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Philosophy & Love

The Fourfold Loves of C.S. Lewis and Benedict XVI

David Goicoechea compares two Christian understandings of love.

On Christmas Day 2005, Pope Benedict XVI published the Encyclical Letter, Deus Caritas Est (‘God is love’). By March 6, 2006, Andrea Monda was already raising questions about the influence on the Holy Father of the scholar, Christian writer and children’s author C.S. Lewis (1898-1963). Monda, writing on the website catholic.org, made several interesting comparisons, which I would like to further supplement by showing how there is not only a threefold but a fourfold sense to both Benedict’s and Lewis’s theories of love.

In his book Beyond Personality (1944), Lewis gives a clear example of how one might relate to the Christian three-in-one God of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He writes:

“You may ask, if we can’t imagine a three personal Being, what is the good in talking about him? The thing that matters is being actually drawn into that three-personal life, and that may begin any time tonight, if you like. What I mean is this. An ordinary simple Christian kneels down to say his prayers. He is trying to get in touch with God [the Father]. But if he is Christian he knows that what is prompting him to pray is also God. God is, so to speak, inside him [the Holy Spirit]. But he knows also that all his real knowledge of God comes through Christ – the man who was God – that Christ [the Son] is standing beside him helping him to pray, praying for him. You see what is happening. God is the thing beyond the whole universe to which he is praying – the goal he is trying to reach. God is also the thing inside him which is pushing him on – the motive power. God is also the road or bridge along which he is being pushed towards that goal. So that the whole threefold life of the three-personal Being is actually going on in that ordinary little bedroom where an ordinary man is saying his prayers.” (p.17)

Lewis could here be said to be treating the Father as the giver of gifts, the incarnate Son as the needy one suffering for others’ needs, and the Holy Spirit as the appreciative love between them, and thus laying out a descriptive definition of God in terms of the three traits of love, gift love (agape in Greek), need love (eros) and appreciative love (philos). But when Benedict XVI prays, there is an added dimension. He also prays to Mary, the Mother of God, that she will pray for him and for all of his flock, this exemplifying motherly or familial love (storge in Greek). Is there also this kind of fourth dimension in C.S. Lewis, even though he never much writes about Marian devotion, that is, about Christ’s mother’s love?

Lewis is critical of any love if it is merely one or twofold, that is, if it has only one or two of the aspects of love. It has to become threefold to prevent abjection and destruction. But if we look carefully, is not saving love really fourfold, and includes the nurturing, familial, maternal/paternal type of love?

Lewis himself does not write of three loves; he writes of four. In his childrens’ novel, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (1950) (made into a feature film by Disney in 2005) there are not three children, but four, each of them representing aspects of love. Is not Peter the affectionate father-figure of the little family (storge)? Does not Susan stand side-by-side with each in friendship (i.e., appreciative love)? Does Edmund’s story not represent Lewis’s drama of eros? Does not the child-like Lucy belong to the kingdom of unconditional love, or charity (agape)?

In The Four Loves (1960), Lewis quotes Denis de Rougemont (“Love ceases to be a demon only when he ceases to be a god”) to express how each of the four loves he mentions can on its own become addictive and lead to various maladies of the soul and even be self-destructive. He says that if our loves are obsessive and limited, then we will get frozen into a set of habits which only lead us deeper and deeper into the madness Kierkegaard defines as “an enclosing reserve that unfreely discloses itself all of a sudden out of boredom” (The Concept of Anxiety, tr. Reidar Thomte, pp.123-137). In The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe this madness is exemplified in Edmund, whom the White Witch lured into her ‘enclosed reserve’ through his desire (eros) for Turkish delight. Through him she also planned to lure his brother and sisters into the same frozen morass of secretive problems as he now found himself in. Yet Edmund, in his obsessive relation with the witch, was bored, for even Turkish delight could not satisfy the need for love which was fulfilled in his little sister, Lucy, by the magic of her open-ended love.

Jesus’s hard saying in Luke 14:27 shows just what it takes to make the transition from Edmund’s addictive madness of desire to Lucy’s magical freedom: “If any man comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers sisters, yes, and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple.” What would it mean for Edmund to ‘hate’ himself and all of his loved ones to follow after Aslan and really start loving fully as Lucy loved?

We need to explore a two-fold answer to this question of release into full love. Could Edmund become aware of the madness of his desire and chip away at it with his own efforts, to move from madness to joy and freedom? Or might he be surprised by joy with a conversion that reveals new dimensions of his problems as a human being? Can he be converted to a way of relating that brings him to a hatred of his former fixated thinking because he has been released by his new master?

Overcoming the Limitations of Love

In The Four Loves Lewis tells the story of love and personal growth. Through affection (storge) a needy child can receive the gift of a double security, since mother-love can let the child feel secure within his or her self, and father-love can let the child feel secure with others. If I have a confident security within self and with others, then I can stand side-by-side with friends and we can appreciate the world together ( philos). Friendship can give us the gift of appreciating values, but I may not attain vital intellectual and spiritual values in a sustained way just with my friends. I might seek, for example, the virtue of chastity, but not really be pure of heart. Yet eros (need love) can come along, and as I stand face-to-face enraptured in my beloved, I can be motivated to do things for her. For example, if she were coming over for dinner I might work much harder to make a nice meal than I would for myself alone. As with Plato and Dante and the tradition of erotic inspiration up to Kierkegaard in Repetition, my passion for my beautiful beloved might even give me the gift of chastity, which not only increases my passion but which can be sublimated into the joy of (for example) writing. In Works of Love (1847), Søren Kierkegaard shows how rather than being positive sources of personal thriving, both friendship and eros can be self-preferential loves. My friend might be the other half of my soul, but others can be a bother and nuisance. In the fixated world of obsessive, erotic relations, I can love my beloved’s beauty, talent, grace and power, as they feed my ego. Yet unconditional, divine love can allow them to be dethroned and the love of self I feed through them be made into love of others.

As both psychoanalysts and confessors know, family life is all-important for our future relations. As Benedict XVI describes his early family life in Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977, there was always a healthy, balancing fourfold love relationship at work there. Mother and child never got fixated on each other. The child was not the mother’s everything. In the fixated world of addictive relations, the mother loves her child more than any other child and as her absolute love, but Benedict XVI’s mother also loved her husband and her God, and her love for her child was balanced by all of that. His father also had a balanced fourfold love: the father loved his wife, his children, his God and his profession, in which he struggled during Nazi times. There were great trials and tribulations during those times, but the family was four-square strong as holy mother church encouraged the children into a spirit of reverence and devotion. The future Benedict was nourished fourfold by the faith of the Creed, the hope of the Our Father, the love of the Sacraments, and the discipline of the Ten Commandments.

C.S. Lewis’s family upbringing was much more troubled. He begins chapter one of his memoir Surprised by Joy (1955) with Milton’s words: “Happy, but for so happy ill-secured” and ends that chapter with these words: “With my mother’s death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable disappeared from my life. There was to be much fun, many pleasures, many stabs of joy; but no more the old security.” He had neither security within from mother, nor security with others. From his father and his brother he was always quite alienated, so his psychological life was a lot like that of Edmund’s, and he saw religion as a self-caressing luxury. Love for Lewis, as for Edmund, was self-love.

Lewis and Edmund lived parallel lives, and there is a strong similarity of plot in Surprised by Joy, The Four Loves, and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Edmund, like Lewis, became cut off from his father figure, his mother figure, and from his siblings. But in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Lucy becomes the Star of the Sea and the Seat of Wisdom, and the mediatrix of grace who brings Edmund to Aslan. Edmund is delivered from the ‘enclosing reserve’ of his madness; but would this have happened without Lucy, the Mary figure, giving unconditional, magical love? The atheistic Edmund began to thaw, and soon Lucy could lead him to Aslan, who died for him. He began to follow Aslan, and was given the command to initiate more inclusive love relations: he could love his neighbor as himself if he properly loved God. But he was also told that unless he hated the object of his former friendship, the White Witch, he could not be a follower of Aslan. When Edmund was locked in with the Witch he was really sitting on the throne of his self-love. To follow Aslan he had to dethrone himself as his own absolute. Similarly, Lewis writes in Surprised by Joy: “I felt as if I were a man of snow at long last beginning to melt. The melting was starting in my back – drip-drip and presently trickle, trickle. I rather disliked the feeling.” But slowly he came to Aslan (Jesus). Just as out of love Aslan sacrificed himself for Edmund, so did Jesus for Lewis.

Even though Edmund’s little sister, Lucy, is always innocent, she suffers greatly because of his self-centered loves. In the story, as he watched her suffering with an ‘I love you’ which reached across the infinite distance of affliction, he began to hate the people around him and even his self. But Edmund, in beginning to imitate Lucy, began to imitate Aslan, who died praying for the forgiveness of those who persecuted him, for they did not know what they were doing. C.S. Lewis, in the very structure of his Christian allegory, has Lucy praying for Edmund and so, metaphorically, like Mary, for all of us.

Masculine & Feminine Principles of Love

At the end of Surprised by Joy Lewis tells us of his conversion, which made him first a theist, and then a follower of Jesus, with all that that implies. Fr Edward Zogby, S.J., in his article in The Longing for a Form: Essays on the Fiction of C.S. Lewis (ed. Peter J. Schakel, 1977), writes: “Having discovered the archetype of gender in the tension between human and divine love, Lewis began to seriously explore the archetype. In the polar opposites between masculine and feminine, Lewis found the natural reasonableness for belief in Christ and in the Trinity. The Space Trilogy, which includes Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength, is an exploration on a grand scale of this archetype of gender.”

Lewis’s main points about love and gender are that the soul needs to become feminine in order to fully relate to God, who is masculine, and “The union resulting from the participation in the polar tension is holiness.” By ‘the feminine’, Lewis means the receptive and the nurturing. Lucy as the mediatrix of grace, communicates to Edmund the quiet, humble, receptive, nurturing way of the feminine, so that he too can become sensitive to all the suffering that his egoistic loves have brought to others. Thus Lucy leads Edmund to move from a self-realization ethics to an other-realization ethics, and to move, as Kierkegaard would say, from absolutely loving the absolute, to most passionately relatively loving the relative.

Benedict XVI has written of the feminine way of truth in his book Theology of History in St. Bonaventure (1971). The medieval theologian Bonaventure developed a theory of truth whereby unlimited seeds of ideas transform and get transformed within a historical event, and can even renew the past (ie, change its meaning). Bonaventure argued that the resulting complexity could lead straightforward ‘masculine’ reason into skepticism; but ironically, that skepticism could open up opportunities for a new honest, humble, humorous, healthy feminine ethics, well beyond the pretentious, proud, ponderous, paranoiac ways of the mere masculine. This is why when we speak about knowing truth, we must speak of a powerful sense of love, and not merely of knowledge based on correspondence, coherence or performance – all of which senses of truth Lewis went beyond when he showed the limits of allegory which was still a masculine, linear way of thinking.

The Queen Of Heaven And Earth

Benedict XVI concludes his letter ‘God is Love’ with a prayer to Mary. He also says that “Mary’s greatness consists in the fact that she wants to magnify God, not herself.” Is this not also what Lewis thinks? In The Pilgrim’s Regress (1933) he writes, “Be sure that the whole of this land... spoke through her lips when she said that He had regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden…” (p.184) So when C.S. Lewis and Benedict XVI reflect upon Mary, they focus on her surrendering and humility. They both emphasize how she magnifies God and not herself. In the same way, Lucy magnifies Aslan and not herself. So, once we believe in the incarnation of God, our theology will have a fourfold sense of love: out of love the Father creates us, the Son redeems us, the Holy Spirit sanctifies us, and Mary shows us how to respond.

This fourfold sense of love works well sociologically, psychologically and with mystical theology. The primary social institution, the family, needs the four loves. If like Edmund we are frozen in a two-way relationship with mother or father or the Witch or something else, then we will destroy ourselves or others in the madness of our enclosing reserve. But if Lucy brings Edmund to Aslan, and Aslan (Christ) redeems him, then there will also be love for God, family and neighbor as well as self. If a psychologist watches our journey of personal growth, she will see how we can get fixated in the throes of affection, in a fixed friendship, a fixed eros, and even in an absolute relation to the absolute. But we can be saved from this by a nurturing mother who shows us how to be secure in a humble joy that lets us be at home with all. If we practice spiritual exercises to go through purification to illumination to unification, we can still get locked into the self-obsession that is forgetful of social justice and the plight of each individual. But mother Mary can teach us to pray and work in the humble nurturing spirit that seeks justice for all.

Like C.S. Lewis and Benedict XVI, we are called to believe in the living love of the three-leafed clover, that is, in the Trinity. But in the incarnation, those heavenly leaves sprouted a stem that went down into the humble elements of water, air, fire and earth – now there is Father, Son, Holy Spirit, and our elemental Mother who loves and cares for all things. And like Lucy, she seeks to bring each of us to her great loving and saving God. In God’s Kingdom of love, justice and peace, she is the queen not only of earth, but through her Son’s wisdom and power, even of all the heavenly spheres.

© Prof. David Goicoechea 2011

David Goicoechea is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Brock University in St Catharines, Ontario. His new book Agape and Personhood: With Kierkegaard, Mother and Paul (A Logic of Reconciliation from the Shamans to Today) is published by Wipf & Stock.

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

In C.S. Lewis’s novel The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, four children go through a wardrobe to the magical land of Narnia, which is in perpetual winter due to the curse of the White Witch. She lures Edmund into her confidence by tempting him with Turkish delight, hoping to use him to trap the other children who are serving the lion-king of Narnia, Aslan (who symbolises Christ) in trying to free the land from the cold. Through the love of the other children, Edmund is redeemed, but not before Aslan is sacrificed on Edmund’s behalf, freely giving himself for Edmund’s sake. Yet this sacrifice is ‘strong magic’: Aslan is resurrected, defeats the Witch, and frees the land.

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