CS Lewis and Love

Maybe it was a spate of insomnia, or a niece’s upcoming wedding, or aching nostalgia for friends loved and lost, but a well worn copy of C.S. Lewis’ “The Four Loves” has found its way into my hands once again. I remember reading it in my early 20’s with a friend that I have not seen now for many years, and how Lewis’ ideas made our minds spark and our hearts yearn. But we were young and untried.

The first time I read the book, I think I may have skipped the first chapters and last chapters and jumped right into the loves of Affection (storge), Romance (Eros), and Friendship (Phillia). In brief, Storge is what we feel for the familiar and homely things. It is the love of mothers for their children, or a man for his dog. It depends not on the merit of the thing loved but the fact that it is a constant in our life. Romance (eros) is Romantic love that soars on the heights of idealization of the Beloved, and dips to valleys of despair in the next breath. Eros has two lovers facing eachother, caught in eachother’s gaze. Friendship, on the other hand, has two or more walking shoulder to shoulder, intent on common questions and interests, growing in appreciation for the other only with time. Friendship faces outward, with a brother or sister in arms, one who has the same concerns in life as we, one with whom we leave the herd and cry “what, you too?”

The first time I read this book, I so wanted to be married. I imagined meeting someone who I would want to be friends with forever, falling in love, and growing old and familiar together. This is all good and does happen in marriage. I should have read the first and last chapters, though, for these are only natural loves, and can become petty tyrants and a woeful disappointment in and of themselves without the working of a final type of love.

But first, the introductory chapters. Lewis begins his book by differentiating between Appreciation, Need-Love and Gift-Love. Appreciation is the disinterested love we have for what we esteem worthy. It is Appreciation, when sanctified, that grows to become Adoration of God.

Need and Gift Love  are best seen in the relationship between a mother and an infant. The infant has no power in an of itself and is entirely dependent upon its mother. The Love that a mother gives at this stage is for the benefit of the infant alone. This is also seen best in the prophecy of marriage as Christ and the church.

Now, I’m not talking about a “Christian marriage” here where two pious people try their best by God’s grace to raise pious children. That is a different creature. I am talking about Hosea. I’m talking about the real picture of marriage. The one where the bride is completely underserving of affection and the bridegroom must bear patiently with her in her weakness, in her wanderings, taking the brunt of churlish treatment and ingratitude, constantly bringing her back from her adulteries, into his tender care. This is the picture of Christ and the church.

Thinking of it that way, I’ve always esteemed need love to be base and childish, and appreciation and gift love to be the Christian ideal. I was mistaken. You see, we can only come to God as “Jolly Beggars”, we are weak things of dust, really, only children, and we come not of our own merit, but of our great need. He meets us, as Father, as the Longsuffering Bridegroom.

So many times I’ve heard the exhortation to look to the Giver and not the Gift. And yet, what better way to know God who we cannot see then through his working in our lives and on our behalf.  The balance, I believe, can be found in a quote from early in the book on finding God in nature: “Say your prayers in a garden early, ignoring steadfastly the dew, the birds and the flowers, and you will come away overwhelmed by its freshness and joy; go in there in order to be overwhelmed and nine times out of ten, nothing will happen”. While looking to the stuff of earth will only give us the briefest intimation of Him, as much as we would seek His face, He is revealed in simple sacraments and the stuff of earth.

The subject of Need Love and Gift Love and Appreciation comes up again at the end of the book, when Lewis speaks of Charity. The other loves serve as schoolmasters to bring us to this final, Christian, sort of love. It is only through agape that phillia, storge and eros can find their proper places. It is through human love that we begin to understand divine love.

And here I must insert another fantastic quote, as Lewis warns against an overspiritual renunciation of human loves: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken…the only place outside of heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers 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…We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inheret 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. {the issue of inordinacy is the smallness of our love for God, not the greatness of our love for man}”

The question of inordinacy is one of whom we will put first. We are to be like the Cavalier, leaving his Beloved with the words “I could not love you dear, so much, had I not loved honour more”. It is only from the basis of our devotion and our need of God, that our love of man may thrive.

When we come to Christ, he creates in us a supernatural need love for Himself and a need love for eachother. “All of the activities (sins only excepted) of the natural loves can in a favoured hour become works of the glad and shameless and grateful Need-love or the selfless, unofficious Gift-love, which are both Charity. Nothing is too trivial or too animal to be thus transformed. A game, a joke, a drink together, an idle chat, a walk, the act of Venus–all these can be modes in which we forgive or accept forgiveness, in which we console or are reconciled, in which we “seek not our own”. Thus in our very instincts, appetites and recreations, Love has prepared for Himself “a body”.” God alone can turn our natural love into Charity. As we share in His death, so also may we be raised with Him, in Love.



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