August 28th, 2012How Many Loves?by Joseph Pearce

One of the dangers of writing blog-posts is that one tends to shoot from the hip, without too much forethought. It could truly be said that bloggers rush in where scholars fear to tread. This being so, I am aware of a heady and heedless recklessness as I prepare to sound forth on C. S. Lewis’ “Four Loves”, daring to criticize the great man without taking the time and trouble to re-read his seminal work on the subject. I am prompted to do so by the arrival of a new book on my desk entitled The Fifth Love by Michael Karounos.

            I’ll come to Karounos’ book in a moment. First, however, let’s remind ourselves of the “Four Loves” as enumerated by Lewis. These are Affection (storge), Friendship (philia), Eros and Charity (caritas or agape). Lewis also distinguishes between “gift-love” and “need-love”, reminding us that much of our love for God is, of necessity, the latter, lesser kind of love. As we are creatures, dependent upon God, our love is largely dictated by our needs.

            Karounos lists and defines his five loves as follows:

Affectionate-love: to be loved, the beloved must be lovable

Fond-love: to be loved, the beloved must be useful

Aesthetic-love: to be loved, the beloved must be beautiful

Selfless-love: to be loved, the lover must love first

Covenant-love: to be loved, love as one is loved

            It seems to me that Lewis and Karounos have offered us sagacious insights into the nature of human relationships and human affections but they have not really defined love in its unitive essence. Dare I suggest that there are not four loves or five loves but only one love? Theologically understood, isn’t love a virtue? It’s a gift to the beloved by the ultimate and primal Lover. Having received the gift, which is not ours for the taking, we act virtuously in the self-sacrificial giving of the gift back to the One who gave it to us. This fruitful dynamism is at the heart of the Christian life.

            But isn’t this love rightly known as caritas of agape, the highest of the loves, and doesn’t it need to be distinguished from other and lower forms of love? I would argue that caritas is the only love and that we have to give this love to our neighbor in the same way that we give it to our God. Isn’t this the essence of the great Commandment of Christ that we love the Lord Our God and that we love our neighbor?

            But what of our love for our wife or husband? Isn’t it different from our love for our children or the love for our parents or our friends? I would argue that our feelings might be different but our love is essentially the same.

            Let’s remind ourselves that love is a gift and a virtue. It is the same gift received from the same Giver whether we pour forth that to God or neighbor, or spouse, child, parent or friend. Love is the giving of ourselves self-sacrificially for the Other. The nature of the love is not dependent upon the “other” to which it is given, still less is it defined by the “other”. It seems to me that to define love in the way in which it is defined by Lewis and Karounos is to make the error of confusing the essence of love with its accidental qualities.

            The fact is that the great C. S. Lewis was sometimes blinded by his romanticism, which is to say that he sometimes let his feelings get the better of him.

            Pace Lewis and Karounos and the implicit pluralism of their respective positions, there are not four loves, or five, but only one.   

Enjoy this post? Share it with others.

Facebook Favicon TwitThis Favicon

What are your thoughts on the subject?

Remember my personal information

Notify me of follow-up comments?

Submit the word you see below:


  • August 28 2012 | by Kevin O'Brien

    Joseph, you're on the money here, except I think it's legitimate to look at these qualities of love as "aspects" of love, rather than "accidents" of love. In fact, the encyclical "God is Love" is all about the unity of love - particularly the unity of Eros and Agape. Indeed, the Holy Father has thereby given a kind of magisterial weight to the truth that even desirous love (eros) and self-giving love (agape) are simply two elements of the same unity - and that without both elements, eros becomes manipulative and agape becomes condescending, a kind of heartless thing.

    I have written about this at length, here at the Ink Desk and even once in the pages of StAR.

    In fact, I'll go further. I'm about to post an article about the interplay of love with fighting - not something the world wants to admit these days.
  • August 29 2012 | by Dena Hunt

    It is as dangerous to comment as it is to post sometimes, when it's done "from the hip," as you say. But without sufficient time for leisurely reflection this morning, I'll risk it.

    Thank goodness. I've read (and secretly disagreed with) C.S. Lewis' classifications of love, but never publicly took issue with a work of his that is so universally admired. Because of my long admiration for just about everything he ever said, I've doubted myself in this "secret" disagreement.

    I'd go further-- I'd add another point to what you've said: The degree of "lovableness" a person, child, pet (whatever) may be endowed with is not the degree to which he is loved. It's the degree to which certain chemicals in the brain of the beholder are aroused.

    Love (ANY love) is an action, not a condition. It's an act of the will, a decision (and not always an easy one); it's a choice we make, not a condition we find ourselves in ("accidentally"), not something that arises out of our own situation, our own feelings, attraction, or revulsion, or needs, or anything else. Affection, eroticism, maternal/paternal-ism, "need" love (emotional dependence), the comforts of companionship and familiarity--tenderness--none of these is Love. They are the diverse, disparate conditions of our lives, bonds, and sometimes bondages. of our diverse and disparate lives. We use one word to cover all sorts of emotional responses to all sorts of relationships.

    All of that is okay--unless we try to take these false classifications and definitions to the bank, unless we try to make judgments of ourselves or of others on the basis of such divisions of human emotion. And that happens far more often than love happens.