Agape to Praxis: The Fourfold Nature of Love[credits]
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 and praxis.
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, philÍsÍi, 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 hŰn an erŰsin" 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 impersonal sex.
In "Libation Bearers" (600),
Aeschylus speaks of "antolmous erŰtas" or "reckless passions" and "thÍlukratÍs aperŰtos erŰs" 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 tÍs praxeŰs tautÍs apesterÍkenai" 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 "hÍ praxis hÍ gennÍtikÍ"
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.