In the English language, we are at a slight disadvantage when it comes to the word love. The Greek language has four words to describe love. They are phileo, agape, eros and storge. Each of these describes a particular level of love. Two of them, phileo and agape, appear in scripture. All are common types of love in the Catholic tradition and all plat a key role in our lives for as Scripture tell us God is love (1John 4:8).
Agape describes the most powerful love possible. This love is what is known as sacrificial love. Agape love is much more than a feeling. It is an actual act of free will. This is the type of love that God displays in a most prominent way. His constant concern for His people through time was best displayed when he sacrificed His only Son, Jesus Christ, to atone for our sins. We are called to perform acts of agape love every day. When we make sacrifices for others around us, we are participating in agape love. Another example of agape love can be found in the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
Storge love is an affectionate love. This is the type of love one might have for a one’s family or their spouse. This is a naturally occurring love that is unforced between individuals. Storge love can be found multiple times throughout Scripture. It is deeply rooted in the family structures of Noah and Jacob. We also see it in the New Testament within the interactions between Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.
Eros is likely the more familiar sounding Greek word. Eros describes passionate or sexual love. The word eros is the source for the English word erotic. Eros can be a very important component of the marital bond between husband and wife. It was also created by God (Song of Solomon). Though intended to be good, eros can be abused. It is commonly misrepresented in pornography and is a cause of sexual immorality. When used in this manner Eros is a sin (1 Corinthians 6:18, 1 Thessalonians 4:3).
Lastly, we come to phileo love. This type of love refers to brotherly love and is often displayed in close friendships. Best friends commonly display this generous love as each seeks to make the other happy. One of the best examples of phileo love can be found in the friendship of David and Jonathan. “After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself…And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself” (1 Samuel 18: 1-3).
Putting it all together
In Catholic tradition, these four types of love are distinguished in two forms, “natural” love and “supernatural” love. We as Catholics are called to display all aspects of love in our lives. Man was created in God’s image and likeness. We have been given the capacity to know, to will (make things happen), and to love. When original sin was introduced into the Garden of Eden and became a part of human history, it crippled these gifts. Our intelligence was blinded, our wills were weakened, and our hearts were frozen.
Our job is to re-invigorate these four levels of love, and we do this by imitation of the one who laid down his own life for us and died on the Cross. “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).