The Glory of Storge (Love)

Storge, noun: Parental affection; the instinctive affection which animals have for their young.

Some of you will recall when I wrote about attending my wife as her nurse while she recuperated from surgery this past summer. Well, I just completed a remotely similar familial duty with my daughter and her husband the past two weeks.

We’ve all been anticipating the arrival of their fourth child and Grandpa is the on call childcare provider of choice. Well, Grandma is actually first choice . . . but since she’s a teacher, that’s not feasible. (She’ll be down here for a week to help out soon, while her husband is home recuperating from two exhausting but wonderful weeks with our inexhaustible grandchildren!)

A few days ago, our newest granddaughter breathed her first breath. I contemplated writing “entered the world,” but far less accurate. She’s beautiful, of course. And we’ll continue to pray that her inner and spiritual beauty, rather than her external appearance, will define her life.

This has gotten me thinking about C.S. Lewis’ wonderful book, The Four Loves. The following passage describes humanity’s natural love for family.

I begin with the humblest and most widely diffused of loves, the love in which our experience seems to differ least from that of the animals. Let me add at once that I do not on that account give it a lower value. Nothing in Man is either worse or better for being shared with the beasts. When we blame a man for being ‘a mere animal’, we mean not that he displays animal characteristics (we all do) but that he displays these, and only these, on occasions where the specifically human was demanded. (When we call him ‘brutal’ we usually mean that he commits cruelties impossible to most real brutes; they’re not clever enough.)

The Greeks called this love storge (two syllables and the g is ‘hard’). I shall here call it simply Affection. My Greek Lexicon defines storge as ‘affection, especially of parents to offspring’; but also of offspring to parents. And that, I have no doubt, is the original form of the thing as well as the central meaning of the word. The image we must start with is that of a mother nursing a baby, a [dog] or a cat with a basketful of puppies or kittens; all in a squeaking, nuzzling heap together; purrings, lickings, baby-talk, milk, warmth, the smell of young life.

The importance of this image is that it presents us at the very outset with a certain paradox. The Need and Need-love of the young is obvious; so is the Gift-love of the mother. She gives birth, gives suck, gives protection. On the other hand, she must give birth or die. She must give suck or suffer. That way, her Affection too is a Need-love. There is the paradox. It is a Need-love but what it needs is to give. It is a Gift-love but it needs to be needed.

As Lewis says, this storge love is a natural affection, instilled within the entire animal kingdom. That is what makes reports of people’s crimes against their own children so terribly shocking. These barbaric acts go against natural law itself. They are inhuman in the absolute sense. And witnessing them among humanity and various animal species reminds us of just how far we have fallen.

By God’s grace, such outrageous acts are the rare exception. Storge is so deeply engrained in nature’s order that we see it in nearly every direction we look. No family is perfect, but most of us are blessed with parents, siblings or other relatives who love us by virtue of our innate bonds.

However, if you are one of the unfortunates who were not loved by your father or mother . . . if you were rejected by your family, I am praying for you. Praying that you will come to know storge in its wonderful fullness through surrogate parents and siblings. After all, it’s not blood that forges these bonds—it is love. Storge is something we readily share with our spouses and our intimate friends. It is a sort of “kinship by choice.”

As I thank God for the most recent addition to our family’s number, I encourage you to thank the Lord as well for the storge love he allows you to give, and receive.

The painting above was created by Samuel De Wilde (1751-1832). And for you cat lovers who were disappointed by my selection of an image of puppies, enjoy this fine portrait of feline storge.

16 thoughts on “The Glory of Storge (Love)

    1. A very interesting response, Brenton. I’ve met others who didn’t care much for pets and “rug rats” (as my dad used to call younger tykes). And I guess we’d need a conversation for me to understand what you mean by “unsettled.” As for me, I can’t conceive of a life without this source of comfort and acceptance–storge. And the mundane nature of it, in the sense of its commonness, in no way diminishes its blessing.

      I enjoyed your post on the subject.

      “In this way, Affection is not exactly a completely separate love, but works in all our loves—what would friendship or erotic love be without affection? And unlike the other loves, Affection lives quietly in our existence, slinking through our lives without notice. Erotic love could not stand this—can you imagine how a wife would feel if her husband was embarrassed when they accidentally brushed hands in public?—and friendship requires some moments of pause and reflection.”

      I understand what you are saying in this first sentence . . . but I think although that’s usually the case, it’s not necessarily true. I’ve seen erotic love at work without the sanctifying affect of agape or phileo, and it is an ugly thing. Oh, and I know very well how wives feel when their husbands don’t like to hold hands in public!

      1. Do you mean “without” in that second last sentence? I think I am speaking in ideal form, really. There are ugly sides to all these things, which Lewis covers in “The Great Divorce” and a little bit in “The Screwtape Letters”. I like kids, it just isn’t a thing. Perhaps none of the kids are as good as my kid!

    2. I sure do. Thanks for catching the error. Sadly, you’re correct about the Adversary being able to corrupt virtually anything. And yes, it goes without saying that no kid is as special as your own kid!

  1. Wonderful thoughts and congratulations on your newest grandchild. I am blessed to have that kind of love with my family members. It breaks my heart for those I know who lack that kind of familial love. I don’t understand it. The more you expose me to C.S. Lewis, the more I am inspired. I need to get one of his books and dive in reading. Any favorite you’d recommend for a somewhat beginner?

    1. Glad you’re inspired to read Lewis’ work. Where to begin? It really depends on what interests you, since he wrote in differing genres on a wide range of subjects. His Chronicles of Narnia were written for children but loved by adult readers as well. A Grief Observed describes his suffering after the death of his wife. Mere Christianity is a defense of belief as the West was entering the current post-Christian age. His personal favorite was Till We Have Faces, a retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche. My favorite is the fantasy The Great Divorce, but as it’s about the gulf between heaven and hell and why some will “choose” to be separated from God, it’s not for everyone. There are collections of his letters. And, there is the collection of The Screwtape Letters, which are fiction from the pen of a senior Devil to a junior tempter. They are entertaining and insightful. I think you might do well to begin there.

  2. Eimi

    A good friend of mine pointed out how, biologically, monogamy is the preferred habitat for rearing a human child, being that it takes about a quarter century for one to fully develop.

    I’m not sure that the entire animal kingdom shares storge. I think it depends on the species – the neediness of the young.

    1. “A quarter century . . .” And, not infrequently, more than that! :) You’re right about animal species. Many just send them off into the world on their own. But in some animals, we witness profound expressions of familial affection.

  3. Such happy news! Rest up – and enjoy.
    (oh, great post as always. I have to believe it is possible for parents to love their children but not like them – as it was with my mother. She would never accept me as I was – unable to fit the image of the child she wanted (can’t do much about the color of my eyes or straight hair the wrong color). But she had my brother, so maybe that was enough.

    1. It saddens me to hear this. I’ve seen it before. In one of its most flagrant variations, I’ve been in maternity wards themselves where so-called “fathers” expressed visible (and audible) dissatisfaction with their child’s gender. I’ve been tempted on several occasions to offer the observation: “you’re aware, I assume, that it was your chromosomal contribution that determined your child’s gender.” However, I didn’t wish to make matters any worse for the new mothers.

      1. philosophermouseofthehedge

        You always hope the new father falls in love with that new little girl and gets over it.
        Fortunately many children seem to survive difficult family relationships and grow up determined not to repeat the mistakes with their own children.
        Considering the complexity of creating a new person – it would seem everyone would be so amazed and grateful of the gift of any child – it is a miracle, no matter how you look at it: with science or religion.
        But some will never get it? (and like you said, it’s useless to try with some – maybe another will be placed in the child’s life to give balance and guidance)

  4. Watching and experiencing my father’s process, in this regard, has been amazing to me. I remember always having an awareness that he loved me, by his actions, but until I was at least ten, he was not comfortable in expressing it. He has had an even harder time expressing it to my brother, alas!
    Now, though, he’s able to say he loves me consistently, and he can bring himself to say it to my brother occasionally. I’m proud of him, and glad he’s found that freedom. I’m also glad for our sakes. It changes so much in how we meet the world.

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