Greek European Culture

Greek Language, Philosophy, Plato

Eros and Agape: Can we know what love is?
















Focusing on a linguistic approach means we have stopped living in the Church — or that our Church is cut from the tradition that links us with the first Christians. This results in significant errors, such as the one about love, which I found in a web page. There I read the following definitions of Greek love-words:

Eros: This is physical, carnal, passionate, erotic, fleshly, romantic love.
Storge: This is natural affection – family, kin.
Phileo: This is tender affection and brotherly love.
Agape: This is in the will, not the emotion. It is commanded. It is not “like,” but love. Agape is the course of active good will even to enemies.

The author of the web page is interested in some sort of music that would transmit the Christian message, and uses these definitions to conclude that “the problem we face with most Christian contemporary songs, even some choruses sung in churches, is understanding what type of love exists between men and God. Agape love is what we should be referring to when we sing songs in reference to God’s love. As there is only one word in the English language for love, we need to be clearer in our definition of what type of love we’re referring to. Lyrics like these sound more like an eros love, not an agape love: ‘Every time I breathe You seem a little bit closer I never want to leave I want to stay in Your warm embrace‘.”

St. Symeon the New Theologian, one of the greatest Greek fathers, and the only one after St. John the Evangelist and St Gregory of Constantinople to have been honored by the Orthodox with the epithet “Theologian”, wrote “Hymns of Divine Loves”. The Greek word for “loves” in this title is “Eroton”, i.e. genitive plural of the word Eros — not the word Agape.

Many other great fathers, such as St Gregory of Nyssa, St Dionysious the Areopagite or St Maximus Confessor, use the word Eros and not only Agape, whether they refer to love for God or to love for men. In the verse above, that the author condemns because “it sounds more like an eros, not an agape”, all of these Orthodox fathers would find no problem at all.

There is no good love and bad love — all love is one and is good. We can differentiate only by degrees, as is well known already from Plato, who did not hesitate to describe as divine even the relationship between two persons of the same sex that contains carnal affection besides what Plato himself considered as pure love. But we can’t understand these things just by examining words and etymologies.

We have to be careful, we need to know better the life of the Church through the ages, and never, ever, betray our own experience of love — unless, of course, there is nothing to be betrayed.

Spiritual life is a building-upon, a growing, an enlargement, not a betrayal. If we feel love to whatever degree, this is the most certain principle for us, upon which we should base our understanding of the Bible and all our progress.

1 Comment

  1. Lydia

    I think the point the author was making, or at least, a worry of many in the church, was that English has confined the meaning of love into one single word that trys to describe everything from sexual intimacy to an extremem liking of a certain dessert to what Christ did on the cross. Our articulating abilities are weak and the English language has not done a good job of strengthening it. I think the point is understanding not simply of the words and definitions but the MEANING. And the fact that what ‘the world’ calls love, doesn’t touch the edge of what our Creator displays.