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.