Word of the Week: Agápe

“To love is to will the good of another.” – St. Thomas Aquinas

Not to be confused with the adjective used to describe my husband’s jaw when he sees me in something other than yoga pants, the Greek word agápe means love. (On second thought, maybe it is the same thing.)

In fact, the ancient Greeks had at least four words to define what we in English lump together as loveÉros is the form of love meaning sexual passion. (Nevermind, this one better describes the feeling when I’m wearing real clothes. Maybe we should start calling a dropped jaw éros instead of agape?) Philia is the affectionate love of friends and family. (And this would be the one that describes the feeling when I am wearing yoga pants.) Storge is reserved for the natural love between parents and children.

And agápe? The selfless love of others.

In his book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis describes this love of others over self as the greatest love of all. “[Love] is a state not of feelings but of the will; that state of the will which we have naturally about ourselves, and must learn to have about other people.” It is a love of inclusion, not discrimination. It is a love of giving, not receiving. It is a love of humans, not personal agenda.

When Christian leaders denounce marriage equality under the guise of love, it is not agápe. When politicians use scare tactics to turn their backs on those in need, it is not agápe. In fact, I could not find a single Greek word that meant “the love used to justify discrimination and idleness.” Mother Teresa described it best when she said, “The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for.”

Agápe is Mother Teresa washing the wounds of lepers.

Agápe is New York City firefighters rushing into burning buildings on 9/11.

Agápe is the plight of Martin Luther King, Jr. to free an entire people from the binds of inequality and injustice.

Agápe is not “separate but equal.” Agápe is everything.