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.
Original publication date
He uses familiar scholarly concepts from Plato's day by breaking love into the same four main segments that the Greeks used: Affection, Friendship, Eros and Charity. He adds to this the Christian scriptural reference that "God is Love" and then explores the religious aspects of love.
Some of the scholarly breakdown twisted my brain a little bit and took multiple readings to try and untangle…as he expounded on "Need Love" versus "Gift Love", I was right there with him, but when he started putting forth various in-depth analysis between Venus (sexuality) and Eros (romantic 'being in love'), things started to get muddled…and when he broke into the chapter on Charity, there were a number of theoretical and rhetorical leaps that were difficult for me to follow at times.
Overall though and in spite of moments of confusion, the general message of the book was good and well presented. He provided great insight into the differences between each of the categories presented. The concept of Affection vs Friendship in terms of what makes a 'real friend' was rather intriguing, especially as he continued his examples through love's progression to show how and why friendships are formed or fail to be formed, how and why friendships can grow into romantic relationships or not, and what aspect Charity plays in all of this.
As with Lewis's other books, there is plenty of theological discussion going on. I don't agree with everything he had to say, which is fine, but I think he made some great points. During the last chapter or so as he speaks on Charity, he provides some great nuggets for us to think on as we think about our own charitable behaviors. He also talks about the idea of Charity being both a 'need love' and a 'gift love' and that as we engage in that paradox, we are growing nearer to God's love.
I enjoyed the message of the book and the well thought out and well expressed arguments Lewis makes. The tone of the book was a little too scholarly at times which made it occasionally hard to read (since I've just finished school and am enjoying the break *grin*).
Still, I really like Lewis's insights, research and writing. I enjoyed "Mere Christianity" and "Screwtape" and I'm looking into a few of his other 'theological'/'scholarly' works. He has a nice style and presents great messages without being overly preachy.
3.5 out of 5 stars
In "The Four Loves," Lewis examines the human loves of admiration, friendship, Eros (romantic), need-love, and gift-love as well as God's love for us. His ever-occurring and ever-important theme is strongly present: What seems to be the very highest of things--the most holy--can also take the place of a god, and thus become a demon in our lives. Here are some of Lewis' words to help explain:
"Of all loves he [Eros] is, at his height, most god-like; therefore most prone to demand our worship. Of himself he always tend to turn "being in love" into a sort of religion . . .
'In love' we have our own 'law,' a religion of our own, our own god. Where a true Eros is present resistance to his commands feels like apostasy, and what are really (by the Christian standard) temptations speak with the voices of duties--quasi-religious duties, acts of pious zeal to love. . . Thus, Eros, like the other loves, but more strikingly because of his strength, sweetness, terror and high port, reveals his true status. He cannot of himself be what, nevertheless, he must be if he is to remain Eros. He needs help; therefore needs to be ruled. The god dies or becomes a demon unless he obeys God."
I also very much appreciated Lewis' analogy of the difference between these things that seem most holy, or that which is in our nature very near to God, but do not bring us to a "nearness of approach" to God:
"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 'detour' we shall, statically, be farther 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 likeness, 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. . .
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."
Lewis also presents the concept of not being able to have the "higher without the lower." To express this idea, he points to St. Francis calling his body "Brother Ass."
"Ass is exquisitely right because no one in his senses can either revere or hate a donkey. It is a useful, sturdy, lazy, obstinate, patient, lovable and infuriating beast; deserving now the stick and now a carrot; both pathetically and absurdly beautiful. So the body. There's no living with it till we recognise that one of its functions in our lives is to play the part of buffoon."
I fully enjoyed the last chapter, "Charity" because it pulls all of the loves together and then points to God. This was my favorite chapter and the one that held the most meaning.
Lewis is once again brilliant in his presentations and shares ideas that for lack of better words "blow my mind."
The four loves explores all forms of loving by humans, although it places materialism, "the love of sub-human things" clearly at a lower plain. In the first two chapters, the author also tries to distinguish between "loving" and "liking" something. Regarding the love of humans, Lewis aims to explain the love among humans and supra-human love, or divine love. The opening chapters are a bit confusing, as general concepts are explained with small excursions into future chapters. However, the last four chapters are devoted to the said four loves the title refers to, namely Affection, Friendship, Eros and Charity.
Although The four loves was published in 1960, and purports to be a philosophical essay on the various forms of love, the book could barely expected to offer guidance to readers on the eve of the sexual revolution. The main outlook is conservative, and throughout the book Lewis religious heart-thob is felt. Particularly in the final chapter, this overbearing slavishness to the Christian interpretation of love becomes overbearing. Clearly, the flower power movement would prefer Fromm's The Art of Loving which is more scientific, based in psychology rather than religion.
However, for readers who can appreciate the strong Christian sentiment in The four loves, Lewis work offers a broader and more interesting picture, as various forms of love are explored within the Christian cultural tradition of Europe.
His basic franework for the book is looking at love through the four different kinds of love that the Greeks defined. He devotes chapters to the "natural" human loves of storge, the love of family affection; philia, the love of friendship; eros, the love of sexual love and romance. He looks at their characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses. He also looks at love through a three fold division between need-love, gift-love, and the love of appreciation.
Lastly, he examines agape, the selfless love of charity. In some of the most beautiful passages he ever wrote Lewis describes how agape perfects our natural loves and prepares us both to truly love God and be like Him. "When we see the face of God we shall know that we have always known it."
Leading a life marked by love is not a matter of just reading a book, but understanding the nature of God and the nature of love. This book is welcome wisdom in leading such a life.
If you can recommend another book with the number four in it, spelled out, I'd love to read something more...more...I don't know, entertaining?
Shows how natural love can go sideways and actually pollute our relationships. Often it is selfish and destructive. Lewis shows how Godlike agape love can nurture all our relationships.
(After years of living with his brother and an older widow, Lewis married late in life, Joy Davidman. Her death shortly thereafter is the subject of the 1993 film, Shadowlands.)
I'm on my third copy of this book. I lost the first in college, the next eventually fell apart from use, and the new one awaits fresh underlinings after twenty years of rereading.
An interesting book to re-read, all the same. Three and a half stars.