C.S. Lewis never ceases to amaze. Not only did the man write a well-known fantasy series, a superb (and under-appreciated) sci-fi trilogy, and multiple theological fiction books (Till We Have Faces, The Great Divorce), he also wrote some fantastic, straight-up theology. The Four Loves is everything you would expect from a Lewis book: it’s personal and warm, direct and unassuming even as it tackles huge topics and arguments, and even entertaining as Lewis walks us through human and divine love in his own trademark style. There’s a lot to, erm, love about this book.
What are the four loves? Lewis defines them as Affection (the love between family members, or longtime acquaintances), Friendship (love between two friends), Eros (love between a man and his wife), and Charity (man’s love for God). For each of these, Lewis will explain what they are and what they are like, how to best use them in our lives, and how to avoid their dangers and pitfalls.
Lewis begins his book by talking about the dichotomy in all the loves: need-love as compared to gift-love. Need-love is love that expresses a felt need, such as a baby searching for his mother’s breast. Gift-love, on the other hand, is expressed without any need at all, such as God’s love for us even when we hated him. All four of the loves that he examines contain a part of both of these, and they’re helpful definitions to keep in mind as he delves into each of the four loves.
Every one of the chapters is helpful and unique in its own way, and to cover them all would be difficult and lengthy. Instead, here’s a few highlights from each one:
You might think affection between family members is fairly straightforward, but Lewis twists this concept and goes in a totally different direction. Much of his chapter actually examines the possibility of familial love gone toxic — he gives a fantastic example of a wife who claims to pour out her life serving her family, but is really stifling them.
Similarly, friendship is an excellent examination of a difficult love. Lewis writes, “…very few modern people think Friendship a love of comparable value or even a love at all.” Friendship, he writes, is more than just shared common interests, but a sharing of one another — a should-to-shoulder, faces-forward friendship. This is why, Lewis argues, that “two people [of different sexes] thus discover they are on the same secret road, the friendship which arises between them will very easily pass — my pass in the first half-hour — into erotic love.” The chapter on a love that few people study or consider is extremely helpful.
Eros appears to be a more straightforward love, yet Lewis still puts his spin on it. The crowning part of this chapter is his analogy, comparing a husband and wife to gods, acting out a pageant that goes bigger and deeper than themselves. The act of marriage, Lewis argues, is not when humans are most like their true selves, but really when they are least like themselves — reflecting a face of humanity that is bigger than just themselves. “We may be our most individual,” he writes, “when we are really fully clothed.”
This brings Lewis to the wrap-up: Charity, the love of God and man. It is best represented, of course, in God’s pure gift-love, expressed by his son on the cross for all of us. This, Lewis argues, is the highest and best form of love, and the one that we should seek to emulate throughout our lives. “This is of all gifts the most to be desired. Here, not in our natural loves, nor even in ethics, lies the true centre of all human and angelic life. With this all things are possible.”
With these words, Lewis closes his book quietly, ending almost as suddenly as he began. I struggle to truly recap this book in a few sentences. It’s a stunning look at four loves that touch on all humans, and Lewis, in typical form, addresses them without any fuss at all, describing great mysteries so plainly. I heartily recommend The Four Loves as an excellent handbook on what it means to love, and above all, a call to the highest life, “the true centre of all human life.”
Published on 28 September, 2016. Last updated on