From Agape to Praxis: The Fourfold Nature of Love
It is said that one can tell what a culture knows best by counting the
number of words their language uses to describe a concept. Eskimos have
many words for snow and the classical Greeks had many words for love. I
have isolated four Greek words that I feel epitomize the spiritual,
emotional, mental and physical manifestations of love: agape, philios, eros
Agape, the highest form of spiritual love, is the source from which all
other forms of love spring and the perfected form of expression towards
which all other forms of love inherently seek to attain. The
Liddell-Scott-Jones Lexicon of Classical Greek defines agape as "love,
especially love of God for man and of man for God."
While this form of love can also describe the love of a man and wife or a
brotherly love, agape is a spiritual love above all else. Agape is not an
action, an emotion or a thought -- it springs directly from the spirit and
speaks directly to the spirit. As the wellspring or seed of other
expressions, however, the effects of agape are born out on all levels.
Because Agape is pure love, it is frequently not recognized as love. The
pure fire of spirituality often appears foreign to those who are not
accustomed to speaking its tongue. Philios, which flows naturally from
agape, is generally viewed as the epitome of love. Philios is the
emotional form of love and the popular conception of love is that it is
solely a feeling.
Philios is often called Brotherly Love. Pindar, Xenophon, Aeschylus and
countless other Greek authors used philios to denote friendship of a
platonic nature and Homer used the verb form, philêsêi, in his "Odyssey"
(4.29) to mean "welcome, entertain a guest." Even the gods were thought to
express and govern philios -- according to Pausanias' "Description of
Greece," (8.3.14) Zeus was called Dios philiou, or God of Friendship, at
his temple at Megalopolis.
It is worth noting, however that the classic Greek definition of philios
was not always so chaste. In his "Phaedrus," (231c) Plato used the phrase
"toutous malista phasin philein hôn an erôsin" giving philein the meaning
of "regard with affection those for whom they have a passion." Herodotus'
"Histories" (1.134) uses the phrase "phileousi toisi stomasi" or "kiss on
the mouth," giving philios a physical undertone by using the noun as a verb
meaning, more or less, "to express one's philios."
Philios meant the love of a child one had reared, the love of a spouse and
the form of Universal Brotherhood that recognizes the human in each person
as opposed to the Universal Brotherhood of agape that recognizes the god in
each person. Truly, Universal Brotherhood rests upon both agape and philios
for in recognizing the god in others we allow them to be perfect while in
recognizing the human in others we allow them to make mistakes.
The intellectual form of love, eros, is often mistaken for a physical form
of love because of its overtly sexual nature. Moreover, the theories of
Jung have used the word 'eros' in such a way as to make it appear to be the
spiritual form of love. Additionally, eros (or more correctly, libido) is
often used as an excuse for exceedingly emotional behavior. Eros, however,
is primarily concerned with the largest human sex organ -- the brain.
Thought of agape does not bring spirit into existence by itself. Likewise,
philios flows from the heart and spirit. But one thought, born of pure
imagination, can inflate the pneuma of eros. What is the main difference
between the cookie-cutter pornography that makes one yawn and the erotica
that excites one's senses? Thought. Be it the thought that the creator
put into the erotic creation or the thought stimulated in the viewer, it is
intellect that causes erotica to rise above callous depictions of
In "Libation Bearers" (600), Aeschylus speaks of "antolmous erôtas" or
"reckless passions" and "thêlukratês aperôtos erôs" or "inordinate
passions" and tells us that eros has "overmastered the female." The key to
understanding the intellectual nature of eros is to realize that eros is a
tool of love. Those who continue to eschew responsibility and excuse their
actions by claiming to be the tool of love rather than the master who
wields the four-fold tool of love risk repeating the errors of Othello who
"loved not wisely but too well."
While these three forms of love are each potent in themselves, the point
where love finds expression in the physical world is praxis. When love is
allowed to flow through the elements -- finding seed in agape, nourishment
in philios and reflection in eros -- the resulting praxis is the rarefied
"spirituous earth" spoken of in the Emerald Tablet of Hermes. This is the
expression of Sacred Sex -- the manifestation of the four-fold love.
But praxis doesn't need to take a sexual form to be a physical
manifestation of love. A word can be a praxis. A silence can be a praxis.
Any action taken in any amount of love is praxis.
The classic Greeks used praxis as a euphemism for sexual intercourse. One
example of this usage is found in Aeschines' "Against Timarchus" (1.158)
where he writes, "huper tês praxeôs tautês apesterêkenai" or "in connection
with this practice" in reference to prostitutes cheating people out of
money. The inference is obviously to the practice of sex and the reference
is to the phrase "hê praxis hê gennêtikê" or "the practice of procreating,"
a phrase used by Aristotle (HA539b20) among others.
Praxis also referred to magical operations and spells according to
Liddell-Scott-Jones. Love made manifest in the physical plane is a very
real form of magick and not to be discounted lightly though it may appear
as nothing more than a caress or a seemingly casual turn of phrase.
The most frequent meaning of praxis, however, is simply "action." Thus the
manifestation of the Tetragrammaton of love is action or praxis and the
regular expression of fully actualized praxis is the most complete and
perfected manifestation of love on all levels. Thus is the regeneration of
the world enacted continually.
All citation sources can be found online at:
The Perseus Project, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu.
(Documents used for this article were accessed August, 1999.)
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