; animal life, His activity. Man has a more important likeness than these by being rational. Angels, we believe, have likenesses which Man lacks: immortality and intuitive knowledge. In that way all men, whether good or bad, all angels including those that fell, are more like God than the animals are. Their natures are in this sense “nearer” to the Divine Nature. But, secondly, there is what we may call nearness of approach. If this is what we mean, the states in which a man is “nearest” to God are those in which he is most surely and swiftly approaching his final union with God, vision of God and enjoyment of God. And as soon as we distinguish nearness-by-likeness and nearness-of-approach, we see that they do not necessarily coincide. They may or may not.

Perhaps an analogy may help. Let us suppose that we are doing a mountain walk to the village which is our home. At mid-day we come to the top of a cliff where we are, in space, very near it because it is just below us. We could drop a stone into it. But as we are no cragsmen we can’t get down. We must go a long way round; five miles, maybe. At many points during that détour we shall, statically, be far further from the village than we were when we sat above the cliff. But only statically. In terms of progress we shall be far “nearer” our baths and teas.

Since God is blessed, omnipotent, sovereign and creative, there is obviously a sense in which happiness, strength, freedom and fertility (whether of mind or body), wherever they appear in human life, constitute likenesses, and in that way proximities, to God. But no one supposes that the possession of these gifts has any necessary connection with our sanctification. No kind of riches is a passport to the Kingdom of Heaven.

At the cliff’s top we are near the village, but however long we sit there we shall never be any nearer to our bath and our tea. So here the likeness, and in that sense nearness, to Himself which God has conferred upon certain creatures and certain states of those creatures is something finished, built in. What is near Him by likeness is never, by that fact alone, going to be any nearer. But nearness of approach is, by definition, increasing nearness. And whereas the likeness is given to us–and can be received with or without thanks, can be used or abused–the approach, however initiated and supported by Grace, is something we must do. Creatures are made in their varying ways images of God without their own collaboration or even consent. It is not so that they become sons of God. And the likeness they receive by sonship is not that of images or portraits. It is in one way more than likeness, for it is unison or unity with God in will; but this is consistent with all the differences we have been considering. Hence, as a better writer has said, our imitation of God in this life–that is, our willed imitation as distinct from any of the likenesses which He has impressed upon our natures or states–must be an imitation of God incarnate: our model is the Jesus, not only of Calvary, but of the workshop, the roads, the crowds, the clamorous demands and surly oppositions, the lack of all peace and privacy, the interruptions. For this, so strangely unlike anything we can attribute to the Divine life in itself, is apparently not only like, but is, the Divine life operating under human conditions.

I must now explain why I have found this distinction necessary to any treatment of our loves. St. John’s saying that God is love has long been balanced in my mind against the remark of a modern author (M. Denis de Rougemont) that “love ceases to be a demon only when he ceases to be a god”; which of course can be re-stated in the form “begins to be a demon the moment he begins to be a god”. This balance seems to me an indispensable safeguard. If we ignore it the truth that God is love may slyly come to mean for us the converse, that love is God.

I suppose that everyone who has thought about the matter will see what M. de Rougemont meant. Every human love, at its height, has a tendency to claim for itself a divine authority. Its voice tends to sound as if it were the will of God Himself. It tells us not to count the cost, it demands of us a total commitment, it attempts to over-ride all other claims and insinuates that any action which is sincerely done “for love’s sake” is thereby lawful and even meritorious. That erotic love and love of one’s country may thus attempt to “become gods” is generally recognised. But family affection may do the same. So, in a different way, may friendship. I shall not here elaborate the point, for it will meet us again and again in later chapters.

Now it must be noticed that the natural loves make this blasphemous claim not when they are in their worst, but when they are in their best, natural condition; when they are what our grandfathers called “pure” or “noble”. This is especially obvious in the erotic sphere. A faithful and genuinely self-sacrificing passion will speak to us with what seems the voice of God. Merely animal or frivolous lust will not. It will corrupt its addict in a dozen ways, but not in that way; a man may act upon such feelings but he cannot revere them any more than a man who scratches reveres the itch. A silly woman’s temporary indulgence, which is really self-indulgence, to a spoiled child–her living doll while the fit lasts–is much less likely to “become a god” than the deep, narrow devotion of a woman who (quite really) “lives for her son”. And I am inclined to think that the sort of love for a man’s country which is worked up by beer and brass bands will not lead him to do much harm (or much good) for her sake. It will probably be fully discharged by ordering another drink and joining in the chorus.

And this of course is what we ought to expect. Our loves do not make their claim to divinity until the claim becomes plausible. It does not become plausible until there is in them a real resemblance to God, to Love Himself. Let us here make no mistake. Our Gift-loves are really God-like; and among our Gift-loves those are most God-like which are most boundless and unwearied in giving. All the things the poets say about them are true. Their joy, their energy, their patience, their readiness to forgive, their desire for the good of the beloved–all this is a real and all but adorable image of the Divine life. In its presence we are right to thank God “who has given such power to men”. We may say, quite truly and in an intelligible sense, that those who love greatly are “near” to God. But of course it is “nearness by likeness”. It will not of itself produce “nearness of approach”. The likeness has been given us. It has no necessary connection with that slow and painful approach which must be our own (though by no means our unaided) task. Meanwhile, however, the likeness is a splendour. That is why we may mistake Like for Same. We may give our human loves the unconditional allegiance which we owe only to God. Then they become gods: then they become demons. Then they will destroy us, and also destroy themselves. For natural loves that are allowed to become gods do not remain loves. They are still called so, but can become in fact complicated forms of hatred.

Our Need-loves may be greedy and exacting but they do not set up to be gods. They are not near enough (by likeness) to God to attempt that.

It follows from what has been said that we must join neither the idolaters nor the “debunkers” of human love. Idolatry both of erotic love and of “the domestic affections” was the great error of Nineteenth Century literature. Browning, Kingsley, and Patmore sometimes talk as if they thought that falling in love was the same thing as sanctification; the novelists habitually oppose to “the World” not the Kingdom of Heaven but the home. We live in the reaction against this. The debunkers stigmatise as slush and sentimentality a very great deal of what their fathers said in praise of love. They are always pulling up and exposing the grubby roots of our natural loves. But I take it we must listen neither “to the over-wise nor to the over-foolish giant”. The highest does not stand without the lowest. A plant must have roots below as well as sunlight above and roots must be grubby. Much of the grubbiness is clean dirt if only you will leave it in the garden and not keep on sprinkling it over the library table. The human loves can be glorious images of Divine love. No less than that: but also no more–proximities of likeness which in one instance may help, and in another may hinder, proximity of approach. Sometimes perhaps they have not very much to do with it either way.

Review/Endorsements/Praise/Award

In praise of C.S. Lewis

“If wit and wisdom, style and scholarship are requisites to passage through the pearly gates, Mr. Lewis will be among the angels.” – The New Yorker

“”Brilliant yet accessible.” – U.S. News & World Report

” From one our most revered and beloved writesr and thinkers comes this wise and warmly personal book reflecting on the four basic kinds of human love– affection, friendship, Eros, charity. C.S. Lewis explores the promise and the perils of love between parents and children; the love that builds between true friends through mutual respect; the dedication it takes to fulfill our visions of erotic love and partnership; and the love of and for God that deepens all others. He considers questions of sex, possessiveness, jealousy, pride, sentimentality, good and bad manners, and the need for more laughter. Love’s rewards come with risks, he cautions, but we must take them, and remember that we are seeking to be awakened, to find an Appreciative love through which “all things are possible.”

“With a love for beauty, wonder, and magic . . . he speaks to us with all the power and life-changing force of a Plato, a Dante, and a Bunyan.”–“Christianity Today” C.S. Lewis gained international renown for an impressive array of works both popular and scholarly: children’s literature, fantasy literature, literary criticism, and numerous books on theology. “The Four Loves” is among his most celebrated achievements, along with “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, “and “Surprised by Joy.”

‘He has never written better. Nearly every page scintillates with observations which are illuminating, provocative and original.’ – Church Times

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