1. Love and the Order of Love.

The primacy of love, or charity, in the thought of St. Augustine is described by John Paul II in these words:

Augustine located the essence and the norm of Christian perfection in charity, because it is the gift of the Holy Spirit and the reality which prevents one from being wicked. It is the good with which one possesses all goods and without which the other goods are of no avail. ‘Have charity, and you will have them all; because without charity, whatever you have will be of no benefit. 1

Here, the Pope speaks of love as a value (‘good’). Christianity in fact takes the value of love as proclaimed in the Gospels as its central ethical principle. The contributions of Augustine in deepening our knowledge of Christian love can be outlined as follows: (a) Love and the Hierarchy of Values; (b) Love for God is verified in one’s love for the neighbor; (c) Solidarity: Identification through Love.

(a) Love and the Hierarchy of Values.

Love, for Augustine, is not a static reality but a dynamic force. It is a movement that pulls the person from within towards the object loved. "My love is my weight" Augustine says. It is like the force which draws the falling leaves to rest on the ground. This mysterious force is experienced by man as a restlessness, a longing. But there is, according to Augustine, a false love and a true love. Augustine defines true love as "charity," that love by which we love what we ought to love2, or the "love of the thing which is to be enjoyed, and of the thing which is able to enjoy that thing together with us." (De doc. chris. I, 35, 39). Love, to be true, must respect a hierarchy of goods (= values) wherein God alone is to be enjoyed for His sake, oneself and neighbor to be enjoyed for the sake of God ("in Deo") and things are to be used. False love, on the other hand, is that love which does not respect this order.

Related to this is the idea that a person’s love makes him what he/she is. "I am what I love," Augustine would say. In the end, the person’s love will determine whether he/she will belong to the "sheep" or to the "goats":

Every community has its deepest roots in love, and love alone differentiates human beings, for only love differentiates men’s actions. It is not in speech or any other outward particular that the true criterion of that differentiation is to be found, but in the deeds and in the heart of man. Through the good they do to one another, men show their real worth. Therefore, only in trial and distress does a man show who he really is. The reason only love distinguishes one person from another is that a man "is" what he loves3.

True love therefore is a rightly ordered love, i.e. a love that is proportioned to the hierarchy of goods established in the nature of things. It is that love which the Lord commands.

(b) Love for God is verified in one’s love for the neighbor.

Augustine has been accused of having spiritualized love, reducing it to a kind of personal intimacy with God. But we know that Augustine seriously took 1 Jn. 3:17: "If anyone has a brother in need but has no pity in him, how can the love of God be in him?." Augustine knew the demands of love:

If you want to live in love, you may be certain that love cannot be had either easily or cheaply. We cannot live in love just by being good-natured; actually this puts it too mildly, but cannot live in love by being lazy, indifferent, or negligent. Do not imagine that you love your servant because you do not chastise him; that your child is loved if you do not correct him; that you love your neighbors if you never speak to them. That is not love, but weakness.

Progress in love is actually measured in terms of one’s growth in commitment to the needs of the other, and towards the common good (see "Common Good", below). And any sin against love is sin against God, for "God is love". This is how Augustine puts it:

No one can assert: I sin merely against a man if I fail to love a fellowman, and this failure against another person happens rather easily; at no time would I be sinning against God. How can that be? Do you not sin against God when you fail to love your neighbor? God is love! I say this not on my own authority...Scripture leaves us in no doubt: God is love.