Saturday, June 9, 2012

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


Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or tinkling cymbal.  And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.  Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly,  seeketh not her own is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things endueth all things.  Charity never faileth…” (1Corinthinans 13:1-8 King James Version)

This is my final excerpt from C.S. Lewis' "The Four Loves."  In browsing books stores or Amazon, take time to pick up this amazing little book not often read.  It is well worth your time.
A link is here.

Part VI Charity

In words which can still bring tears to the eyes, St. Augustine describes the desolation in which the death of his friend Nebridius plunged him (Confessions  IV, 10).  Then he draws a moral.  This is what comes, he says, of giving one’s 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 blessings, not a misery, it must be for the only Beloved who will never pass away.

            Of course this is excellent sense.  Don’t put your goods in a leaky vessel.  Don’t spend too much on a house you may be turned out of.  And there is no man alive who responds more naturally than I do to such canny maxims. I am safety-first creature.  Of all arguments against love none makes so strong an appeal to my nature as “Careful! This might lead you to suffering.”

            To my nature, my temperament, yes.  Not to my conscience.  When I respond to that appeal I seem to myself to be a thousand miles away from Christ.  If I am sure of anything I am sure that His teaching was never meant to confirm my congenital preferences for the safe investments and limited liabilities.  I doubt whether there is anything in me that pleases Him less.  And who could conceivably begin to love God on such a prudential ground—because the security (so to speak) is better? Who could even include it among the grounds for loving? Would you choose a wife or a Friend—if it comes to that, would you choose a dog—in this spirit? One must be outside the world of love, of all loves, before one thus calculates.  Eros, lawless Eros, preferring the Beloved to happiness, is more like Love himself that this.

            I think that this passage in the Confessions is less a part of St. Augustine’s Christendom than a hangover from the high-minded Pagan philosophies in which he grew up.  It is closer to Stoic “apathy” or neo-Platonic mysticism than to charity.  We follow One who wept over Jerusalem and at the grave of Lazarus, and, loving all, yet had one disciple whom, in a special sense, he “loved.” St. Paul has a higher authority with us than St. Augustine—St. Paul who shows no sign that he would not have suffered like a man, and no feeling that he ought not so to have suffered, if Epaphroditus had died (Phil.II, 27).

            Even if it were granted that insurances against heartbreak were our highest wisdom, does God Himself offer them?  Apparently not. Christ comes at last to say “Why hast thou forsaken me?”

            There is not escape along the lines St. Augustine suggests. Nor along any other lines. There is not safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possible 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.
           
C.S. Lewis “The Four Loves” in The Beloved Works of C.S. Lewis (1960, New York, Inspirational Press) 282-283
           

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