St. Augustine: “Late Have I Loved You!”

Last week we celebrated the feast of the incomparable St. Augustine of Hippo. In our anti-intellectual age, he sometimes gets dismissed as too complicated. But previous ages considered his thinking to be rooted in the deepest mysticism, and his place in the Catholic intellectual tradition has always been among those who emphasize that God is infinitely above human thought.

Today, just one burst of poetry, from the Confessions. Augustine shows that all the beautiful things in the world are just distractions, unless they lead us inward, to the greatest Beauty, which is God.


st-augustine-of-hippo-2So late did I love You, O Beauty, so ancient, and yet so new! So late did I love You!

For behold, You were inside me, but I was outside, and sought you there. I, unlovely, rushed heedlessly among the things of beauty that You had made. You were with me, but I was not with You.

Things kept me far from You, which would not have been, if they had not been in You.

You called, and cried aloud, and broke open my deafness. You gleamed and shined, and chased away my blindness. You breathed out odours, and I drew in my breath, and now I breathe heavily for You. I tasted, and now I hunger and thirst. You touched me, and I burned for Your peace.

–The Confessions, Book 10, chapter 27

Augustine on Love of God and Love of Neighbor

Augustine – following St. John – makes it simple: love is love. Love God, love your neighbor: they are inseparable.

Augustine speaks of this in terms of the Church: if we love God, we love Jesus, God incarnate; and if we love Jesus, we love all the members of his body, the Church. I only add, as I have mentioned here before, that for Augustine, love of the Church also includes all those who might one day be members of the Church – all those for whom Christ died, which is everyone.

st-augustine-of-hippo-2“He that loves not his brother whom he sees, how can he love God whom he sees not?” (1 John 4:20)

But if you love your brother, could it be that you love your brother and love not Christ? How could that be, when you love members of Christ? When therefore you love members of Christ, you love Christ; when you love Christ, you love the Son of God; when you love the Son of God, you love also the Father.

The love therefore cannot be separated into parts. Choose what you will love; the rest follow you. Suppose you say, I love God alone, God the Father. You are lying: if you love, you love Him not alone; but if you love the Father, you love also the Son. Behold, do you say, I love the Father, and I love the Son: but this only, the Father God and the Son God, our Lord Jesus Christ – who ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father, that Word by which all things were made, and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt in us: this alone I love.

You are lying; for if you love the Head, you love also the members; but if you love not the members, neither do you love the Head. Do you not quake at the voice uttered by the Head from Heaven on behalf of His members, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute ME?” (Acts 9:4) The persecutor of His members He called His persecutor: His lover, the lover of His members.

Now, what are His members, you know, brethren: none other than the Church of God. In this we know that we love the sons of God, in that we love God. And how? Are not the sons of God one thing, God Himself another? But he that loves God, loves His precepts. And what are the precepts of God? “A new commandment give I unto you, that you love one another” (John 13:34).

Let none excuse himself by another love, for another love; so and so only is it with this love: as the love itself is compacted in one, so too all that hang by it does it make one, and as fire melts them down into one. It is gold: the lump is molten and becomes some one thing. But unless the fervor of charity be applied, of many there can be no melting down into one.

-St. Augustine, Sermon 10 on First John

Augustine on Charity: Loving Christ by Loving the Church

st-augustine-of-hippo-2St. Augustine reminds us that our truest profession of faith is the way we love one another. One essential part of loving one another is working for unity in the Church. If we love Christ, we love his body, the Church.


Whoever therefore has not charity denies that Christ has come in the flesh. Here then do you now question all heretics. “Did Christ come in the flesh?” “He did come; this I believe, this I confess.” “Nay, this you deny.” “How do I deny? You hear that I say it!” “Nay, I convict you of denying it. You say with the voice, but deny with the heart; say in words, deny in deeds.”

How, do you say, do I deny in deeds? Because the end for which Christ came in the flesh, was, that He might die for us. He died for us, because therein He taught much charity. Greater charity than this has no man, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You have not charity, seeing you for your own honor divide the unity.

Therefore by this understand the spirit that is from God. Give the earthen vessels a tap, put them to the test, whether perhaps they be cracked and give a dull sound: see whether they ring full and clear, see whether charity be there. You take yourself away from the unity of the whole earth, you divide the Church by schisms, you rend the Body of Christ.

He came in the flesh, to gather in one, you make an outcry to scatter abroad. This then is the Spirit of God, which says that Jesus has come in the flesh, which says, not in tongue but in deeds, which says, not by making a noise but by loving. And that spirit is not of God, which denies that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; denies, here also, not in tongue but in life; not in words but in deeds. It is manifest therefore how we may know the brethren.

–St. Augustine of Hippo, Homily 6 on First John


But Augustine also points out that another part of loving the Church is loving those who are not in the Church. The only way we bring them into the Church is by love, and the only way we truly love the Church is by loving those who are outside of the Church.


Love all men, even your enemies, not because they are your brethren, but that they may be your brethren; that you may be at all times on fire with brotherly love, whether toward him that has become your brother, or towards your enemy, so that, by being beloved, he may become your brother.

Wherever you love a brother, you love a friend. Now is he with you, now is he knit to you in unity, yea catholic unity. If you are living aright, you love a brother made out of an enemy. But you love some man who has not yet believed Christ, or, if he has believed, believes as do the devils: you rebuke his vanity. Love, and that with a brotherly love: he is not yet a brother, but you love in order that he may be a brother.

Well then, all our love is a brotherly love, towards Christians, towards all His members. The discipline of charity, my brethren, its strength, flowers, fruit, beauty, pleasantness, food, drink, meat, embracing, has in it no satiety. If it so delight us while in a strange land, in our own country how shall we rejoice!

–St. Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 10 on First John

St. Augustine on Spiritual Warfare

Just as we have descended to this evil state through one man who sinned, so through one man (who is also God) who justifies us we shall ascend that height of goodness.

No one should be confident that he has passed over from the one state to the other, until he has arrived where there will be no more temptation – until he has achieved that peace which is his aim in the many varied struggles of this present warfare, in which ‘the desires of the body oppose the spirit, and the spirit fights against the body’s desires.’

Now this war would never have been if human nature had, by free choice, persisted in that right condition in which it was created. As it is, however, human nature has refused to keep that peace with God in happiness; and so in its unhappiness it is at war with itself.

And yet this evil state is better than the earlier condition of this life; for it is better to struggle against vices than to be free from conflict under their domination. Better war with the hope of everlasting peace than slavery without any thought of liberation.

Our desire is, indeed, to be free even of this war; and by the fire of divine love we are set on fire with longing to attain that orderly peace where our lower parts may be subdued to the higher in a stability that can never be shaken.

But even if (perish the thought!) there were no hope of attaining this great good, we ought none the less to prefer to continue in this state of conflict, with all its troubles, than to allow our vices to have dominion over us by ceasing to resist.

-St. Augustine, The City of God, Book XXI, chapter 15