four loves

Activated - - EDITOR'S INTRODUCTI­ON - Sa­muel Keat­ing Ex­ec­u­tive Edi­tor

In mod­ern English, the word “love” con­veys a range of emo­tions, but the clas­si­cal Greeks were more pre­cise. They had four words that have all been trans­lated as “love” in English:

Storgē roughly fits our English word “af­fec­tion,” espe­cially the type of af­fec­tion within fam­i­lies. It can also be used in a “put up with” type of way—and as most of us know, that is in fact the type of love many of us had for our sib­lings when grow­ing up.

Philíos was used for a gen­eral type of vir­tu­ous, dis­pas­sion­ate love—the type that in­spires loy­alty. To­day, it’s an equiv­a­lent of “friend­ship.”

Éros was a pas­sion­ate love, the kind that ex­ists in a healthy marriage or in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ship. Socrates had a fa­mous de­bate about éros with his stu­dents, which was recorded in Plato’s Sym­po­sium. Plato re­fined the idea to be not so much love of a per­son, but love of the beauty in a per­son. This is where we get the idea of a pla­tonic re­la­tion­ship, which is a love re­la­tion­ship de­void of sex­ual over­tones.

The Sep­tu­agint—the Greek trans­la­tion of the Old Tes­ta­ment com­pleted be­fore the time of Je­sus—used the verb agá­pao fre­quently to de­scribe all sorts of love, from di­vine pity to erotic pas­sion. And it was in that same work that the de­riv­a­tive noun agape, the fourth word for love, made its first ap­pear­ance in Greek lit­er­a­ture to de­scribe the deep­est kind of love, such as in the Song of Songs, which is at­trib­uted to Solomon and thought to be evoca­tive of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween God and be­liev­ers.

The New Tes­ta­ment writ­ers used agape around 250 times to de­scribe this high­est ideal of love. In ad­di­tion to the English word “love”—such as in Theos agápe es­tin, “God is love” (1 John 4:8)—the King James trans­la­tors some­times chose the English word “char­ity” (for in­stance in 1 Corinthi­ans 13). This was meant to re­in­force the idea that agape is a self­less, giv­ing, and un­con­di­tional love. Now we know what to strive for.

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