Love has many types, and in the classical sense, four distinct definitions. In Greek we know them as storge, philia, eros and agape. Individually, we find a light and a dark side to each kind of love, we find the pitfalls and the rewards. But all love is interdependent – sharing, building and strengthening the overall experience, understanding, idea of Love in all it’s grandeur.
Storge, the bond of empathy
We have a natural, instinctual love for our parents, our siblings and our children. The bonds of love within a family are the most basic, built-in survival skill that we have. And yet, how easily do we throw that away? Sure, I love my dad – but do I love him for who he is or who I think he should be (or should have been)?
One of the most amazing discoveries about this natural, empathetic bond is that it seems to transcend time and circumstance. We do not love our family because we chose them, or because we share common interests. Ultimately, we find familial love to be appreciative and empathetic; it is a love that opens our hearts to personalities and interests we would not have considered otherwise; it gives us the greatest opportunities to practice forgiveness, and non-discriminating acceptance.
Finally, we might attain the essence of this foundational virtue of all the four loves:
“Appreciative love gazes and holds its breath and is silent, rejoices that such a wonder should exist even if not for him, will not be wholly dejected by losing her, would rather have it so than never to have seen her at all.” (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves)
Philia, love of the familiar
Familiar love is the love that chooses based on similarities. In the broadest sense, we choose our friends when we share hobbies and interests, we find common ground as the basis for our friendship. Lasting romantic relationships must have a strong foundation of philia – sharing, appreciating, and reciprocating values and growing interests together.
Aristotle warns that philia may easily become warped to serve our own purposes – marriages of convenience, ego-centric and self-serving relationships, friendships based on wealth and power rather than an altruistic sharing of the self with another.
Philia is friendship in the truest sense – seeking relationship for it’s own sake, and for our shared interests. It is not biologically necessary, according to C.S. Lewis,
“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”
Eros, mutual pleasure
Passionate love is often mistaken for sexual love. If eros is understood to exist purely on the sexual plane, and if a relationship is based solely on eros, surely this will not last. Relationships based on eros quickly become like prison,
“mercilessly chaining together two mutual tormentors, each raw all over with the poison of hate-in-love” (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves)
However, when we meditate deeply and sincerely on the desire that binds us to another, what do we find? We discover the other as a reflection of our deeper selves; perhaps as a projection of an idealized self; possibly the missing link, the long-lost element that helps us to feel whole and complete.
Eros has also been likened to the vital energy contained within our psychic/spiritual bodies. The ancient Hindus referred to this energy as bhakti (another word for love) and shakti (spiritual energy). The study and practice of yoga and martial arts aims at disciplining and sublimating the primal, firery energy of eros into it’s most altruistic, enlightened form.
Agape, divine & transcendent
The Greek word Agape is repeated in the Bible in the context of the love of God, the presence of God, the statement that God is love, and that the highest of all virtues is Agape – that divine love that transcends all.
One of the earliest symbols of Agape is a feast: sharing a common meal at a table with friends, enemies and strangers alike. For the first Christian communities in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D., the celebrations in remembrance of Jesus Christ, imitated one of his most common acts of charity – the sharing of a meal.
Agape does not stand on it’s own – it is based on our thorough experiences of the other three forms of love. Having understood the most altruistic modes of storge, philia and eros, we may truly live and act from agape: that love that only desires the very best for all humankind; that love that seeks the good of all with no consideration of personal comfort or gain; the love that seeks God, as God seeks us – in reality, love seeking Love, and attaining a unity of presence wherein the division between self and other, inner and outer, banal and divine melt away, and there is only agape, only pure, transcendent, divine Love.