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The Three Loves of Episcopalians
by Michael R. Bowen, M.D.
24 October 2003

With the election of Rev. V. Gene Robinson to the bishophood, Episcopalian leaders have declared that when friendship, affection, or Eros are in conflict with the Fourth Love, it may be sacrificed.

In C. S. Lewis' book The Four Loves, the principal forms of human love are explored and defined.  Affection is what one feels for a pet, warm but without the depth of other loves.  Friendship is relatively passionless, but deep and long-lived because it arises out of mutual understanding.  Eros is the passion of man for woman, containing elements of the first two but distinguished and characterized by its physical and sexual foundation.

The fourth love Lewis calls Charity.  It's an interpretation of the Greek expression of biblical times meaning selfless love.  It means not the charity of donations to the needy or tolerance of others' foibles, but that devotion to another which puts his welfare first.  Sometimes called Agape, this is the "greater love" which Jesus taught.  Who holds this love for another will sacrifice affection, friendship, and Eros for him if necessary.  This is the love which permits parents to endure the alienation of their children's affection when necessary for their discipline.  It is the love which makes a man suppress his desire when he knows his wife is exhausted, and which makes her embrace him despite her fatigue.  Charity makes a man risk losing a friendship by telling a necessary but unpleasant truth.  Agape is what makes a soldier sacrifice himself for his comrades, and it's what the Savior acted out on the Cross. And it is the Fourth Love, toward others and toward God, which makes men sacrifice their desires and submit to divine law. 

Agape was also how the earliest Christians referred to their gatherings, and in this sense meant "love feast."  Down through the ages the Christian denominations have hewed to this idea, and their love feasts celebrate the Fourth Love for each other and for their Creator, in remembrance of His great love.

Agape has always been in short supply among men because it is the highest and most difficult love to give, and often the least rewarding, at least in the short term.  The Christian Church has been a fountain of encouragement and strength, fortifying Man's feeble attempts to live up to the call.  For this world rebels against charity and constantly bombards us with temptations.  All of us fail and fall short, but the teachings of Christ stand as a beacon and help us return to the path.

The election of Rev. Robinson to the bishophood tells us that the Episcopal Church has lost sight of the beacon, and only has three loves left.  For we may feel affection for our fellow sinner, and he may be our friend or lover, but if we have true charity in our hearts, we will not condone his sin.  When he violates the teaching of the Bible, we must call him on it though we lose his love and friendship, just as he must do the same with us.  But today's Episcopalian leaders have declared that when friendship, affection, or Eros are in conflict with the Fourth Love, it may be sacrificed.  The Church no longer requires its flock to restrain their desires and keep them within the limits God has imposed.

But without the Fourth Love, the other loves become corrupt.  Eros, a sweet gift from God, becomes mere lust.  Friendship and affection, no longer able to count on charitable faithfulness, become superficial and calculating.  None of the other loves can be fully themselves without the Fourth to shield them.  The Episcopal Church doesn't know it yet, but it has cast off its shield and is tottering like a chair which has lost a leg.  If it does not soon restore the Fourth Love to primacy, it will cease to be itself, and leave a mere shadow.

And nobody faces the lions, or goes into the catacombs, for a shadow. 

Michael R. Bowen practices Gastroenterology and Internal Medicine, and has a weekly column on America's Voices

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