The Four Loves Read-Along ~ Week 4 Part 1, Eros

The Four Loves

Yes, it’s finally my belated post for Week 4 of The Four Loves Read-along, focussing on Eros!  Please read on ….!


Huh? …..

Lewis seems to be saying that we are between angels and animals, Venus is the carnal within Eros but she’s kinda funny so laugh at her or she will extract revenge, Eros is Eros but he cannot be Eros by himself, the husband is the head only if he gives most, rough play in sex can be harmless and wholesome (did I read this correctly … however notice the “can be“), while a person is not usually worshiped, Love is and then the expectations are God-like which cannot be fulfilled and then everyone is resentful and implacable and it all falls apart ….  LOL!

And the above summary contain the conclusions come to after a very superficial read of a difficult chapter where, in fact, we have to do WORK to follow Lewis.  So here goes …

Let’s begin afresh (please!) with Eros or Romantic L❤️ve …

Pair of Lovers Gothaer Liebespaar

Pair of Lovers (1480-85) ~ source Wikipedia


Of course, Eros refers to the state of being in love.  Lewis is not going to concentrate on the sexuality which is merely carnal that we share with the beasts, as one may have it and not be in love.  Instead, he is referring to the type of love that is uniquely human and develops within the bond of love.

As sexuality may be part of Eros, or not, Lewis is not here to make moral judgements, as marriage within the state of Eros has existed for only a short time and many of our ancestors made unions based on something quite different.  And likewise sexuality and Eros can exist within adultery. “It has not pleased God that the distinction between a sin and a dutry should turn on fine feelings.”  Sexuality without Eros is irrelevant to his purpose.

What usually occurs within Eros is a “delightful preoccupation with the Beloved.”  A man in this state desires a woman but it can often have little to do with sex… he is “love contemplative,” and when the sexual element does awaken, he will not feel that it was the basis of his feeling.

“Sexual desire, without Eros, wants IT, the THING IN ITSELF; Eros wants the Beloved.”

The sensory pleasure actually dulls the emotion itself.  If a man wants a sensory pleasure, he does not want a woman; she is merely the vehicle through which he receives this pleasure.  “… one of the first things Eros does is to obliterate the distinction between giving and receiving.”

The Birth of Venus Botticelli

La Nascita di Venere (The Birth of Venus) (1483-85) Sandro Botticelli ~ source Wikimedia Commons

Lewis now addresses moral questions.

Eros has been accused of posing a spiritual danger from its carnal element (Venus) and is purest when that aspect has been minimized. Nothing must be avoided more than “a soul-destroying surrender to the senses.”  Yet, Scipture appears to say the opposite when Paul warns about prolonged abstinence and Lewis agrees.  The small yet ever-nagging cares of this world are a much more dangerous distraction.  “The great, permanent temptation of marriage is not to sensuality but (quite bluntly) to avarice.”

Lewis notes the danger to the act of love is that we take “Venus too seriously,” and there must be an element of fun in our lovemaking. Not that love is not serious; it is in four ways:

  1. Theologically: it’s the body’s share in marriage which, by God’s choice, is the mystical union between God and Man
  2. Pagan/natural (or sub-Christian) sacrament: our human participation in, and the exposition of, the natural forces of life and fertility
  3. Morally: in view of the obligations involved and the incalculable momentousness of being a parent and ancestor
  4. Emotional Seriousness: occurring in the minds of the participants

We cannot be serious about Venus “without doing violence to our humanity,” as society is ripe with jokes about sex; a reverential gravity endangers the Christian far more than humour towards it.  “We must not attempt to find an absolute in the flesh.”  

Okay, now I’m a little less clear as to what Lewis says.  Venus will have her revenge either:

  • She will cool and a man will realize his folly
  • When external (life) circumstances prevent lovers from their initial enraptured absorption and loverly acts towards each other, when times does permit, Venus will have cooled in one of them

In Eros, we fly, but Venus reminds us that we’re captive.

The Birth of Venus Cabanel

The Birth of Venus (1863) Alexandre Cabanel ~ source Wikimedia Commons

In history, Man has developed three views of his body: 1) Pagans called it “the prison or tomb of the soul,” and Christians who viewed it as a “sack of dung, food for worms, filthy, shameful, a source of nothing but temptation to bad men and humiliation to good ones;” 2) Neo-pagans (Greeks) who viewed it as glorious and; 3) St. Francis who called his body “Brother Ass”  (I know, stay with me here …)

“Ass”, Lewis believes is a good description of the body, as no one either despises or reveres a donkey; it is useful, lazy, patient, obstinate; loveable and infuriating, both pathetically and absurdly beautiful. There is no understanding it until we realize part of it is comical. “The highest does not stand without the lowest.”

A Girl Defending Herself Against Eros William-Adolphe Bouguereau

A Girl Defending Herself Against Eros (c. 1880) William-Adolphe Bouguereau ~ source Wikipedia

A “refusal to be quite immersed,” in the carnal aspect of Love is an anathema to Venus and her intensity can invoke a roughness in erotic play which Lewis says “is harmless and wholesome on one condition.”  Remember with Eros we are also dealing with the “Pagan sacrament,” forces much older than we know and each lover is part of a ritual; outside the ritual they are individuals but inside “they become a god and goddess between whom there is no equality — whose relations are asymmetrical.”

Is it strange that Lewis equates an act so real and genuine with ritual?  No, he claims, as naked was originally a past participle of “nake” which is the habit of disrobing; we are at our most real, the most individual, when clothed, therefore when naked we become more universal.  Nakedness is like a ceremonial robe.

However, Christian law has crowned Man with the permanent relationship of marriage, and as we could take the natural aspects of love too seriously, we might not take the Christian mystery of it seriously enough.  The man’s headship in the relationship is only fully embodied when the marriage is “most like a crucifixion, when the wife receives the most, gives the least and is the least lovable.” (I know!  Keep going!) For then he is treating her like Christ did the Church. However, one should not actively choose such misery, but it is the most Christ-like.  Feminists need not begrudge this hierarchy because it’s very nature is for the man to sacrifice all for the woman; the danger is if the hierarchy inverts.

The Victory of Eros

The Victory of Eros (1750-75) Angelica Kauffman ~ source Wikimedia Commons

Eros, as a whole, does not aim for happiness; as lovers will not give each other up, even if their unity is obviously going to end in misery.  “It is in the grandeur of Eros that the seeds of danger are concealed.”  He speaks like a god but he can urge evil as well as good. There are traditions of seeing love in this way but we must “neither ignore or attempt to deny the god-like quality,” but only honour it as far at it exemplifies the love we ought to show towards God and Man.

However, “Eros honoured without reservation and obeyed unconditionally, becomes a demon,” and this is his demand, to demand worship making love a sort of religion.  Lewis does not sees lovers idolizing each other but idolizing love itself.   It can “sanction all sorts of actions they would not otherwise have dared.”  In the excuse, “love made us do it!”, Love is seen as an authority beyond all else.  It can be our own law, our own religion, our own god.

The curiosity is that while Eros is the most fickle and we can be somewhat deluded in the first throes of love, thinking the feeling will last forever or that we’ve finally found the “right” one”, it is at the same time a good thing that we don’t view love as transitory as love makes us more selfless creatures.  We finally “love our neighbour as ourselves,” and to fall out of love is a kind of “disredemption”.

“Can we be in this selfless liberation for a lifetime?  Hardly for a week,” as our old selfish being will come to life again for us to deal with. But “decent and sensible people” will deal with it well.  But those who cannot, have idolized Eros and when the feeling does not last, will inevitably blame Eros, or more likely, their partner.  But Eros is being simply Eros and it is up to us to labour to keep Eros even when Eros is not present.  But “the god (Eros) dies or becomes a demon unless he obeys God.”

“But he may live on, mercilessly chaining together two mutual tormentors, each raw all over with the poison of hate-in-love, each ravenous to receive and implacably refusing to give, jealous, suspicious, resentful, struggling for the upper hand, determined to be free and allow no freedom …… the lovers’ old hyperbole of ‘eating’ each other can come horribly near to the truth.”

Well I certainly wish Lewis had finished on a more positive note, but being Lewis, his insights are certainly accurate to a startling degree.

Divine Eros Defeats the Earthly Eros

Divine Eros Defeats the Earthly Eros (c. 1602) Giovanni Baglione ~ source Wikimedia Commons


  1. Keeping in mind that Lewis wrote this work after his marriage, he still seems to give sex a very low priority, in fact, hardly considering it at all. He even claims Love comes first and the sexual aspect comes later.  Is this something particular to Lewis’ era or should Love always follow this process?
  2. How do we find ‘the right one’? Lewis doesn’t address this particular question but seems to imply that when the flutterings of love overtake us, that we chose that person knowing that Eros will not last (or not last in his initial form) and then we do the work to keep the relationship strong.  Do you agree?
  3. Any thoughts as to Lewis’ description of how a Man is the head of the household?
  4. Can you think of anyone you know who has made Eros a god? What was the outcome?
Venus with Mercury and Cupid The School of love

Venus with Mercury and Cupid (The School of Love) c. 1525 Correggio ~ source Wikiart


Fortunately, I’m trying to read each book twice or Lewis would have lost me on this one.  Generally, I agree with his thoughts, but he does work in generalities in some cases where it would have been nice if he’d expanded a bit more. I did find his “three views of the body” enlightening.  We like to think of ourselves as modern progressives who have it all together, who will behave sensibly and logically, forgetting there is a pagan or animal part of our nature that can at times overcome good sense.  It was a good reminder.

It was so refreshing to hear his explanation of the husband being the head of the household.  We tend to think of it as a hierarchical structure in that it gives the husband license to do whatever he wants and make all the decisions but, as Lewis mentioned, it really means that he dies to himself everyday to sacrifice for his wife and actually gives more.  It is definitely the hardest job, especially considering certain wives, LOL! 😂

Okay, I will try to get the post on Charity up as soon as I can.  I’ve finished reading it and it was a FANTASTIC chapter.  Stay tuned ….


The Four Loves ~ Friendship        The Four Loves ~ Charity (Agape ἀγάπη ) ⇒

23 thoughts on “The Four Loves Read-Along ~ Week 4 Part 1, Eros

    • You’re so welcome, Silvia! Please do, use them! I found Liking and Loves for the Subhuman and Eros the most difficult chapters in the book. The last chapter, Charity, (on which I still have to post) was wonderful. Charity and Affection were my favourites!

  1. Another book I found interesting on this topic was We: The Psychology of Romantic Love by Robert A. Johnson. He writes from a Jungian perspective with the legend of Tristan and Iseult as a focus for discussion of “eros” and how it functions in our lives. It’s a quick read if you want another point of view!

    I think the most interesting and relevant point there was that looking for “the one” is a doomed quest that is ultimately about a lost part of oneself. People who are whole in themselves and who able to form lasting marriages are not looking for this kind of heightened experience through their lover/partner. In fact, something that used to belong to the religious realm (and still does, in some cultures) has gotten deflected into our romantic mythology and led to all kinds of problems. Because you can make a god of Eros, perhaps, but it’s perilous to make a god out of a fallible human being. That never works.

    • I also like Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving. I’ll search for We and certainly give it a read. This topic has been really fascinating.

      Exactly, Lori! I can personally think of a couple of instances where a partner (usually the woman, sadly) expects the other partner to make her/him feel whole and when it doesn’t happen, the blame falls on that partner. In the next chapter, Lewis addresses “the glue” that’s needed to keep these expectations in check and is necessary for a healthy love.

      I’m interested in what “religious realm” you’re referring? Do you mean the courtly love era? Lewis said the expectation of “heightened experience” is a relatively new thing which seems more modern to me than anything else.

      • I think the phenomenon started in the courtly love era, though it’s become more pronounced in our day. But by “religious realm” I meant more the whole area of religious experience and fulfillment. With the secularization of society this basic human need can’t find an outlet, so it gets pushed into the realm of romantic love.

  2. Great post, Cleo! I did not write much on this chapter (perhaps due to an overdose of having studying the topic previously), but I was definitely impressed that Lewis covers a lot of ground very succinctly here.

    #1 – I would guess this is particular to Lewis himself, at least based on what I observe in other people. It might also be a reflection of the fact that he and Joy started out as friends. For many/most couples, Venus seems to be a high priority on par with Eros. I don’t think there’s anything unbiblical with that, but as the relationship develops, one would hope that Eros would always equal or surpass Venus.

    #3 – I really liked this description as well! It was very reassuring to read, after my tremendous disappointment with Lewis’s portrayal of male-female relationships in That Hideous Strength. Clearly his perspective changed a lot between 1945 and 1958, probably due to his own marriage.

    • Thanks, Marian. Boy, I had to read this chapter a few times to be able to absorb it all.

      I think the carnal (Venus), or sexual aspect used to be more in tune with Eros but in modern times it’s been given so much focus it’s often been distorted or Eros disappears altogether. And I don’t mean in the Lewis’ time (and earlier) that Venus was less intense or more controlled, I simply think it was more in harmony with Eros in that if Venus was intense, Eros was also, etc. Does that make sense?

      Do you have a review for That Hideous Strength? With that trilogy, I did a review for Out of the Silent Planet and then gave up, lol! I’d love to read your thoughts. I don’t remember any machoism but I wasn’t looking for it either. When Lewis is accused of being misogynistic, I always remember the countless numbers of women who wrote to him for advice. And also his friendship with Dorothy Sayers, quite an intense feminist (have you read her “Are Women Human?”?) II wonder if he was ever accused of male chauvinism in his time ……? I don’t think so otherwise we would have a responded but it would be a fun rabbit trail to follow ….

  3. Excellent post.

    Your first question. Hum, maybe it’s not so much that he’s saying that sexual loves comes after eros, but he may be stressing the point, -or I understood it this way-, that once that eros arises in men and women, the sexual tension that may still be there wanting to be satisfied, it’s attached to THAT particular person, and likewise, it can be deliberately postponed in favor of continuing the romantic -eros- attachment. This would be the motivation for those with christian beliefs to postpone sex until after marriage. Conversely, should two people have intimacy when falling in love, and not marry immediately, there’ s that risk of falling out of love, and thinking it best to not marry, which would be a pity, for if only they understood that we all, sooner or later, will find ourselves in that predicament, they could have put their eros phase at the base of a good marriage.

    To me, Lewis’s brilliance here consists in his dislodging, -for the sake of clarity-, of these three elements, eros, venus, morality, ongoing love that can keep a married couple together for life. Immaturity in people will keep us at a more basic love, narcissistic, and unable to progress into a mature love, -that which keeps marriages together once the flame is gone, and which can very well ignite that flame again for a second ‘honey moon’-.

    Don’t ask me how I got to reading this, but after Lewis book and this post I remembered what I read from Drake, the raper. Quote from wiki:

    Drake dated singer Rihanna off-and-on from 2009 to 2016. He has mentioned the relationship in every one of his studio albums, and when presenting Rihanna with the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award in 2016, he said “she’s a woman I’ve been in love with since I was 22 years old.” On becoming a single parent, he mused on the talk show The Shop:

    As life takes shape and teaches you your own lessons, I end up in this situation where I don’t have the fairy tale, like, ‘Oh, Drake started a family with Rihanna and this is like so perfect.’ It looks so good on paper. By the way, I wanted that too at one time.

    This was such a fascinating example of a person who is in love with love. Also a person who experienced the disconnection between Venus and Eros. Who accepts, -maybe, somehow, not sure about this, :)- the responsibilities of life as a parent, and who realizes that one can’t be in love forever. And that forever is only a fairy tale. So sad that he doesn’t know that he, -should both himself and Rihanna wanted-, could be in love forever, a love which won’t be perfect, for, as Lewis will say in the final chapter, there’s no securities in love. To love is to be open to be hurt. And specially we, mothers, know this too well.

    I’m not sure I got all the nuances on his talk about sex, humor, the ‘coolness’, the ritual… Again, I did like his idea that the human normal stage is being clothed.

    I also like when he says what the true distractions of eros and venus are. If we are asked to love God and not have any other idols, it’ll make sense that whenever any of these loves, or expressions of love, is taken to extremes, it becomes a god we worship.

  4. On the space trilogy! I only read That Hideous Strength, and I admit I didn’t get it, but something was off putting in the female and male protagonists, I agree. However, is that what he believed of women and men as archetypes? or is he taking about a man and a woman who do not love well? (I know about his friendship with Sayers, and her book Are Women Human? is THE ULTIMATE BEST book written in the women’s conflict with ‘men’.

    I may listen to your podcasts, Marian.

  5. Last comment, 🙂 We deem arranged marriages as cruel and outdated. There’s a full spectrum in the concept of arrange marriages. I’m not in favor of a girl of 14 assigned to a man who is 55. That’s not arranged marriage, that’s abuse. I’m thinking about communities and societies that see this when the flutterings of love overtake us, that we chose that person knowing that Eros will not last (or not last in his initial form) and then we do the work to keep the relationship strong., and thus they look for a few people they believe a friendship may spark, and from there Eros may bloom. This is more coherent than our own ’emancipated’ selves who, following Eros, marry someone just to realize after Eros dies, how nearly impossible it’s to work with the person we’ve freely chosen. Wouldn’t it make sense to say that to choose under the influences of Eros is not that ‘free’? (This may be the reason for the multiple divorces we see in Hollywood and all other strata of our society.

    I know a friend who marry on such an impulse, and who refused to work with the husband she gave to herself. She went back to her cultural and country pool, where she found an old acquaintance, -two year younger brother of her best friend-, and married him. I don’t intend to judge, but I, -who met her first husband- saw a man worth to work for. He loved her, pass the high, even up to the signing the divorce papers. I always wonder what would have happened if she had stayed with her first husband, or if she had waited and tapped into her circle of friendships when looking for ‘romance’!

    The temptation to jump into another romantic relationship is high for those actors or singers who spend much time with opposite sex people with akin interests and hobbies. No wonder many ditch the hard work at home in favor of the addictive feeling of being loved and loving someone.

    The film Badlands,, captures that romantic love that tends to ‘justify everything in its name’.

    I am amazed at how easier it’s become to ‘categorize’ what I see around me (art, movies, books, real life experiences) with Lewis’s criteria. I hope I’m not taking it too far or forcing what he really meant into what I believe.

    I also forgot to say that I develop a real affection for some characters in books, don’t you?

    • Really wonderful comments, Silvia! That is an interesting story about your friend. I’m much more open to the consideration of arranged marriages now than I would have been in my overly-romanticized twenties,lol! I do think that two people need to be willing to do the work, and work it is. But it is more complex, with personalities that can make it easier or more difficult to work together. I often wonder if there is a certain amount of luck attached to it ….. not very romantic or logical of me, but there it is!

      People who are addicted to love will just keep jumping from one person to the next until they wake up to the fact that real love must be much more than feeling.

      Oh yes! Affection for characters in books! Absolutely! I can think of a number I just “love” ……. Septimus Harding, Moomintroll, Hector, Socrates, Lily Bart ….. I wonder what Lewis would say about this topic! 🙂

  6. There has been a long Christian tradtions (though not just Christian) of looking down on the body and bodily urges, like sexual desire, because the body is weak, and that makes you weak. Within a lot of these traditions sexual desire is looked down upon, not because it has anything to do with sex, but because feeling desire is a from of loosing control. I read this chapter as Lewis’s way of dealing with this tradition. He tries to distance himself from it by saying that it’s not wrong to feel sexual desire and loose yourself in it, but at the same time he points out that sexual desire doesn’t equal love. Sexual desire can be a glue IF love is already in place. I read his text that to loose yourself to someone can tighten a bond, but it can’t create a bond. In this way he does take a very radical step away from the stoic, sex is just to create babies stance.

    • How right you are, Marcelle!! Lewis does seem to be trying to put it in a healthy context that he believes God wanted instead of a context distorted by historical tradition. Sex without love is closer to the animals, definitely and Lewis believes man should be closer to the angels although he admits we can be somewhere in between. A fascinating chapter and now I just have to finish up with my last post. Soon!

  7. Thanks for posting these installments! My friends and I have been reading this book together and are using your questions as a weekly discussion guide. Very helpful! Also LOL at your first impressions—this chapter was a doozy.

    • That’s so wonderful to hear, Alexis! After all the work it takes to create a post, I’m thrilled to see that someone is making use of them! Yes, this chapter definitely takes alot of brain power. Sometimes I find Lewis succinct but other times he lets his thoughts wander. It can take practice to keep up with him. I do hope you all enjoy the read and I also hope you’ll pop back in when you’re finished and let me know what you thought of it!

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