The sighing of four: storge, eros, philia and agape

February 22, 2008

…for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.
– St. Augustine, Confessions, I

I just finished The Four Loves, by C.S. Lewis. There’s alot of Lewis about these days – I’ve nearly completed his contribution to the Oxford History of English Literature, Poetry and Prose in the Sixteenth Century. That’s on pause while I revisit The Faerie Queene, having finished Book I at last.

Anyway, The Four Loves is an exploration of the four different kinds of love experienced by people as delineated by the ancient Greeks: storge (affection – think puppies and kitties here), eros (erotic love between the sexes), philia (the love of friendship) and agape (perfect, unconditional and all-giving). Like all of Lewis’ books, it’s a treat to sit down with one of the great literary minds of the 20th century and hear important things said well. He winds up his meditations with a serious charge to the clay-footed among us (I have no doubt he counted himself in that company).

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

On the topic of erotic love, I thought his admonitions against assigning too much gravity to sex were spot on. I don’t have the book in front of me, but I know I read a full page or two aloud to my wife the other night. I’ll dig the book out tonight if I have time and post some of it.


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