Last week the Philosophy Society at School welcomed Fr. Daniel Sandham (@frdanielsandham) for a talk about Sex, Marriage and Sexuality in the Church of England. He began by suggesting that the foundation of any discussion about these matters must be focused primarily on Love.
For such a short word it has a huge range of uses:
In English we use the same word to describe our feelings for our Rugby club (I love Saracens), music (I love that tune), food (I love fried chicken) and our spouse! The Ancient Greeks were much more subtle and employed at least four different words so they knew exactly what they meant.
This word is the origin of the English word Erotic and means passionate love and is often, but not exclusively sexual. It is to yearn for someone and to desire them.
This final type is the most important word for Philosophers and Theologians. Agape is unconditional love of others. Love that requires nothing in return.
Christians believe that they should emulate Jesus’ love and therefore should be agapeic - loving their neighbour and praying for those who persecute them.
So what kind of love is being celebrated in a marriage? Well in my mind it is a heady mix of all four, and indeed as couples go through their life together the type of love will change and develop.
There is certainly a place for eros in a marriage, but this of course could not be the only connection between the couple - such relationships do not last. There will have been a lot more eros at the start of a marriage and this is a good example of how married relationships develop. There also needs to be friendship - philos. A good relationship is cerebral, you have to enjoy being in each others company. Often you hear a person saying that they married their best friend and this is philos. There will be storge, warm affection and pride in a spouses’ achievements. Most importantly there will be agape - the willingness to sacrifice everything for the other person, to do anything for them but for nothing in return. This is endless love, love that causes people to stay with their partner no matter what wrongs they commit or if they are disabled or injured.
So next time you hear someone say “I love…” have a think about what kind of love they mean and how the Ancient Greeks would categorize it. There’s more to this four-letter word that it first seems...
Can you think of any other definitions of love?