The Four Loves – Chapter 1 (“Introduction”)

Four Loves 1

Four Loves 1

Our San Diego C.S. Lewis Reading Group will starting a new book this week, The Four Loves.

Once again I will be providing an outline of the arguments presented in each chapter, together with quotations and explanatory notes. The chapters in this book are generally a good bit longer than our previous book (Mere Christianity), so I may well experiment with the format of these posts as I work through each chapter.

Notes and Quotes

1. Lewis thought that St. John’s statement that “God is love” would provide a clear plan for this book

“‘God is love,’ says St. John. When I first tried to write this book I thought
that his maxim would provide me with a very plain highroad through the
whole subject. I thought I should be able to say that human loves deserved
to be called loves at all just in so far as they resembled that Love which is

2. He therefore divided love into two types:

(a) Gift-love

“The typical example of Gift-love would be that love which moves a man to work and plan and save for the future well-being of his family which he will die without sharing or seeing”

(b) Need-love

“…that which sends a lonely or frightened child to its mother’s arms”

3. These types of love reflect both divinity and humanity

(a) Divine Love

“Divine Love is Gift-love. The Father gives all He is and has to the Son. The Son gives Himself back to the Father and gives Himself to the world, and for the world to the Father, and thus gives the world (in Himself) back to the Father too”

(b) Relation to God

“…what…can be less like anything we believe of God’s life than Need-love? He lacks nothing… We are born helpless. As soon as we are fully conscious we discover loneliness. We need others physically, emotionally, intellectually; we need them if we are to know anything, even ourselves”

3. Lewis thought he could just praise Gift-love and disparage Need-love

“I was looking forward to writing some fairly easy panegyrics on the first
sort of love and disparagements of the second… But I would not now deny the name love to Need-love… The reality is more complicated than I supposed”

In this section, Jack uses the term “panegyrics” which refers to a speech in which something is praised. He also refers to his “master, MacDonald” was an author and minister he greatly admired, George MacDonald.

He thought it more complicated for two reasons:

(a) We do violence to language

“…language is not an infallible guide, but it contains, with all its defects, a good deal of stored insight and experience. If you begin by flouting it, it has a way of avenging itself later on”

In this section, he warns us against making words mean whatever we please like… Humpty Dumpty. This is a reference to Alice through the looking glass where he says “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

(b) Selfishness?

(i) We don’t call our need for love, “selfishness”

“No doubt Need-love, like all our impulses, can be selfishly indulged… But in ordinary life no one calls a child selfish because it turns for comfort to its mother; nor an adult who turns to his fellow ‘for company'”

(ii) We need each other

“Those… who do so least are not usually the most selfless… it is in general the mark of the cold egoist… Since we do in reality need one another (‘it is not good for man to be alone’), then the failure of this need to appear…is a Bad spiritual symptom; just as lack of appetite is a bad medical symptom because men do really need food”

(iii) By necessity we need God!

“…man’s love for God…must often be entirely, a Need-love. This is obvious when we implore forgiveness for our sins or support in our tribulations…[and] even more apparent in our growing…awareness that our whole being by its very nature is one vast need; incomplete, preparatory, empty yet cluttered, crying out for Him who can untie things that are now knotted together and tie up things that are still dangling loose”

(iv) We may be able to bring something else than pure Need-love, but it will be built on Need-Love

“I do not say that man can never bring to God anything at all but sheer Need-love. Exalted souls may tell us of a reach beyond that. But they would also… be the first to tell us that those heights… would become… diabolical illusions, the moment a man dared to think that he could live on them and henceforth drop out the element of need. “The highest,” says the Imitation, “does not stand without the lowest.”

Jack refers to “the Imitation” Thomas à Kempis’ devotional classic The Imitation of Christ. “Neo-Platonic” refers to the philosophy of Neo-Platonism.

(v) In fact, we arrive at a paradox in that we come close to God when we are least like Him

“…Need-love…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. For what can be more unlike than fullness and need, sovereignty and humility, righteousness and penitence, limitless power and a cry for help?”

4. Nearness to God may be thought of in different ways

(a) There are two main kinds of nearness

(i) Likeness

“God has impressed some sort of likeness to Himself, I suppose, in all that He has made.”Space and time, in their own fashion, mirror His greatness; all life, His fecundity; animal life, His activity. Man has a more important likeness than these by being rational. Angels, we believe, have likenesses which Man lacks: immortality and intuitive knowledge. In that way all men, whether good or bad, all angels including those that fell, are more like God than the animals are. Their natures are in this sense “nearer” to the Divine Nature.

(ii) Nearness of approach

“…the states in which a man is ‘nearest’ to God are those in which he is most surely and swiftly approaching his final union with God”

(b) This is like walking to a village through the mountains

“Perhaps an analogy may help. Let us suppose that we are doing a mountain walk to the village which is our home. At mid-day we come to the top of a cliff, where we are, in space, very near it because it is just below us…[but] we must go a long way round; five miles, maybe. At many points during that detour we shall, statically, be far further from the village than we were when we sat above the cliff. But only statically. In terms of progress we shall be far ‘nearer’ our baths and teas”

(c) Nearness of likeness doesn’t necessarily mean nearness of approach

“…happiness, strength, freedom and fertility…constitute likenesses, and in that way proximities, to God. But no one supposes that the possession of these gifts has any necessary connection with our sanctification”

(d) The likenesses differ in their characteristics

(i) Likeness is God-given, built-in and static

“…likeness…which God has conferred upon certain creatures…is something finished, built in. What is near Him by likeness is never, by that fact alone, going to be any nearer”

(ii) Nearness of approach is dynamic and involves our will

“…nearness of approach is, by definition, increasing nearness…however initiated and supported by Grace, is something we must do. Creatures are made in their varying ways images of God without their own collaboration or even consent. It is not so that they become sons of God”

5. God is love, but love is not God

“St. John’s saying that God is love has long been balanced in my mind against the remark of a modern author (M. Denis de Rougemont) that ‘love ceases to be a demon only when he ceases to be a god’; which of course can be re-stated in the form ‘begins to be a demon the moment he begins to be a god’…  If we ignore it the truth that God is love may slyly come to mean for us the converse, that love is God.

Jack refers to “Dennis de Rougemont”, who was a Swiss writer and cultural theorist.

(a) Human loves at its height can make divine claims

“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 override all other claims…”

(b) This is clearly recognized for some loves, but not for others

“That erotic love and love of one’s country may thus attempt to ‘become gods’ is generally recognised. But family affection may do the same. So, in a different way, may friendship”

6. Natural loves are most dangerous when they are at their best

“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… Our loves do not make their claim to divinity until the claim becomes plausible.

(a) Passion

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”

(b) Child indulgence

“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’.”

(c) Patriotism

“…the sort of love for 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”

7. We must not be either idolaters or debunkers of love

“It follows from what has been said that we must join neither the idolaters nor the ‘debunkers’ of human love…

…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. Sometimes perhaps they have not very much to do with it either way”

(a) Idolaters

“Idolatry both of erotic love and of ‘the domestic affections’ was the great error of Nineteenth Century literature…. they thought that falling in love was the same thing as sanctification…”

(b) Debunkers

“The debunkers stigmatise as slush and sentimentality a very great deal of what their fathers said in praise of love. They are always pulling up and exposing the grubby roots of our natural loves… [but] 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”


1. In what way does Jack first distinguish the different types of human love? Can you think of other examples not mentioned by Lewis?

2.  Why did Lewis ultimately decide that “Need-love” is a form love?

3. What were Jack’s misconceptions about the subject of love? How did his attitude change? Why?

4. Lewis says that denying Need-love “is a bad spiritual symptom”. Why do you think this happens in some people?

5. Why is our love for God predominantly Need-love?

6. Why is it a paradox that “Man approaches God most nearly when he is in one sense least like God”? Why is this a paradox? Why do you think that recognition of this wrecked Jack’s previous attempts to write about love?

7. Jack suggests that it might be possible to bring something other than only Need-Love to God. What would you imagine this be like? Can you think of any examples from the Saints?

8. Lewis quotes The Imitation of Christ, saying that “The highest does not stand without the lowest”. What does this mean?

9. How does Lewis distinguish “nearness by likeness” and “nearness of approach” to God?

10. What do you make of Rougemont’s remark that when we make love a god, it becomes a demon. Can you think of examples of this, either in Lewis’ works or real life?

11. Why is it that natural loves, when they are at their best, are in most danger of blasphemy?

12. Do you think modern society primarily an idolater or debunker of love? Which are you?!

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