"Love, having become a god, becomes a demon" (56).
The "natural loves" - familial love (storge), friendship (philia), and romantic love (eros) - must be guided and transformed by Charity (Lewis' term for agape - God's kind of love). Only in this way are the natural loves rightly ordered and eternally fruitful. When pursued for their own sake, the natural loves become twisted and disordered, losing their beauty and becoming demonic.
In his book, The Four Loves, Lewis develops this thesis in detail by describing each of the natural loves and their positive expressions and possible abuses when uninformed by Charity.
Before describing the four loves, Lewis distinguishes between "Gift-love" and "Need-love" (1). Lewis had originally planned to speak highly of the former and disparage the latter, but his attempts to do so "ended in puzzles and contradictions" (2). His conclusion: "I cannot now deny the name love to Need-love" (2). Need-love cannot be labeled as "mere selfishness" (2). A child's Need-love for its mother is not an expression of selfishness. Furthermore, "man's love for God? must always be largely, and must often be entirely, a Need-love" (3).
Lewis begins his discussion of love by considering love expressed as pleasures in what Lewis labels "the sub-human" -objects, ideas, or entities with the exception of human beings. These pleasures can be divided into two classes: "Need-pleasures" (pleasures that are preceded by desire, e.g. the pleasure of drinking a glass of water when thirsty) and "Pleasures of Appreciation" (pleasures that arise from encountering something intrinsically good, e.g. enjoying the smell of a flower garden). Need-pleasures come and go quickly. (The glass of water is quickly discarded once one's thirst is quenched.) Pleasures of appreciation are lasting and enjoyed in their own right. At this point in the book, Lewis suggests that Appreciation love is at the heart of worship: "Need-love cries to God from our poverty; Gift-love longs to serve, or even to suffer for, God; Appreciative love says: 'We give thanks to thee for thy great glory'" (17). In the final pages of the book, Lewis proposes that God's gracious awakening in an individual of "a supernatural Appreciative love" for God is "of all gifts the most to be desired" (140).
With this foundation, Lewis proceeds to consider the three "natural loves." He begins with Affection (storge), the natural and mutual affection between parents and children or between brothers and sisters. Paradoxically, Affection consists of both Need-love and Gift-love.
The Need and Need-love of the young is obvious; so is the Gift-love of the mother. She gives birth, gives suck, gives protection. On the other hand, she must give birth or die. She must give suck or suffer. That way, her Affection too is a Need-love. There is the paradox. It is a Need-love but what it needs is to give. It is a Gift-love, but it needs to be needed. (32)
Affection goes wrong when Gift-love "needs to give [and] therefore needs to be needed" rather than seeking "to put the recipient in a state where he no longer needs our gift" (50). Lewis illustrates this with Mrs. Fidget who "lived for her family" and drove them all crazy in the process!
Like the Ancients before him, Lewis exalts friendship love (philia) as "the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue" since it is entered into with complete freedom: "I have no duty to be anyone's Friend and no man in the world has a duty to be mine" (71). Unlike family and lovers, friends gather round a common interest (61, 65). For this reason "people who simply 'want friends' can never make any. The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends" (66). While lovers "are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; friends [are normally] side by side, absorbed in some common interest" (61). Friendship strengthens individuals. The opinion of a few friends can outweigh that of a thousand outsiders (79). Because of this, friendship can be a force for good or evil: "Friendship? makes good men better and bad men worse" (80).
Eros is not simply sexual desire (desiring sex itself) but a desire for the Beloved. A lustful man does not want a woman. "Strictly speaking, a woman is just what he does not want. He wants a pleasure for which a woman happens to be the necessary piece of apparatus" (94). "Eros does not aim at happiness" (106) being willing to "share unhappiness with the Beloved than be happy on any other terms" (107). Lovers are not likely to idolize one another as much as they are prone to idolize Eros itself. It is the nature of Eros to promise more than it can actually deliver.
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 he needs to be ruled. (115)
Lewis' contention is that the "natural loves are not self-sufficient" (116). They need what Lewis calls Charity (agape) - God's kind of love - to keep them from being disordered and corrupted. "The loves prove that they are unworthy to take the place of God by the fact that they cannot even remain themselves and do what they promise to do without God's help" (118). This is not to disparage the natural loves. A garden is good even though it needs tending. And weeding a garden brings even more life. We need the good garden of our natural loves to be tended, weeded, and "dressed" by Charity.
Simply put, when we give natural loves the unconditional allegiance we owe to God, they become demons. "The human loves can be glorious images of Divine love. No less? but also no more [than images] - proximities of likeness which in one instance may help, and in another may hinder" (9). Whether love for country, nature, family, friend, or lover, when love becomes a god it becomes a demon.
God's Gift-love is the primal love - a love that creates not out of necessity or want, but out of overflowing abundance. God's Gift-love gives itself with full awareness of the suffering involved:
This primal love is Gift-love. In God there is no hunger that needs to be filled, only plenteousness that desires to give... He creates the universe, already foreseeing - or should we say "seeing"? there are no tenses in God - the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath's sake, hitched up. If I may dare the biological image, God is a "host" who deliberately creates His own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and "take advantage of" Him. Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves. (126, 127)
If we are to truly love as God loves, then we must make ourselves vulnerable to pain and suffering.
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 to 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. (121)
Our love for others will not diminish but expand when informed and transformed by Charity. Charity causes the natural loves to flourish and grow, bearing fruit into eternity. In the end,
It is probably impossible to love any human being simply 'too much.' We may love him too much in proportion to our love for God; but it is the smallness of our love for God, not the greatness of our love for the man, that constitutes the inordinacy. (122)
The book is a helpful corrective in our contemporary world. Love, on its own, is not enough. We need God and God's kind of love to direct, inform, and transform all the possible types of love we experience. Our natural tendency to make idols - even out of good things - demands our constant awareness of our need for Charity in all things!
© Richard J. Vincent, 2004