Love is an emotion of strong affection and personal attachment. Love is also a virtue representing all of human kindness, compassion, and affection; and “the unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another”.
Love is central to many religions, as in the Christian phrase, “God is love” or Agape in the Canonical gospels.Love may also be described as actions towards others (or oneself) based on compassion, or as actions towards others based on affection.
In English, love refers to a variety of different feelings, states, and attitudes, ranging from pleasure (“I loved that meal”) to interpersonal attraction (“I love my partner”). “Love” may refer specifically to the passionate desire and intimacy of romantic love, to the sexual love of eros, to the emotional closeness of familial love, or the platonic love that defines friendship, to the profound oneness or devotion of religious love. This diversity of uses and meanings, combined with the complexity of the feelings involved, makes love unusually difficult to consistently define, even compared to other emotional states.
Love may be understood as part of the survival instinct, a function to keep human beings together against menaces and to facilitate the continuation of the species.
The Christian understanding is that love comes from God. The love of man and woman—eros in Greek—and the unselfish love of others (agape), are often contrasted as “ascending” and “descending” love, respectively, but are ultimately the same thing.
There are several Greek words for “love” that are regularly referred to in Christian circles.
- Agape: In the New Testament, agapē is charitable, selfless, altruistic, and unconditional. It is parental love, seen as creating goodness in the world; it is the way God is seen to love humanity, and it is seen as the kind of love that Christians aspire to have for one another.
- Phileo: Also used in the New Testament, phileo is a human response to something that is found to be delightful. Also known as “brotherly love.”
- Two other words for love in the Greek language, eros (sexual love) and storge (child-to-parent love), were never used in the New Testament.
Christians believe that to Love God with all your heart, mind, and strength and Love your neighbor as yourself are the two most important things in life (the greatest commandment of the Jewish Torah, according to Jesus; cf. Gospel of Mark chapter 12, verses 28–34). Saint Augustine summarized this when he wrote “Love God, and do as thou wilt.”
The Apostle Paul glorified love as the most important virtue of all. Describing love in the famous poem in 1 Corinthians, he wrote, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.” (1 Cor. 13:4–7, NIV)
The Apostle John wrote, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16–17, NIV) John also wrote, “Dear friends, let us love one another for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7–8, NIV)
Saint Augustine says that one must be able to decipher the difference between love and lust. Lust, according to Saint Augustine, is an overindulgence, but to love and be loved is what he has sought for his entire life. He even says, “I was in love with love.” Finally, he does fall in love and is loved back, by God. Saint Augustine says the only one who can love you truly and fully is God, because love with a human only allows for flaws such as“jealousy, suspicion, fear, anger, and contention.” According to Saint Augustine, to love God is “to attain the peace which is yours.” (Saint Augustine’s Confessions)
Christian theologians see God as the source of love, which is mirrored in humans and their own loving relationships. Influential Christian theologian C.S. Lewis wrote a book called The Four Loves. Benedict XVI wrote his first encyclical on “God is love“. He said that a human being, created in the image of God, who is love, is able to practice love; to give himself to God and others (agape) and by receiving and experiencing God’s love in contemplation (eros). This life of love, according to him, is the life of the saints such as Teresa of Calcutta and the Blessed Virgin Mary and is the direction Christians take when they believe that God loves them.
In Christianity the practical definition of love is best summarised by St. Thomas Aquinas, who defined love as “to will the good of another,” or to desire for another to succeed. This is the explanation of the Christian need to love others, including their enemies. As Thomas Aquinas explains, Christian love is motivated by the need to see others succeed in life, to be good people.