Yes, it’s finally my belated post for Week 4 of The Four Loves Read-along, focussing on Eros! Please read on ….!
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 …
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.”
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:
- Theologically: it’s the body’s share in marriage which, by God’s choice, is the mystical union between God and Man
- Pagan/natural (or sub-Christian) sacrament: our human participation in, and the exposition of, the natural forces of life and fertility
- Morally: in view of the obligations involved and the incalculable momentousness of being a parent and ancestor
- 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.
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 “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.
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.
- 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?
- 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?
- Any thoughts as to Lewis’ description of how a Man is the head of the household?
- Can you think of anyone you know who has made Eros a god? What was the outcome?
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 ….