As I mentioned last week in my review of C. S. Lewis’s The Four Loves, the book contains one of the more famous Lewis quotes. You’ve probably seen it before:
It certainly sounds like good advice, and read in isolation, it is open to the interpretation that most people give it. Oddly enough though, Lewis was making the exact opposite point when he wrote it.
Near the beginning of chapter six of The Four Loves, Lewis references the following passage from Book 4 of St. Augustine’s Confessions, in which Augustine recalls his reaction to the sudden death of an unnamed friend:
Wretched I was; and wretched is every soul bound by the friendship of perishable things; he is torn asunder when he loses them, and then he feels the wretchedness which he had ere yet he lost them.
Rather than quote Augustine directly, Lewis instead summarized his point with the famous quote. But his whole reason for summarizing it was so that he could argue against it. From The Four Loves:
There is no man alive who responds more naturally than I to such canny maxims. I am a safety-first creature. Of all arguments against love none makes so strong an appeal to my nature as “Careful! This might lead you to suffering.”
To my nature, my temperament, yes. Not to my conscience. When I respond to that appeal I seem to myself to be a thousand miles away from Christ. If I am sure of anything I am sure that His teaching was never meant to confirm my congenital preference for safe investments and limited liabilities. I doubt whether there is anything in me that pleases Him less. And who could conceivably begin to love God on such a prudential ground—because the security (so to speak) is better? Who could even include it among the ground for loving? Would you choose a wife or a friend—if it comes to that, would you choose a dog—in this spirit? One must be outside the world of love, of all loves, before one thus calculates. Eros, lawless Eros, preferring the Beloved to happiness, is more like Love himself than this.1
Lewis also refers to Augustine’s original idea as “less a part of St. Augustine’s Christendom than a hangover from the high-minded Pagan philosophies in which he grew up.”2 Ouch.
1 Lewis, C. S. The Four Loves New York: Mariner Books, 2012. Pg. 120-121.
2 Ibid. Pg. 121.