The Four Loves by CS Lewis (Review)

What is love?

CS Lewis’ great little book, The Four Loves, examines love from a variety of angles.  There is affection, friendship, eros (romantic love) and charity.  Each of these types of love has a proper place and each can be twisted into something rotten.

One of the best lessons from this book for contemporary audiences would be Lewis’ description of need-pleasures and pleasures of appreciation.  Need pleasure is, as could be expected, rooted in our needs.  We have a desire for something – a glass of water on a hot day – and are satisfied when the need is met.  On the other hand are the pleasures of appreciation, things that do not merely gratify us but “claim our appreciation by right” (13).

I think a lot of us have a skewed view of love today because we never get to the appreciation stage.  When we first fall in love with a person we talk in terms of how the other makes us feel.  The emphasis is on me and my needs.  The goal is to move beyond this, to learn to love (appreciate) this other person as a person of worth.  When the focus remains on me and my needs it is much easier to move on to someone else who meets them.  I suspect this is the cause of many broken relationships.  When the focus moves to appreciating the other, loving her even when I don’t feel like it, the love has matured.

Lewis comes back to this, or at least what he says later reminds me of this, in the chapter on Eros, romantic love.  He says, “sexual desire, without eros, wants it, the thing in itself.  Eros wants the Beloved” (94).  True love desires the other person as more than just a sex object, false romantic love simply desires the sexual release.

Moving on, I especially liked the chapter on affection.  I think this chapter forced me to not see the four loves as simply moving from lesser to greater and instead to see each as having value in itself.  Lewis talked about how the best part of affection is that people who would never get along find themselves together through the circumstances of life, whether family or job or simply living near each other.  When we learn to find things to love in such people who we would not normally choose to be friends with, we are doing something admirable.  Lewis even remarks that there is nothing admirable about having a great many friends, for this may just indicate you enjoy the company of a lot of people just like you.

As I read this, I thought of friends I had made at jobs I have had, in college and seminary and other places.  Lewis provides a valuable lesson here: learn to find things to love in all these sorts of people.

In regards to friendship, Lewis again offers thoughtful words of wisdom.  He wrote, “those who cannot conceive of Friendship as a substantive love but only as a disguise or elaboration of Eros betray the fact that they have never had a friend” (61).  When we wonder whether any friendship will become sexual, it simply shows a problem with our culture in not understanding friendship.

Finally, charity.  It is not a word we use much nowadays, in regards to love.  This is the love of God, the gift of love God bestows upon creatures.  In some ways I found this the most difficult chapter and thus the most difficult to write about.  The other chapters come across simple, and practical, by comparison.  Here we move to another realm, seemingly.  It is the love from God, the supernatural love in each of us, that enables all the other loves.  It is beauty.  It is…what we need.

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