The Four Loves: Eros

The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis

Blog readers: Chi Alpha @ Stanford is engaging in our annual summer reading project. As we read through three books by C. S. Lewis, I’ll post my thoughts here (which will largely consist of excerpts I found insightful). They are all tagged summer-reading-project-2018. The schedule is online.

I’m at a conference right now with a pretty packed schedule, so I’m dashing this email off quicker than normal. Apologies for typos or incoherent thoughts. 🙂

One thing I greatly appreciated in this chapter is Lewis’s discussion of how amusing human romance is. Not everyone gets this.

I remember I was once at a conference hosting a table discussion with students about romance and relationships and sex. I was making the point that sex is an objectively absurd thing. I was, if I may say so, on top of my game that day and they were roaring with laughter.

One of the students at my table suddenly stopped laughing and said, “I have a question. I just overheard the table host at the other table criticize us for laughing at sex. He said that we don’t understand how serious and sacred sex is. That laughing at it like this shows that we’re immature and we’re going to get ourselves into trouble because we don’t approach it with solemnity. What do you think about that?”

Everyone stopped laughing as though they had been slapped, for indeed they had been.

I cannot remember in detail how I went on to defend my thoughts that day (although I recall further and perhaps excessive ridicule of my critic’s perspective was deployed), but I am pleased to report that this chapter reveals that C.S. Lewis shared my perspective.

For I can hardly help regarding it as one of God’s jokes that a passion so soaring, so apparently transcendent, as Eros, should thus be linked in incongruous symbiosis with a bodily appetite which, like any other appetite, tactlessly reveals its connections with such mundane factors as weather, health, diet, circulation, and digestion. In Eros at times we seem to be flying; Venus gives us the sudden twitch that reminds us we are really captive balloons.

And later:

So the body. There’s no living with it till we recognise that one of its functions in our lives is to play the part of buffoon. Until some theory has sophisticated them, every man, woman and child in the world knows this. The fact that we have bodies is the oldest joke there is.

And again:

Nothing is falser than the idea that mockery is necessarily hostile. Until they have a baby to laugh at, lovers are always laughing at each other.

So here is my encouragement to you in your romantic journey: see the humor in it.

But romance is not just amusing — it is also profound. If it was only amusing it would not be worth so much energy and attention. It would be at most a hobby. Romance is far more than that. Lewis explains one of the spiritual dynamics at work in romantic love:

The event of falling in love is of such a nature that we are right to reject as intolerable the idea that it should be transitory. In one high bound it has overleaped the massive wall of our selfhood; it has made appetite itself altruistic, tossed personal happiness aside as a triviality and planted the interests of another in the centre of our being. Spontaneously and without effort we have fulfilled the law (towards one person) by loving our neighbour as ourselves. It is an image, a foretaste, of what we must become to all if Love Himself rules in us without a rival. It is even (well used) a preparation for that…. Can we be in this selfless liberation for a lifetime? Hardly for a week. Between the best possible lovers this high condition is intermittent. The old self soon turns out to be not so dead as he pretended—as after a religious conversion. In either he may be momentarily knocked flat; he will soon be up again; if not on his feet, at least on his elbow, if not roaring, at least back to his surly grumbling or his mendicant whine.

That’s it for this week. Next week: agape!

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