November 8, 2012

The Nature of Love, Part 2: Greek and Christian Love

Last time in Part 1 of this series, I talked about how to define love. This time, I'm going to look at the different types of love, how they can be classified, and how to tell the difference.

Love is a difficult thing to classify. On the one hand, we're usually not clear what causes it, which makes categorizing it difficult. On the other hand, there seem to be so many different kinds of love, and so many different people with a wide array of interpretations about it, that it can be dizzying trying to make sense of it all.

Fortunately for us, many people and many cultures have already attempted to classify love. We will look at some of the ones most relevant to this discussion, such as Greek, Christian, Daoist, Mystical, and Modern classifications of love.

Love According to the Ancient Greeks

The Ancient Greeks classified love into four different types:

Storge (στοργή) is familial love, such as love between a parent and a child. It is considered a natural form of affection.

Philia (φιλία) is a general type of love that can be experienced between family members, friends, and even lovers. It is a form of passionless love that require virtue and loyalty.

Eros (ἔρως) is a sensual, passionate love. Though it can be sexual in nature, it doesn't actually have to be. Eros can be felt for someone that is a friend, but that you feel a stronger love than you would with philia.

Agape (ἀγάπη) is true love. It can apply to family, a lover, or a spouse. In later years, it was also adopted by Christians to describe the love one feels for God.

Love According to Christians

The Christian notion of love naturally evolved from the Greek ideas. While Christians kept the same four categories devised by the Greeks, they defined them somewhat differently.

Storge is familial love, just as in the Greek versions. Christians considered Storge to be involuntary. It is the love that can trascend all discriminations.

Philia is a familiar, comfortable love between friends. It can wax and wane depending on circumstances.

Eros is sexuality and physical passion, in contrast to the Greek idea where it does not necessarily have to include sexuality. Note that the C.S. Lewis differentiated eros into two components: eros, which is warm feeling of being in love and Venus, the sexuality.

Agape is charity and altruistic love. It is loving without regard to your own self or feelings. Christians believe that it is this type of love, and only this type, that God feels for humanity.

As we can see, each culture had it's own thoughts as to what love was, and many times these ideas evolved out of older ones. This will become more important later, as we see how they might all come together.

In Part 3, we will talk about Mystical ideas of love.


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