Love, the Pope, and C.S. Lewis

For Augustine, St. Thomas, and their followers, caritas, or charity, is the highest form of love. It is an infused theological virtue, inclining us to love God and our neighbour with an affection that is a participation in the love proper to God.

C.S. Lewis communicates the same idea in less technical language. Eros and agape (which he prefers to designate as "Need-love" and "Gift-love") can exist, he says, on either the natural or the supernatural plane. When, with God’s help, our Need-love rises to the point where we recognize our total dependence on God’s love for us, it can become a form of charity. And so likewise, when our Gift-love is so graced that it goes out to include persons who are naturally unattractive and unlovable, it deserves to be called charity in this theological sense of the word. Pope Benedict, it seems, has something similar in mind when he says that love at its most perfect combines in itself the qualities of eros and agape.

At the end of The Four Loves, Lewis makes an important statement that he does not develop at the length it deserves: Grace can arouse in us a higher kind of love than either eros or agape as he understands them. God, according to Lewis, "can awake in man, towards Himself, a supernatural appreciative love. This is of all gifts the most to be desired. Here, not in our natural loves, nor even in ethics, lies the true centre of all human and angelic life."

Earlier in the book, Lewis had drawn a helpful contrast among three forms of love: "Need-love cries out to God from our poverty; Gift-love longs to serve, or even to suffer for, God; Appreciative love says ’We give thanks to thee for thy great glory.’ " Corresponding to what the Scholastics called amor complacentiae, it rejoices in the consummate perfection of the divine. As Lewis’ citation from the Gloria indicates, the Church’s earthly liturgy contains anticipations of the hymns of the angels before the throne of God. They no longer seek from him anything that they do not have, nor do they intend to give him anything he might desire. They worship and praise him with loud hosannas, not because they thereby benefit either God or themselves but simply to express their love.

In Deus Caritas Est,* Pope Benedict makes no mention of appreciative love, nor does he discuss the love of the saints in heaven. Nevertheless, from his writings on the liturgy, one may suspect that he would be open to the idea that caritas tends to an eschatological fulfilment that, in the opinion of Lewis, transcends the earthly realizations of eros and agape alike.

*Pope Benedict XVI 2006 encyclical

From the article by Avery Cardinal Dulles
'First Things' January 2007

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