Monday 14 April 2014

CS Lewis's The Four Loves - this re-reading it seemed wrong and confused


I took CS Lewis's The Four Loves on holiday to re-read for (I think) the third time - but this time I got stuck on it, it seemed wrong - and the 'climactic' chapter on Agape/ charity or the pure 'gift love' of God seemed particularly deficient, unconvincing, confused.

Lewis describes the three lower loves of Storge (familial or familiar love), Eros (romantic and erotic love) and Philia (friendship) - and there is, as always with Lewis, much worthwhile among his comments and observations.

But I find that his need qualitatively to distinguish charity from the other loves has distorted the whole argument. For Lewis it is vital that God does not need to love us, that God's love is a pure (unmerited) gift - a one-way love, in effect; and this is necessary because Lewis's view of God is a being that does not have needs.

My own view is that God does not (of course not) 'need' human love for His original or continued existence; but I would say that God does 'need' our love in the sense of wanting it and benefiting from it, and being saddened by its lack. And indeed this is precisely why God created Man - because of this kind of 'need' (desire, yearning) for Man's love - freely given.

And in this sense, God's Love (agape/ charity) is very-close-kin to 'Storge' - or more exactly paternal/ parental love - indeed the Bible tells us this again and again right through to include the Gospels - and there is not much scriptural warrant for distinction of quality between God's love for us, and a Father's love for his children.

My feeling is that Lewis's sharp and qualitative and essential distinction between Agape and Storge is something imported into Christianity post hoc, along with the Classical Metaphysical view of God as an omni-entity (omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent) - since this kind of abstract and absolute entity is incapable of passions and needs.

So I would regard Love as in essence a single thing, not four things - with second order differences due to the entities between-whom there is love.

This is part of my 'Metaphysics of Christian Love' which I will describe soon - which tries to use Love as the ultimate, bottom line, metaphysical reality - thereby getting away from the physics-like descriptions which are usually posited by Classical Theology (such as Lewis's unclear and un-graspable description of Agape).



Rich said...

Very interesting, Bruce! I've listened to The Four Loves on tape, read by CS himself, a couple of times now. I didn't feel the connection that I usually do to his other work.

Very much looking forward to the "Metaphysics of Christian Love."

Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

Benedict XVI summarized in a few pages, in his encyclical Deus caritas est, what classical theology really says about love, metaphysical, natural (eros) and divine (agapè). I am under the impression he produced a remarkable overview. If you still think that classical theist philosophy presents God as an abstract entity, try a real Christian philosopher, like Maritain in his Introduction to Metaphysics.

Adam G. said...


There was much to like in the Four Loves, but there it went beyond the mark.

Leo said...


As with so many of our posts, this is really both profound and important.

Thank you.