Book Recommendation - The Four Loves C.S Lewis

December 1, 2015

The Four Loves by C.S Lewis is one of my all time favourite books. In it, Lewis examines the four words that the Greeks used for the English word love: storage (affection), philia (friendship), eros (romantic love) and agape (divine love). Lewis explores these aspects of human love from a Christian and philosophical perspective. But this is not a dry, weighty, theological tome. In just over 140 pages, Lewis reflects on the virtues and dangers of love drawing on a wide range of source material including Milton, Jane Austen and St. Augustine. Lewis makes the subject extremely personal and practical showing how easily natural loves can go wrong leading to selfishness and destruction. A highlight of the book is Lewis' use of a number of brilliant and humorous illustrations to show the loves in action. One critic notes that "The images are so realistically drawn and so alive you are sure to recognize someone you know or live with - or maybe even yourself." In 1958, Lewis recorded a series of radio talks based on the early drafts of the book. These have been compiled into an Audio Book which is currently available on the Amazons' Audible service. Lewis was a brilliant presenter and lecturer with resonant baritone voice an it may be well worth your while to consume the book in this form.

Lewis' starting point are the words of St John that "God is Love". At first, he postulates that from a human point of view, there must be two categories of love. Gift-love, which is illustrated by a man working to provide for his family, and Need-love as illustrated by the child seeking comfort in a mother's arms. It may seem that Divine love of God is Gift-love, but this leads to a paradox:

One Need-love, the greatest of all, either coincides with or at least makes a main ingredient in man’s highest, healthiest, and most realistic spiritual condition... Man approaches God most nearly when he is in one sense least like God... This paradox staggered me when I first ran into it; it also wrecked all my previous attempts to write about love.”

Next, Lewis examines the notion of pleasure. He makes the distinction between Need-pleasure (for e.g. the quenching of thirst) and the Pleasure of Appreciation (such as the love of painting or of nature). This prompts Lewis to add a third category or love , which he calls Appreciative love. Lewis then explores the way these three types of love are manifested in the relationships between God and humanity: In need-love, the human "cries to God from our poverty"; in gift-love, the human "longs to serve, or even to suffer for, God"; and in appreciative love, the human says to God, "We give thanks to thee for thy great glory."

Throughout the rest of the book Lewis uses these concepts as the building blocks for his analysis of the Four Loves. So for example, in his analysis of Affection, he notes that it is characterised by the easy Appreciation of the family, familiar surroundings, favorite things and people. But he notes that at its highest level we have the reciprocal Need-love of an infant and the Gift-love of the Mother. On the other hand, Friendship, exhibits the least amount of Need-love and perhaps the highest degree of Appreciative love. In contrast, Romantic love or Eros may seem to be all about Need-love but it also moves the lover to give all for the Beloved:

in one high bound it oversteps the massive wall of our selfhood and makes appetite itself altruistic


Lewis starts his exploration by looking at Affection or storge which is apparently the simplest of the loves. Affection is the love of family and for familiar things. Affection:

almost slinks or seeps through our lives. It lives with humble, un-dress, private things; soft slippers, old clothes, old jokes, the thump of a sleepy dog’s tail on the kitchen floor...

It occurs naturally between people who find themselves together by no act of their own, and "it ignores the barriers of age, sex, class and education". Affection as the most humble of the loves is often taken for granted. But Lewis notes that:

Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our lives

However, Lewis believed there was dangers if we try to live by Affection alone. Affection will "go bad on us". Affection has the appearance of being "built-in" or "ready made" and as a result, people come to expect it no matter how badly they behave. Affection can easily be corrupted by such forces as jealousy, ambivalence and smothering. Friendship


Next, Lewis looked at Philia, the love that is most associated with Friendship. Lewis describes it as:

the least biological, organic, instinctive, gregarious and necessary...the least natural of loves.Our species does not need friendship in order to reproduce, but to the classical and medieval worlds it is a higher-level love because it is freely chosen.

Lewis believed the friendship arises out of Companionship but only occurs when companions:

discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, "What? You too? I thought I was the only one.

Lewis believes that Friendship is in some ways the most “spiritual”, the least jealous and most free and open of the loves, linking persons “at their highest level of individuality.”

We picture lovers face to face, but friends side by side; their eyes look ahead.

Of course Lewis was not blind to the dangers of friendships, such as its potential to lead to the development of exclusive cliques and circles. He warns that it can be a:

school for vice as well as a school for virtue,” and its peculiar, and very spiritual vice is pride, which appears when it gets us to lock step with chosen kindred spirits and exclude everyone else.


Eros has to do with the state of “being in love” and is not necessarily what we currently think of as erotic love. Lewis distinguished Eros from sexuality, which he called Venus.

The thing [sex] is a sensory pleasure; that is, an event occurring within one's own body. We use a most unfortunate idiom when we say of the lustful man... that he "wants a woman." Strictly speaking, .. He wants a pleasure for which a woman happens to be the necessary piece of apparatus. How much he cares about the woman as such may be gauged by his attitude to her five minutes after fruition....Now Eros makes a man really want, not a woman, but one particular woman.

Eros then transforms the Need-pleasure of "Venus" to the most appreciative of all pleasures. However, Lewis warned that there was a danger that

the lovers will idolize each other but that they will idolize Eros himself

In this chapter Lewis makes some of interesting observations on a number of topics including the nature of Christian marriage and the notion of the husband as the head of the marriage. He warns that to qualify for such "headship" the husband must pass a stern test.

The husband is the head of the wife just in so far as he is to her what Christ is to the Church - read on - and give his life for her (Eph. V, 25). This headship, then, is most fully embodied not in the husband we should all wish to be but in him whose marriage is most like a crucifixion; whose wife receives most and gives least, is most unworthy of him, is - in her own mere nature - least lovable.

Lewis notes that while Eros may be an extremely profound experience

Eros honoured without reservation and obeyed unconditionally can obeyed unconditionally, becomes a demon.

Lewis warns that Eros because of its "strength, sweetness, terror and high port" Eros

...needs to be ruled. The god dies or becomes a demon unless he obeys God.

Eros may be distorted

...mercilessly chaining together two mutual tormentors, each raw all over with the poison of hate-in-love, each ravenous to receive and implacably refusing to give, jealous, suspicious, resentful, struggling for the upper hand, determined to be free and to allow no freedom, living on "scenes."


Finally Lewis treats with “Charity” which is the English translation of the Latin Caritas and the Greek Agape. This is the word for love which occurs most often in the New Testament. Charity is kind of love that goes beyond our nature. Charity is divine love itself, the source of all the others. Affection, Friendship, and Eros “cannot even remain themselves” or keep from fading or mutating without the help of Charity. He likened the relationship to be like that of a garden:

It is no disparagement to the garden to say it will not fence and weed itself, nor prune its own fruit trees, nor roll and cut its own lawns...It will remain a garden only if someone does all these things to it...If you want to see the difference between [the garden's] contribution and the gardener's, put the commonest weed it grows side by side with his hoes rakes, shears, and a packet of weed killer; you have put beauty, energy, and fecundity beside dead, sterile things. Just so, our 'decency and common sense' show grey and deathlike beside the geniality of love.

Lewis seeks to refute the claim that natural loves are somehow in competition with the love for God. In in fact, Lewis believes that humans are far more likely to love our fellow human beings too little than too much. Rather than being in competition, the presence of divine love, when it rules in the human heart, nurtures and strengthens all the natural loves.

In a similar vein he addresses the view of St. Augustine (Confessions IV, 10) that one should try to avoid the dangers of the natural loves by

Giving ones heart to anything but God. All human beings pass away. Do not let your happiness depend on something you may lose. If love is to be a blessing, not a misery. It must be for the only Beloved who will never pass away.

Lewis saw this a adopting a "self-invited and self-protective lovelessness" and warned

There is no safe investment. 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

The essence of this quotation has been made into a web comic by Zen Pencils and then into a YouTube animation:

For Lewis, it is Charity that transforms all the natural loves. It is not a substitute itself for the natural loves. As in the mystery of the Incarnation, in which Christ is perfect God and perfect man, so our natural loves are meant to remain perfectly what they are, joined to, purified and inspirited by the graced love of Charity

All the activities (sins only excepted) of the natural loves can in a favoured hour become works of the glad and shameless and grateful Need-love or of the selfless, unofficious Gift-love which are both Charity. Nothing is either too trivial or too animal to be thus transformed. A game, a joke, a drink together, idle chat, a walk, the act of Venus—all these can be modes in which we forgive or accept forgiveness, console or are reconciled, in which we ‘seek not our own.’ Thus in our very instincts, appetites and recreations, Love has prepared for Himself ‘a body.’


There are two strong themes running through the book. Firstly, at every stage of his analysis Lewis shows how and why "good loves" go bad because none of the natural loves are self-sufficient. All of them, conceal traps and pitfalls that can darken and degrade human lives—if left to themselves. Affection can degenerate into sentimentality or smothering. Eros can become a demon, hate filled, all-consuming and destructive, leading to “cruel and perjured unions, even to suicide-pacts and murder.Friendship can descend into elite cliques and the pride from belonging to a special group that excludes everyone else. It is only Agape has no dark side.

The second over arching theme is that Agape can save the other loves from themselves. This is so because Charity is not a rival of the natural loves or even a perfect blue print or an unattainable model for the natural loves. Charity can build on and perfect the natural loves, mixing and mingling with them, strengthening and transforming them. As Lewis notes in the case of Affection

As gin is not only a drink in itself but also a base for many mixed drinks, so Affection, besides being a love itself, can enter into the other loves and colour them all through and become the very medium in which from day to day they operate. They would perhaps not wear very well without it.

Lewis exposes the dangers of the natural loves in in our lives in order to lead us a solution: Divine Agape love that God has for men and women and the kind we must strive nurture and develop in our own relationships.