C.S. Lewis’s work The Four Loves is a classic, so we decided to discuss it. Our conversation today focuses on the first two chapters. In two weeks time, we will consider chapter three.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

  • Pingback: Podcast: The Four Loves, Part 1 | Alastair's Adversaria()

  • I’m enjoying your thoughts on this subject thus far. In the next two episodes, I’m hoping you will interact with the following excerpt from Spiritual Friendship by Wesley Hill that’s pertinent to C.S. Lewis and The Four Loves:

    … The British theologian Janet Martin Soskice parodies the neatly circumscribed version of friendship Lewis had sketched earlier in The Four Loves, in which he had described “an affair of disentangled, or stripped, minds.” “How,” Soskice wonders, “would Lewis react if another ‘stripped mind’ arrived at the club and told him that his child had been knocked off a bicycle and was mortally ill? Blustering silence? — ‘terribly sorry, old boy, didn’t know you were married — had offspring — that sort of thing … but let’s get on with translating Beowulf.’” (fn.*) …

    (*fn: Compare these remarks from Craig A. Williams: “Although they invite being read as universally valid statements, formulations like [Lewis’s] in fact speak to a specifically English male experience of friendship — taciturn, understanding, indirect, shy — which in some other cultural spheres would seem peculiar at best, barely worthy of the name of friendship at worst.”)

    … Soskice is caricaturing, of course, but still, her response highlights how far Lewis’s vision of friendship is from the way many of us actually experience friendship. Many of us don’t find “love” and “friendship” easily distinguishable, nor — even if we’re straight — are we always able to tell where longings for same-sex closeness and desires for companionship and company begin and end. More often, these realities shade into one another, coloring and texturing our experience of friendship in complex ways.

    Fortunately, Lewis can be of help here too. Elsewhere, outside his essay on friendship, he demonstrates that his own practice of friendship was considerably murkier than the clean demarcations found in The Four Loves would suggest. If, in that essay, Lewis suggests that friends are always standing shoulder to shoulder, and never yearning to behold each other’s faces and get to know one another’s personal histories and hopes and fears, he never quite managed, perhaps, to practice such a disinterested friendship himself. Consider, for instance, his relationship with his oldest and probably dearest friend, Arthur Greeves. The two met when they were boys had bonded over a shared love of Norse mythology. “Many thousands of people,” Lewis would later write, “have had the experience of finding the first friend, and it is none the less a wonder; as great a wonder (pace the novelists) as first love, or even a greater.” For the next several decades, until the end of Lewis’s life, the two would maintain their friendships in spite of geographical distance, a gap in intellectual aptitude, and other trivial and not-so-trivial differences and disagreements.

    Arthur Greeves admitted at some point to Lewis that he was a homosexual. But as far as the textual record goes, there is no evidence that this ever proved to be an impediment to their intimacy. Lewis certainly didn’t try to distance himself from Greeves on account of it, as if he needed to hold himself aloof from Greeves’s complex feelings — which may, in any case, never have been directed toward Lewis at all — in order to keep himself from learning too much about his friend’s personal life. On the contrary, their letters are filled with the sort of intimate exchanges that, in the terms set by The Four Loves, could only be described as “entangled” and not “stripped.”

    In what turned out to be the final year of Lewis’s life, he was planning a holiday with Greeves in Ireland. When a heart attack prevented Lewis from keeping those plans, he wrote in the final letter he ever sent to Greeves, “It looks as if you and I shall never meet again in this life. This often saddens me [very] much.” And then, in the letter’s last line, “Oh Arthur, never to see you again!” If Lewis wanted friendship to be defined solely in terms of shared interest and never in terms of an emotional enmeshment of personalities, he didn’t succeed with Greeves. Their letters, in fact, still serve as a model for what friendship between a gay man and a heterosexual sympathizer and confidant might become: frequent in contact, reciprocally self-disclosing, laced with humor, and heightened with long familiarity. In short, Lewis himself in his letters to Greeves sowed the seeds for a critique of what he would later come to write in The Four Loves about the necessity for friendship and romantic attraction to be held rigidly apart.

    – From Chapter Four: “A Piece of Ice Held Fast in the Fist”

    • Alastair J Roberts

      Yes, we’ll definitely be getting into some of this.

      Lewis does drop hints at certain points that his discussion of friendship isn’t as general as might be thought on various occasions: he is definitely speaking to male friendship, and to a specific kind of that in particular. There is a great deal of observation and research about the differences between male and female tendencies when it comes to friendship (differences that can help to understand why men are so much more likely to misinterpret a friendship with a woman as romantic than vice versa) and about further different varieties of friendship.