According to one theory, human love arose from the evolutionary dictate that those who bonded were the ones who survived. Still, there was no guarantee of the survival of the species in a dangerous and cruel world where children were at risk. In response, the brain evolved another pleasurable sensation for emerging humans, a feeling of pleasure when a couple stayed exclusively together, an emotional and affectionate bonding as persons.
The monogamous relationship helped the children survive, and the family unit to evolve. It gave protection, food and learning. When this bond is absent the parents easily separate, and the offspring are at risk. That’s why today the bond of married love needs a spiritual dimension.
When hunting and gathering for survival gave way to a settled agricultural way of life, food was more secure, and the village was born. Emotional bonding became an important element in non-aggression and peaceful survival. Being together as family was valued all the more and celebrated. These values, human feelings and emotions, inspired artistic people to express and celebrate them in even more beautiful art. Greek culture valued human relationships and celebrated the natural emotional attraction between individuals. They called it Eros, a happy attraction and emotional attachment between individuals.
For the Greeks and C.S. Lewis, (the author of The Four Loves), Eros is different from sexuality. Eros only seeks emotional bonding, but it can lead to, or be part of friendship. The philosopher Plato expounded on this and gave us Platonic love. As Lewis says, if sexuality is added to friendship and Eros as an outward expression of inner feeling (called Venus by Lewis), then it is a very different relationship. Married love is the best and most beautiful expression of this. It has a spiritual dimension that can last a lifetime.
The Greeks had high regard for friendship; it is a strong bonding between individuals or a small group that arises from the need of individuals to work together for a common goal that could not be achieved alone. Eros, affection or emotional attraction, can also be present strengthening the bond of friendship. Friendship is based on spiritual values; mutual and equal return of trust, equality, honesty, openness, shared values, loyalty, faithfulness and even enduring death for the other. It is a spiritual love between individuals. “No greater love can anyone have than to lay down his life for a friend,” said Jesus of Nazareth.
This can grow to yet another higher form of love – Agape. It is part of friendship but goes beyond it. It is unconditional, self-sacrificing love of others asking nothing in return. The love is expressed in compassion, concern and a desire to end suffering, help needy people and bring about justice and happiness in the world. The Gospel story of the Good Samaritan is one example and the self-sacrificing acts of redemptive love of the individual dying for the many so they will be saved from evil is another. Jesus of Nazareth gave us the example. That is God’s love made present in Him.
Fr. Shay Cullen lives and works in the Philippines.