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By Deal W. Hudson

2/13/2014 (1 year ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

One of the books that made the biggest impression on me in my 20s was C.S. Lewis's Four Loves.

Even on a first reading, however, there was one theme in the Four Loves that troubled me: his distinction between love motivated by the self's need and love freely given by the self toward others and God.  What bothered me was Lewis's failure to underscore how need and gift are inextricably connected in the human person. In short, no person need apologize for their love arising out of their need.  Human persons are born in need and remain in need their entire lives. The need for friendship, the need for Divine love, is integral to our nature. In fact, each arises out of the most fundamental of all loves, our natural eros, the desire that drives our journey, our search towards human fulfillment. 

Highlights

By Deal W. Hudson

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

2/13/2014 (1 year ago)

Published in U.S.

Keywords: CS Lewsi, Books, culture, audiobooks, novels, short story, fiction, nonfiction, biography, autobiography, love, eros, agape, philia, storage, Deal W Hudson


WASHINGTON,DC (Catholic Online) - One of the books that made the biggest impression on me in my 20s was C.S. Lewis's Four Loves. Based upon radio shows broadcast by Lewis on the BBC, the four loves treated in his book are eros (desire), storge (maternal love), philia (friendship), and agape (Divine love). Looking at all of Lewis's work, the Four Loves illuminates in straight-forward but flowing language, some basic distinctions between all the kinds of love we call love. 

Such distinctions can make the common struggles of life both easier to understand and to bear.  I would put Aristotle's distinctions between the three types of friendship in his Nicomachean Ethics alongside Lewis's treatment of love as ideas that should be taught to everyone, not just those required to take an introductory philosophy or religion class.  Just as not all love is the same, not all love as friendship is the same. Aristotle drills more deeply than Lewis on the topic of philia. 

Even on a first reading, however, there was one theme in the Four Loves that troubled me: his distinction between love motivated by the self's need and love freely given by the self toward others and God.  What bothered me was Lewis's failure to underscore how need and gift are inextricably connected in the human person. In short, no person need apologize for their love arising out of their need.  Human persons are born in need and remain in need their entire lives. The need for friendship, the need for Divine love, is integral to our nature. In fact, each arises out of the most fundamental of all loves, our natural eros, the desire that drives our journey, our search towards human fulfillment. 

Many Catholic admirers of C.S. Lewis are surprised to find out he never left the Church of England. Books have been devoted to the question of why Lewis never became a Catholic.  One writer explains it as a simple matter of Lewis's place of birth, Belfast in Northern Ireland.  But I have never found a trace of anti-Catholic attitudes in any of Lewis's writing. Indeed, the bulk of his scholarly works were on Catholic texts from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, hardly the literature for someone with a grudge toward the Church of Rome. 

Not only does Lewis bifurcate need-love and gift-love, he virtually equates needs with self-centeredness, throwing a shadow over any act of love that may fulfill, or seek to fulfill, a human.  It is at moments like that Lewis's Protestantism is manifest; that deep suspicion that human nature has sullied our natural desire for God, making eros itself the most likely vehicle of the need-love that Lewis wants us to purge. 

Don't call this an attack on C.S. Lewis, along with Bishop Fulton Sheen, the greatest Christian apologist of the mid-twentieth century.  Might I point out that perhaps his most famous book, Mere Christianity, would not have been so titled by a Catholic writer. Catholic Christianity is the opposite of a "mere" view of teaching and tradition; if anything a Catholic version of Mere Christianity would be entitled, The Everything of Christianity.

What does the Catholic faith say about the fundamental human needs that inhabit eros as it searches the earth and sky for answers to the human condition and ultimate fulfillment? I've never seen this explained better than in the final chapters of Etienne Gilson's magisterial The Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. Gilson traces the same issue of human eros dogged by the burden of falseness.

Following Aquinas to his supernatural account of God's agape, he explains that the self-love, the self-concern at the heart of eros, is redeemed when by faith we learn to love ourselves, to desire that our needs be met with the grace of God's own agape. Thus, eros is lifted up from its fallenness, not by excoriating it with the demands of a gift it cannot make, but by placing the human person in the presence of Him whose love can infuse our own, turning our desire towards what is truly good, and the source of final happiness.

Deal W. Hudson, Ph.D

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Deal W. Hudson is president of the Morley Institute of Church and Culture, Senior Editor and Movie Critic at Catholic Online, and former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine.This column and subsequent contributions are an excerpt from a forthcoming book. Dr. Hudson's new radio show, Church and Culture, will begin broadcasting in February on the Ave Maria Radio Network.

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