Three Kinds of Love
Summary of a Talk given by Bishop Fulton Sheen
There is perhaps no word used in our language more than the word love. And today it is so often stated: "Anything is all right, provided you love." Let me tell you, that is not true, because love is not quite that simple.
Unfortunately, we have only one word in the English language for love. And think of the ways we have to use it: I love the New York Mets, I love pickles, I love chickens, I love God. See how confusing it is?
The Greeks had three different words for love. And I'm going to give you those three words tonight.
The First Kind of Love
The first Greek word for love is eros, e-r-o-s. It simply means friendship, human love. Eros was that little Greek god that used to shoot arrows into the earth to make it fertile. Eros was not something that pushed us to an object. It was something that pulled us, it was attractive. For example, the love of a person, the love of art, the love of philosophy, the love of a good life. All that was eros.
To give you an example of that love, here is the engagement of G. K. Chesterton. All you married women will regret that your proposal was not in this language. Chesterton wrote to his future wife:
"There are four great lamps of thanksgiving burning before me.
The first: that I was born out of the same earth as you.
Two, I have tried to love everything in the universe as a remote preparation for loving you.
Three, I have never run after strange women. You cannot understand how much this prepares a man for true love.
Four, my life ends here. It has led me to you."
That is eros. I once asked a husband, what he would like to be if he could come back to earth two years after he died, and he said: "My wife's second husband."
Then came Freud. Freud changed eros into the erotic. Then eros meant sexy. And this then became the modern understanding of love. The Greeks never intended that that kind of love should so degenerate. And the new erotic love takes the fig-leaf that once used to be put in Greek sculpture over the secret parts of man and woman, and it puts it over the face, so that the person is not loved, but only the experience. You drink the water, you forget the glass. And this is modern love, erotic.
The Second Kind of Love
Now we come to the second Greek word for love. You all know it, everyone. It is philia. You know philia, because you know Philadelphia. Adelphos in Greek is brother, philia is love. Hence, Philadelphia is the city of brotherly love. Philanthropic, philia, love, anthropos, man: love of humanity.
Philia is not a love of person to person. Philia is a love for all humanity, regardless of race, creed, color, simply because people are made to the image and likeness of God. That is philia.
Now you will say: "But I can't like everyone." That's true. Because liking is in the emotions, in the feeling. But we can love everyone, because love is in the will, and it can be commanded. Hence our Blessed Lord said: "A new commandment I give you, that you love one another."
You understand now the difference between liking and loving. I can make it a little clearer this way. I don't like chicken. Monsignor had chicken for dinner one day. But if you invited me to dinner, and you had only chicken, and you would have been very embarrassed if I didn't eat, I would eat the chicken. I would love it, because I could command myself to eat it. That's the difference between liking and loving. We may not be able to like everyone, but we can love them, we can get above our emotional attitudes.
I once asked a missionary in the Pacific islands what was the greatest virtue of the people. "Well," he said, "I can tell you the greatest virtue in terms of the greatest vice. It is the sin of kai-po, the sin of eating alone. They would go without food for three or four days, until they found someone to share it." That is philia.
I told you about this friend of mine who was 14 years in a Communist prison, and he was so much beaten by the Communists that he developed lung trouble and tuberculosis, and was considered at one time the sickest man in the prison. A new prisoner was brought in, who hid in his heel a lump of sugar. He took the lump of sugar out of his heel in prison, and said to the other prisoners, "Who needs this most?" And they said: "Give it to Richard Wurmbrand."
It was given to my friend, and he said, "I immediately thought of others who needed that sugar. I hadn't seen sugar in six years. But I put the sugar on the bed next to me."
Two years later, that sugar had gone the rounds of all the prisoners, and came back again to his bed. And then he started it on another round. Imagine all these victims of the Communist persecution, in their adversity, being so devoted one to another.
About eight years ago I was on a plane, going from New York to Chicago, and as the plane took off, the stewardess sat down alongside me. She was a ravishingly beautiful girl.
Celibacy doesn't blind us, you know. I can look at the menu without ordering.
She said, "Do you remember me?" I said, "No, I don't. I ought to, but I don't."
"Well," she said, "Two years ago on this plane I sat with you for 20 minutes, and I remember every word you said."
"What did I say?"
"Well, you began by saying: 'You are a very beautiful girl. Did you know that of all the gifts that God gives, the one that he gets back last and least of all, is the gift of beauty? He gives money; owners use it for the poor. He gives the gift of song, and people sing for his glory. But too often, when God gives beauty, he gets back nothing but a pile of old bones. So, inasmuch as you are so exceptionally endowed, why don't you give your beauty to people who have never seen anything beautiful?' That's what you said."
She said: "I've had two years to think it over, and now I'm ready to do anything."
"All right. Come to my office, and I will tell you where you will go."
She said, "Tell me now. I'm ready to go."
"All right. You're going to a leper colony in Vietnam."
So I sent her to a leper colony in Vietnam. She has a little jeep, drives around the villages and searches, particularly under bridges, because when lepers are driven out of the villages, they hide under the bridges. And then she takes them to a leprosarium, where a doctor cares for these people.
And in one of her letters she said: "I do not know whether they ever think that they are ever looking at anything beautiful, but I know that I am: the gratitude of these good people."
This is philia, the second kind of love.
The Third Kind of Love
And now we come to the third Greek word. And there is no English equivalent for this, so you have to learn the word: A-G-A-P-E: ágape.
It was used before Christ, but never with any fixed meaning. But when a new love came to this earth, the love of God for man, the word eros would not do. The word philia would not do. So the Holy Spirit inspired the New Testament writers to seek about for some other word, that would express this abounding, boundless love of God for man. And they hit upon the word agapein (in the verb form). And it is used 250 times in the New Testament.
The reading that you heard tonight from John—if you went into the original Greek, you would find that this word was agape, love.
Pick up the 13th chapter of St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. The whole 13th chapter is on love. It's the most beautiful passage on love in the world. And the Greek word is the one I gave you.
You see, we had to have a new word. The world had never thought of sacrificial love. It's easy to love those who love you, as Our Lord said. But to love when you're unloved, that's heroic.
God loves me. Now I am not particularly lovable. And God loves you. Now two or three of you will admit, too, that you are not particularly lovable either. But God loves you anyway. Why does he love you? Why does he love me? He puts his love into us; that's why.
Therefore we become lovable, as a mother, for example, will put her love into a child, regardless of what that child is, whether useful or not. So God puts his love into us.
To give you an example of what this love is like, because it is so unearthly, suppose a life-guard at a beach is asked, "If there was a very beautiful girl drowning out there in the surf, would you risk your life to save her?"
He very likely would say, "Yes, I would, particularly if she's very beautiful, I would risk my life."
"Or suppose there's a person out there dying in the surf who did you and your family a lot of harm. Would you rescue that person?" He would think about it.
Now that is the way God loved us—when we were unlovable, when we were his enemies—He loved us.
We have been guilty of the death of Christ. We nailed him to that cross. As I look at him, I see there my own sins and life. I am guilty of that death.
And on Easter Sunday morning when he arises from the dead, I can say, "See, he's alive. I'm free."
That is the meaning of agape: love.
Now come back to what I said at the beginning. Is it true now, that anything is all right, provided you love? No. What kind of love? Eros? Erotic? Philia? Agape?
And this is the love to which we are committed—not just a sentimental love, but the love for the unlovable, to those who are anti-love.