You know the song “The Greatest Love of All”. It is actually a song about loving oneself, “amor propio”. The popular psychology of the 60s and 70s taught that one should love oneself in order to be able to love, to love “the child in us” in order to be loving in turn. Well, there is the source of so much narcissism in the 80s and onwards. But the idea was preached by Augustine in a different way. Below is Augustine’s pitch. He puts two verses, one from Proverbs (23:26) and another from a Psalm (10:6) to explain the two greatest commandments. The idea is simple to trace: first one is asked to surrender one’s love (=heart, prov. 23:26), so that one can love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength. And because one loves God above all, then one loves truly oneself by doing so (Psalm 10:6). From here it becomes to love the neighbor as one loves oneself.
Leo the Great, in our second offering uses ideas from Augustine’s De doctrina christiana, specifically, the two loves and the distinction between uti and frui to explain how christian love becomes service to God’s will and transforms egotism to selfless commitment.
Ask yourselves, brothers, examine your interior rooms: observe and see if you have just a bit of charity, and that little you have, make it grow. Be attentive to such a treasure, that you may be rich inside. Certainly, all other things that have great value are called “dear”, and not for nothing. Examine the custom of your speech. (You say) this is dearer than the other. What does “dearer” mean if not “more precious?” If one says “dearer”, then what is “more precious”, what is dearer than charity itself, my brothers? How do we prize its value? From where does it get its prize? The value of grain comes from your money, your sheets, from your silver, your jewelry from your gold. But the value of your charity is you yourself. However, you still ask how one can have sheets, jewelry, grain, how to buy and have and hold them. But if you wish to have charity, search for it and it will find you. Are you afraid of giving yourself so as not to be consumed? Rather, it you don’t give, you lose yourself. The same charity speaks through the mouth of Wisdom and tells you why. Don’t be surprised when it says: “Give yourself”. If one comes to you to sell sheets, he’d tell you: “Give me your gold; and one who wants to sell something else tells you: ‘Give me your money or your silver.'” But listen to what Wisdom says: “Give me your heart, my son (Prov. 23:26)”. “Give me”, it says, what? “Your heart, my son.” It was bad and it was from you, when it belonged to you. In fact, you were led to futility and to lascivious and dangerous loves. Take it out from there. And where will you bring it? “Give me” he says, “your heart.” Observe what he tells you, because he wishes to put something in your heart’s place so that you may love yourself above all: “You shall love your Lord God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind (Mt. 23:37;Deut.6:5)”. What then remains of your heart, so as to love yourself? What of your soul? And what of your mind? With everything, he says. He requires the whole of you, He who created you.
But do not be said, as if nothing remains in you by which you can rejoice in yourself. “Rejoice O Israel!” not in itself, but “in Him who has created you” (Psalm 149:2)
“When is the neighbor to be loved?” I respond and I say: If nothing remains me in me, how can I love myself? Since He commands me to love with all my heart, with all my soul and with all my mind, He who created me, how will it be possible for me to love my neighbor as I love myself? (This second precept) says more than to love the neighbor with my whole heart, and with all my soul and with all my strength. How then? “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Mt. 22:37.39). (Love) God with the whole of myself, and (love) my neighbor as myself. As myself, thus, as yourself? Do you wish to feel how you love yourself? It is for this that you love yourself, since you love God with the whole of yourself. Do you think that you are advancing with God because you love God? And since you love God, you add something to God? And if you don’t love, you would have less? When you love, you progress towards that place where you will not perish. But you respond and say: “When am I not loved?” You did not love yourself, in fact, when you did not love the God who created you. Rather, when you hated yourself, you thought you were loving yourself. “Who loves iniquity, hates his own soul” (Psalm 10:6)
There are two loves from which derive all desires and these are so diverse in quality inasmuch as they are distinguished by cause. The rational animal, in fact, — which cannot but love — either loves God or the world. In the love of God, nothing is of excess; in the love of the world, on the other hand, all is destructive. For this reason, it is necessary to be attached inseparably to eternal goods and to employ in a transitory manner what is temporal in such a way that for us who are pilgrims and are hurrying to return to our true home, whatever of this world’s fortune comes to us may be a viaticum for the journeyy and not an attachment that ties us to this world. For this reason, Blessed Paul states: “The time is short. Those who have wives let them live as if they have none; those who mourn as if they don’t mourn; those who enjoy as if they don’t enjoy, those who buy as if they don’t possess and those who use this world, as if they don’t use it. For this world is passing away (1 Cor. 7:29-31)”. But that which pleases by appearance, abundance, variety, cannot be easily avoided, if not loved, in the same beauty of things visible, the Creator rather than the creature. When he says “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your strength (Mark 12:30)” he wishes that we never untie ourselves from the chain of his love. And when with this precept of the neighbor (cf. Mark 12:31ff) strictly unites charity, he prescribes to us the imitation of his goodness so that we may love that which he loves and we busy ourselves with what he busies Himself about. After all, we are “the field of God and the building of God (1 Cor. 3:9)” and “he who plants and he who waters counts for nothing, but God makes all grow” (1 Cor. 3:7). However, he requires in service our ministry and wishes that we be dispensers of his gifts so that he who bears the image of God (Gen. 1:27) may do His will. For this reason, in the Lord’s Prayer we say in a solemn way “May your kingdom come, may your will be done as in heaven so on earth” (Matthew 6:10). With such words, what other thing do we ask if not that God subject to himself those who are not yet under his rule and that just as the angels in heaven do His will, so too men on earth be servants of His will? When we ask this therefore, let us love God and our neighbor, and in us there is no different love, but only one, from the moment that we desire that the servant serves and the lord commands.
Dearest, this affection from which is excluded earthly love is strengthened with the habit of good works. It is necessary that the conscience rejoices in right actions and willingly listens to what it rejoices in doing. One chooses to fast, guards one’s chastity, multiplies alms, prays incessantly and behold, the desire of one becomes the commitment of all. Effort nourishes patience, meekness puts off anger, benevolence puts itself under the feet of envy, the concupiscence of men is killed by holy desires, avarice is thrown away by generosity and the wealth which was a weight, becomes an instrument for virtue.
Leo the Great, Tractatus 90, 3-4
Originally posted 2008-10-22 00:38:44. Republished by Blog Post Promoter
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