Sunday, April 15, 2012

From "The Four Loves" by C.S. Lewis

Excerpts from C.S. Lewis’ “The Four Loves”I will be posting excerpts from each part of this small but important book of C.S. Lewis.  Today I am sharing from the introduction to this book the following thoughts:

“Every human love, at its height, has a tendency to claim for itself a divine authority.  Its voice tends to sound as if it were the will of God Himself.  It tells us not to count the cost, it demands of us a total commitment, it attempts to over-ride all other claims and insinuates that any action which is sincerely done “for love’s sake” is thereby lawful and even meritorious.  That erotic love and love of one’s country may thus attempt to “become gods” is generally recognized.  But family affection may do the same.  So, in a different way, may friendship.  I shall not here elaborate the point, for it will meet us again and again in later chapters.
          Now it must be noticed that the natural loves make this blasphemous claim not when they are in their worst, but when they are in their best, natural condition; when they are what our grandfathers called “pure” or “noble.”  This is especially obvious in the erotic sphere.  A faithful and genuinely self-sacrificing passion will speak to us with what seems the voice of God.  Merely animal or frivolous lust will not.  It will corrupt its addict in a dozen ways, but not in that way; a man may act upon such feelings but he cannot revere them any more than a man who scratches reveres the itch.  A silly woman’s temporary indulgence, which is really self-indulgence, to a spoiled child- her living doll while the fit lasts- is much less likely to “become a god” than the deep, narrow devotion of a woman who (quite really) “lives for her son.” And I am inclined to think that the sort of love of a man’s country which is worked up by beer and brass bands will not lead him to do much harm (or much good) for her sake. It will probably be fully discharged by ordering another drink and joining in the chorus.
          And this of course is what we ought to expect.  Our loves do not make their claim to divinity until the claim becomes plausible.  It does not become plausible until there is in them a real resemblance to God, to Love Himself.  Let us here make no mistake.  Our Gift-loves are really God-like; and among our Gift-loves those are most God-like which are most boundless and unwearied in giving.  All the things the poets say about them are true.  Their joy, their energy, their patience, their readiness to forgive, their desire for the good of the beloved—all this is a real and all but adorable image of the Divine life.  In its presence we are right to thank God “who has given such power to men.” We may say, quite truly and in an intelligible sense, that those who love greatly are “near” to God.  But of course it is “nearness by likeness.” It will not of itself produce “nearness of approach.” The likeness has been given us.  It has no necessary connection with that slow and painful approach which must be our own (though by no means our unaided) task.  Meanwhile, however the likeness is a splendor.  That is why we may mistake Like for Same.  We may give our human loves the unconditional allegiance which we owe only to God.  Then they become gods: then they become demons.  Then they will destroy us, and also destroy themselves.  For natural loves that are allowed to become gods do not remain loves.  They are still called so, but can become in fact complicated forms of hatred.
          Our Need-loves may be greedy and exacting but they do not set up to be gods.  They are not near enough (by likeness) to God to attempt that.
          It follows from what has been said that we must join neither the idolaters nor the “debunkers” of human love.  Idolatry both of erotic love and of “the domestic affections” was the great error of nineteenth –century literature.  Browning, Kingsley, and Patmore sometimes talk as if they thought that falling in love was the same thing as sanctification; the novelists habitually oppose to “the World” not the Kingdom of heaven but the home.  We live in the reaction against this.  The debunkers stigmatize as slush and sentimentality a very great deal of what their father said in praise of love.  They are always pulling up and exposing the grubby roots of our natural loves.  But I take it we must listen neither “to the over-wise nor to the over-foolish giant.” The highest does not stand without the lowest. A plant must have roots below as well as sunlight above and roots must be grubby.  Much of the grubbiness is clean dirt if only you will leave it in the garden and not keep on sprinkling it over the library table.  The human loves can be glorious images of Divine love.  No less than that: but also no more—proximities of likeness which in one instance may help, and in another may hinder, proximity of approach.  Sometime perhaps they have not very much to do with it either way." (pp 216-217)

C.S. Lewis “The Four Loves” in The Beloved Works of C.S. Lewis (Inspirational Press, New York, 1960)

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