The Four Loves Read-Along ~ Week 1

The Four Loves

And here we go with our The Four Loves read-along!  Here is the first post.  I hope my notes help clarify the start of the book and please feel free to add any comments below.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but I found the beginning quite dense and Lewis sometimes a wee bit difficult to follow.  I think it will get easier, however, as he begins to examine each type of love.

I’m going to attach some questions to each chapter.  You can use these to answer them as a post on your blog, or simply mull them over to understand the reading better.  I do hope they help!

Chapter 1 – Introduction

Lewis at first thought this book would be easy to write, in that love would only be able to be called love at all, in so far as it resembled God’s love.   God’s love lacks nothing and is completely “Gift love”, however man, while he can show an unselfish Gift-love, also exhibits a “Need-love” which “is the accurate reflection in consciousness of our actual nature.  We are born helpless.  As soon as we are fully conscious we discover loneliness. We need others physically, emotionally, intellectually; we need them if we are to know anything, even ourselves.” Lewis had planned to laud “Gift-love” and disparage “Need-love” but he soon discovered that the complexities of love were more than he had surmised.

The Fountain of Love

The Fountain of Love (1748) Francois Boucher ~ source Wikiart

Lewis found he could not deny that Need-love was indeed a love for three reasons:

  1. “We do violence to most languages … if we do not call Need-love “love”.
  2. We could deny the appellation of “love” to this feeling but to completely disregard it makes us cold egoists. It is not good for man to be alone; it is a bad spiritual symptom
  3. How healthy a man is spiritually is in direct proportion to his love for God and man’s love for God can only be a Need-love, so how could one deny it? Not that it is the only love one can bring to God, but one could not drop the element of need.

Now, we can have a nearness to God in two ways: nearness-by-likeness and nearness-by-approach.  In likeness, we can have gifts that God has bestowed on us that reflect his nature but any person can have them and it doesn’t mean we are drawing closer to God.  However, “nearness-of-approach is, by definition, increasing nearness,” and is something we must initiate ourselves.  It is perhaps more than likeness but a unity with the will of God.

The Fountain of Love

The Fountain of Love (1785) Jean-Honoré Fragonard ~ source Wikiart

Lewis now reveals why these distinctions have been necessary and to explain, he refers to a quote by M. Denis de Rougemont, “love ceases to be a demon only when he ceases to be a god.”  Instead of displaying a love that reflects God, we can all be in danger of making love a god in any area, such as love of country, erotic love, love of family and even friendship.  And the paradox of this blasphemy is that natural love can become this “demon” when it is at its best: “a faithful and genuinely self-sacrificing passion will speak to us with what seems the voice of God … merely animal or frivolous lust will not.”; a silly woman’s temporary indulgence to her child is less likely to become a god than the woman who literary “lives for her son”.  Our loves do not make a claim upon us until they approach the divine, but in that we may mistake “Like” for “Same” and give our human loves an importance and focus that we owe only to God.  Then they become gods and in the paradox, become demons who will destroy us and themselves.  “For natural loves that are allowed to become gods do not remain loves. They are still called so, but can become in fact complicated forms of hatred.”

A Roman Art Lover

A Roman Art Lover (1868) Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema ~ source Wikiart

Therefore we must not worship love nor eschew it. Nineteenth century writers idolized love and now (in Lewis’ time the twentieth century) there is a reaction against it, as people attempt to diminish its worth, however Lewis cautions we must be in neither camp.  “The human loves can be glorious images of Divine love”, no more or less than that.

Love Leading the Pilgrim Edware Burne-Jones

Love Leading the Pilgrim (1877-96) Edward Burne-Jones ~ source Wikiart


  1.  Lewis says that denying “Need-love” is a bad spiritual symptom.  Why do you think people would choose to deny it?
  2. How did you understand Lewis’ quote from The Imitation of Christ, “the highest does not stand without the lowest”?
  3. It’s a paradox that the natural loves when they are at their best are in the most danger of blasphemy.  Can you elaborate on this or give examples?
  4. And speaking of paradoxes, there were a number of them in this chapter.  Can you identify some or all of them?


Wow, this was a dense chapter.  I know this post is long but I had to summarize to make sure I was able to follow Lewis.  Did you have trouble following Lewis thoughts or were his explanations clear?

First of all, I was surprised that Lewis thought that love could be so easily categorized.  Our love of friends and family is different from our love for our spouse or partner.  Our love for our spouse or partner is different from our love for God. And there are even people that we can love in spite of ourselves (or themselves 🙂 ).  Yet there is also a commonality through all these loves.  But to tease out the differences and categorize them would have been too much for me.  I’m going to leave that to Lewis!

“The highest, does not stand without the lowest.” Is a quote from The Imitation of Christ and is a Neo-Platonic reference. As humans, we touch both angels and beasts and thus as humans our higher love must take a lower love into it.  And yes, I looked that up. 😉  But I also thought that it shows an organic function, in that all levels of love can work together and affect each other.  Just like a body needs all its parts to be a complete human, love needs different aspects to be a healthy and complete love.

The Dream of Human Life Michelangelo

The Dream of Human Life (1533) Michelangelo Buonarotti ~ source Wikiart

Chapter 2 – Likes and Loves For the Sub-Human

Lewis begins with a distinction between two types of pleasures: Need-pleasure and Pleasures of Appreciation.  The first is a natural pleasure preceeded by desire, such as a drink of water to a thirsty man; and the second, while gratifying  our senses, is a pleasure in its own right, such as a row of beautiful sweet-peas seen on your morning walk.  While one might be brought in mind of Need-love from the previous chapter that Lewis was prepared to disparage, Need-pleasures give an alternate response of lauding them and perhaps more of a tendency to criticize the Pleasures of Appreciation, the first being so natural as to prevent excess and the other so unnecessary as to leave one wide open to vice and extravagance. However, Lewis reminds that “the human mind is generally far more eager to praise and dispraise than to describe and define. It wants to make every distinction a distinction of value … we must do nothing of the sort about the pleasures. The reality is too complicated.” Remember, appreciative pleasures can become need pleasures when they are faultily indulged.

While Need-pleasures foreshadow Need-love in that they are both concerned with our own needs, Appreciative-pleasure is more complex.  They contain both the “aesthetic” and the “sensual” and are “the starting point for our whole experience of beauty.”  We don’t merely like something, we can declare it “in a … God-like sense, ‘very good.’” Suddenly we see another element of love “foreshadowed by the Appreciative pleasures.”

So now we have:

  • Need-love which “cries to God from our poverty”
  • Appreciative-love which give thanks “for thy great glory”
  • Gift-love which “longs to serve, or even to suffer, for God”

Now, these loves mix and meld together and only Need-love perhaps momentarily can exist alone.

Melancholy of a Beautiful Day

Melancholy of a Beautiful Day (1913) Giorgio de Chirico ~ source Wikiart

Lewis now begins an extended discussion of nature and the love man can experience for it.  It is more than just the experience of beauty; it is the love of the feeling it can give you or the “spirit of the place”.  Nature asks of us to, “Look. Listen. Attend,” and it is the misinterpretation of it that has given rise to numerous mistaken ideologies. Lewis says nature did not show him God but it gave rich meaning to the word, “glory.”  Nature awoke in him a love of God that he questions if he could have received anywhere else.

However, Nature does not teach.  “A true philosophy may sometimes validate and experience of nature; an experience of nature cannot validate a philosophy. Therefore philosophies or theologies should be “kept distinct from the love of nature.”  While she may give us a glimpse of God, we take another journey to know him.

Lewis now examines the love of country. While this love can certainly become a demon, it is never anything but, otherwise we reject half the “high poetry and … heroic action” of the human race including “Christ’s lament over Jerusalem.”  However, if the love becomes a demon, it will produce wicked acts which is why we have to be careful that the love of our country is the right type of love.  We need to be able to distinguish the innocent from the demoniac and this insight does not come naturally.

Charms of Country Life

Charms of Country Life (1737) Francois Boucher ~ source Wikiart

Patriotism may be gauged on many levels and is very complex:

  1. Love of home:  This includes love for a way of life and family.  Since “the family offers us the first step beyond self-love, so this (love of home) offers us the first step beyond family selfishness,” it would be hard to censure this love. Even though loving home, family and neighbours does not bring us to a universal love of man, it is the first step as, if you do not love the man you have met, it is difficult to love those you have never seen.  This love can become a rival to spiritual love but trained rightly, it is good.  Patriotism of this type is not antagonistic and only wishes to be left alone, becoming militant only when it is threatened.
  2. Attitude towards country’s past or history:   Usually towards deeds of greatness that inhabit the imaginations of its people.  There is a danger in this feeling as it can give the false impression of these deeds being typical of the country without considering any of the shameful past and also imply that other countries do no have the same types of heroes or heroic endeavours.  Lewis claims that these stories have value, and can strengthen us without deceiving us, but only if they are dissimulated in a certain way: if they are told as stories apart from historical study, not fictions but stories that lie outside serious analysis.
  3. A feeling of superiority towards others (nations):  This sentiment leads to a “Racialism which both Christianity and science forbid.”
  4. Rights and responsibilities of the nation:  For example, England became conscious of its duties and tried to build an empire, feeling others were her wards.  While some of these actions did indeed help others, “our habit of talking as if England’s motives for acquiring an empire  … had been mainly altruistic nauseated the world.”  And when rights are stressed rather than duties, this gives rise to some of the grossest injustices.
  5. When patriotism denies itself because of its injustices:  We should not love something only when it is good but love it because it is “ours”.  There is a parallel here in the natural loves: “when the natural loves become lawless they do not merely do harm to other loves; they themselves cease to be the loves they were — to be love at all.”

So while Patriotism is a complex sentiment, those who reject it entirely risk putting something equally as complex in its place.  For it you don’t give blood and sweat for country, you will give it for justice or humanity or civilization.  Lewis says this is a step down.  For if we support a cause just because the cause is just, or blacken a burglar’s eye merely on moral grounds (and indifferent to the fact the house is ours), we risk drawing evil after it.  “If our country’s cause is the cause of God, wars must be wars of annihilation. A false transcendence is given to things which are very much of this world.”

Patriotism allows us to recognize sentiment and therefore, for example, wars could be heroic without being Holy Wars. “The hero’s death was not confused with the martyr’s.  And (delightfully) the same sentiment which could be so serious in a rearguard action, could also in peacetime, take itself as lightly as all happy loves often do. It could laugh at itself.”

Lewis says the love he’s been describing can also be applied to other things, including the Church who has enacted atrocities that has added “to the sum of human cruelty and treachery.”  Until we have publicly disowned much of our past, the World will not hear us.

And lastly, animals are loved as if they are indeed personal and the fact or illusion of personality in them will be incorporated into the next chapter.


What does Lewis mean by the sub-human in this chapter?

When satisfied, how do need pleasures and appreciative pleasures differ?

What is the third type of love Lewis has introduced?

Can you think of ways that we can be strengthened by the past without aggrandizing it or allowing it to form mistaken impressions in our minds?


I had a difficult time differentiating between the Patriotism and Ethics that Lewis described.   I could feel that step down in making ethics the all-important factor (although Patriotism involves ethics as well) but I’m not certain I could eloquently verbalized an explanation.  Did anyone else have trouble with this section or have an insights?

⇐  The Four Loves Read-Along                  The Four Loves ~ Week 2 ~ Affection


12 thoughts on “The Four Loves Read-Along ~ Week 1

    • Two-thirds of it was relatively quick although very dense so it required lots of brainpower and by then I was burnt out so the last third took forever! 😛 I actually needed to get it down like this so I would understand it. I think I follow most of it now, which wasn’t the case in my first read through. Lewis is sometimes clear and sometimes muddy. So far he’s been the latter. Thanks for the kind words! I needed them to continue, lol!

  1. Great analysis and questions! I agree, I found the first two chapters difficult to follow; they almost had the flavor of being unedited. I will take a harder look tomorrow when I write my post for this week. 🙂

    • Thanks, Marian. I was going to condense it but, as I said to Bookstooge, I needed to put his thoughts into my own words to follow him. I think and hope the next chapter will be easier! I’m looking forward to your post!

  2. I am still working my way through Chapter 1 and it is dense. I am holding off on comments because I want to get through it and then formulate my thoughts …..this may be slim book, but it is deep and requires tenaciousness!

    • My long post is only because I almost needed to summarize it to follow Lewis’ train of thought but now that I understand where (I think) he’s going I believe it will be easier. Keep plugging along!

  3. I found the first chapter so philosophically dense that I wasn’t sure if I could continue on, but the next chapter is a bit better. I appreciate your close text discussion of both chapters, you made it easier for me!

    I don’t think I will write up anything myself at the moment, though, as I am finding more to argue with him than support and that’s not the way I want to go at the moment. I think I may need to read the whole book to fully understand it.

    • Lol! I think that’s great! To me, disagreeing with an author is part of a discussion. I mostly find Lewis quite logical but sometimes I disagree with certain ideas too …. it seems when he’s asked to speak or write about something, you can see weaker arguments from him; it’s when he’s writing about things he’s passionate about that his arguements are solid. I’m curious now as to what you disagree with but I’ll wait patiently for your comments/post. 🙂

  4. I now need to catch up, but I knew I would. But this is a great post and will be very helpful!

    I’m suspicious of love of country, especially these days. But I’ll wait to condemn Lewis until I’ve read what he says. Isn’t that good of me?…

    • I’m so glad my long post is helpful. Sometimes Lewis assumes readers know things that relate to his time and the theological aspect comes into it too which can be harder to grasp. I believe I have a better idea of where he’s going now.

      Ah, love of country. I pretty much agree with Lewis on this one, although I’m still a little hazy as to his differentiation between patriotism and ethics.

      Lol, yes, very good of you! 😉

  5. I haven’t read this in years and now I know I need to dust it off and get back into it. Excellent review.
    I especially like that love ceases to be a demon when we stop making it a god. Very well put!

    And I like that painting by Chirico. I’m going to look him up.

    • Yes, please dust off and join us! So many paradoxes in life. Such balance to be practiced. I love how Lewis can see these distinctions.

      The Chirico painting reminds me a little of Salvador Dali. Very moody and still and almost dripping …

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