The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis – Charity (Agape)

Finally, there is the 4th Love: Agape (Charity). Charity (agápē, Greek: ἀγάπη) is the love that exists regardless of changing circumstances. The chapter on the subject focuses on the need to subordinate the other three natural loves to Agape (Charity). As Lewis puts it, “The natural loves are not self-sufficient” and therefore must be subservient to the love of God, who is full of charitable love, to prevent their “demonic” self-aggrandizement.

Lewis recognizes this selfless love as the greatest of the four loves, and sees it as a specifically Christian virtue for one to achieve. This is the highest and most unselfish of the loves, the one that the Apostle Paul talks about in detail in 1 Corinthians 13. Contrary to popular understanding, the significance of Agape is not that it is an unconditional love, but that it is primarily a love of the will, rather than of the emotions. This is important because Agape/Charity is seemingly unnatural.

It is not natural because it does not tell us to favor or respect (a) those who can be directly benefit or help us, (b) those who are directly related to or dependent upon us, or (c) those who are in some other measurable way useful or valuable to us. Agape/Charity teaches us and expects us to love, to care for, the unlovable, the undeserving, and the ugly. Agape/Charity gives all and asks for nothing in return. It is the one love out of the four that takes the greatest chance and can be/is hit with the most loss more often.

Lewis further reminds us: “There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.” Ultimately, the choice is ours: do we love (which is inherently to risk) or do we safeguard our heart from any and all harm at the sacrifice of our relationships and potential fulfillment?

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