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For Quinquagesima: Augustine of Hippo on love

February 10, 2013

From Faith and Life, here is an excerpt from Augustine of Hippo about love, or “charity” as the Authorized Version renders it:

What greater cause is there for our Lord’s Coming, than that God might show in us His love, commending it powerfully, in that “while we were yet enemies Christ died for us?” And this He did to the end that, since “the end of the commandment and the fulfilling of the law is love,” we should also love one another, and “as He laid down His life for us, we also should lay down our lives for the brethren;” and as to God Himself, since “He first loved us,” and ” spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all,” if once we found it irksome to love Him, at any rate now we should not find it irksome to return His love. For there is no more powerful way of inviting love, than to be the first to love; and that soul is sadly hard which not only refused to bestow affection, but even refuses to repay it. What else do we guard against in that which gives a shock to friendship, than that our friend should think either that we do not love him, or that we do not love him as much as he loves us? And it is worth observing, with how great a love an inferior is kindled when he is conscious of being loved by a superior. For there is love more welcome, where it is not parched with the dryness of want, but streams forth in abundance of bounty. In the former case, love comes from misery; in the latter, from mercy. If then this was the main cause of Christ’s coming, that man might know how much God loves him, and know it to this end, that he might be kindled with affection for Him who loved him first, and might love his neighbour at the bidding and teaching of Him, who became man’s neighbour by loving him when he was no neighbour, but one sojourning far away; and if all Divine Scripture previously written was written to announce beforehand the Lord’s Coming; and if whatever was afterwards committed to writing, and stamped with Divine authority, tells of Christ and admonishes us to love; it is plain that on those two commandments of love to God and to one’s neighbour hang not only all the Law and the Prophets, which as yet, when our Lord thus spake, were the only Holy Scripture extant, but also whatever portions of the Divine Writings have since then been written for our salvation and committed to our memory. Wherefore in the Old Testament is a veiling of the New, in the New an unveiling of the Old’. Take then this love as your proposed object, to which you are to refer all that you say; and whatever you narrate, so narrate it that the person to whom you speak may by hearing believe, by believing hope, by hoping love. And at the close of your discourse, you must earnestly warn him not to place his hope in man; because neither is it easy for man to judge as to what man is just; and if it were, the reason why the examples of just men are set before us is not that we may be justified by them, but that by imitating them we may understand that we ourselves are justified by their Justifier. For the result of this will be—a result especially to be commended—that when he who is hearing us, or rather is hearing God by means of us, has begun to improve in conduct and knowledge, and to enter heartily on the way of Christ, he will not venture to attribute this either to us or to himself, but will love both himself, and us, and all others whom he loves as friends, in Him and for Him who loved him when an enemy, that by justifying him He might make him a friend.

–St. Augustine, on Catechizing the Simple.

We love Him because He first loved us, and because of this, we can love others.

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