August 28, 2008

[Loving] Augustine

Oh happy day! Today is the feast of the great (great!) St. Augustine.
Once and for all, a short rule is laid down for you: Love, and do what you will. If you keep silence, do it out of love. If you cry out, do it out of love. If you refrain from punishing, do it out of love. Let the root of love be within. From such a root nothing but good can come
"Love, and do what you will." This is a oft quoted line of St. Augustine, and I was thinking of simply posting it today. But something stopped me, and I decided to do a quick search on its source. I've always loved this command, and loved St. Augustine more for saying it--but it needs to be properly understood, and is, too often, left to stand by itself without reference or foundation.

Taken out of context this passage can be used to cover any number of failings or sins. Sex before marriage; white lies; gluttony and drunkenness (from excess of spirit). These, and many other sins, both grave and venial, can be
"excused" by the words: "I did it out of love."

But the love Augustine is speaking of is not an excuse; it's a challenge. The quote is from his sermon on the first letter of John:
Now are you of God, little children, and have overcome him: because greater is He that is in you, than he that is in this world. They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God: he that knows God hears us; he that is not of God hears not us. From this know we the spirit of truth, and [the spirit] of error. Dearly, beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loves is born of God, and knows God. He that loves not knows not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God in us, that God sent His only-begotten Son into this world, that we may live through Him. Herein is love, not that we loved, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the Atoner for our sins. Dearly beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. (1 John 4:4-12)
In the light of this passage, "Love, and do what you will." takes on new gravity. In fact, Augustine is saying that sometimes hard things are done out of love. The original passage begins:
[T]he deeds of men are only discerned by the root of charity. For many things may be done that have a good appearance, and yet proceed not from the root of charity. For thorns also have flowers: some actions truly seem rough, seem savage; howbeit they are done for discipline at the bidding of charity.

If "love" is our excuse, no good will come of it. If we choose loves, good in their own right, but lesser than the love of Christ to guide our actions, nothing good can come from them. Only when true Christ-like charity is at the root of our actions can we will rightly, and do well.

So, love. And, do what you will.


  1. I get that the maxim is paradoxical, but at the same time, I've never heard of anybody use this exact phrase as an excuse to do anything wrong. Is it just me?

  2. No: i don't mean an excuse to do anything wrong. But taken out of context it can sum up that common excuse: "I did it out of love"

    The question is, what kind of love? Take the example of extra-marital sex: one may truly and deeply love another outside of marriage. But in the sacrament of marriage the two "become one flesh". Only now is consummation of that love appropriate, because sex is a physical manifestation of the love and union of the sacrament.

    I guess all I am saying is that love of God (not just "love') must be at the root of all that we do. All other loves justly flow from this, and make our actions graces.