Augustine's Love Sermon

Augustine's Love Sermon



Est. Date. 354-430 a.d.

Orig. Language.

Orig. Writer. Augustine

Translated by.

St. Augustine was a north African bishop of Hippo in Numidia (modern Algeria) from 391 until his death

in 430. Augustine was one of the most important leaders of the Christian Church and his ideology

carried on throughout the middle ages. His thinking shaped the theological view of believers of the

Western world of his time concerning all sorts of issues- on baptism, marriage, the trinity, Christian

state, etc.


All who do not love God are strangers and antichrists. They might come to the churches, but they cannot

be numbered among the children of God. That fountain of life does not belong to them. A bad person

can have baptism and prophecy. King Saul had prophecy: even while he persecuted the holy David, he

was filled with the Spirit of Prophecy, and began to prophesy. [1 Sam. 19] A bad person can receive the

sacrament of the body and blood of the Lord, for is said, “All who eat and drink unworthily, eat and

drink judgment on themselves.” [1 Cor. 11:29] A bad person can have the name of Christ and be called a

Christian. Such people are referred to when it says, “They polluted the name of their God.” [Ezek. 36:20]

To have all these sacraments is, as I say, possible even for a bad person. But to have love and be a bad

person is impossible. Love is the unique gift, the fountain that is yours alone. The Spirit of God exhorts

you to drink from it, and in so doing to drink from himself.

“This is how the love of God is shown among us.” The reason why the writer exhorts us, is so that we

may come to love God. Could we love him, unless he first loved us? Though we were slow to love, let us

not be slow to love in return. He loved us first. We do not even love in the same way as he. He loved the

unrighteous, but he took away the unrighteousness. He loved the sick, but he visited them to make

them whole. Love, then, is God. “This is how the love of God is shown among us: God sent his only Son

into the world, that we may live through him.” As the Lord himself said: “No one can have greater love

than this: to lay his down his life for his friends.” [John 25:13] This proved Christ’s love for us, the fact

that he died for us. How is the Father’s love for us proved? By the fact that he sent his only Son to die

for us. As the apostle Paul says, “He who did not spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how

will he not freely give us all things?” [Rom. 8:32] Notice how the Father delivered up Christ, and so did

Judas. Does it not seem that they did the same sort of thing? ... There was a delivering up by the Father;

a delivering up [of himself] by the Son, and a delivering up by Judas. The thing done is the same, but

what is it that sets their actions apart? This: the Father and the Son did it in love, but Judas did it in

betrayal. So you see that we need to consider not what a person does but with what mind and will he

does it. Why do we bless the Father and detest Judas for doing the same deed? We bless love and detest

wickedness. ...

What I have said so far applies to actions that are similar. When they are different, we find people made

fierce by love; and by wickedness made seductively gentle. A father beats a boy, while a kidnapper


Augustine's Love Sermon

caresses him. Offered a choice between blows and caresses, who would not choose the caresses and

avoid the blows? But when you consider the people who give them you realize that it is love that beats,

wickedness that caresses. This is what I insist upon: human actions can only be understood by their root

in love. All kinds of actions might appear good without proceeding from the root of love. Remember,

thorns also have flowers: some actions seem truly savage, but are done for the sake of discipline

motivated by love. Once and for all, I give you this one short command: love, and do what you will. If

you hold your peace, hold your peace out of love. If you cry out, cry out in love. If you correct someone,

correct them out of love. If you spare them, spare them out of love. Let the root of love be in you:

nothing can spring from it but good. ...

“No one has ever seen God.” He is invisible, and must be looked for not with the eye but with the heart.

But just as if we wished to see the sun, we should purge our eyes, wishing to see God, let us purge the

eye by which God can be seen. Where is this eye? Hear the Gospel: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for

they shall see God.” [Matt. 5:8] But do not imagine God according to the lust of your eyes. If you do, you

will create for yourself a huge form or an incalculable magnitude which (like the light which you see with

your bodily eyes) extends in every direction. Your imagination lets it fill realm after realm of space, all

the vastness you can conceive of. Or maybe you picture for yourself a venerable-looking old man. Do not

imagine any of these things. If you would see God, here is what you should imagine: God is love. What

sort of face does love have? What shape is it? What size? What hands and feet does it have? No one can

say. And yet it does have feet, those feet that carry people to church. It does have hands, those hands

that reach out to the poor. It has eyes, those through which we consider the needy: “blessed is the

person,” it is said, “who considers the needy and the poor.” [Ps. 41:1] It has ears, of which the Lord says,

“He that has ears to hear let him hear.” [Luke 8:8]

These parts of the body are not separated by different places: anyone with love sees the whole at once.

Inhabit, and you shall be inhabited. Dwell, and you shall be dwelt in. After all, who loves what he cannot

see, my brothers? But why then do you call out “Amen!” to my praises of love? What have I shown you?

Have I produced a gleam of colors? Have I been talking about something made from gold and silver?

Have I dug out jewels from hidden treasure? Have I shown anything like this to your eyes? Is my face

changed while I speak? No, you and I alike are in the same forms as before. But love is praised, and you

shout and applaud. Certainly you do not see anything. But as it pleases you to praise love, so let it please

you to keep it in your heart. Pay attention to what I say brothers. I urge you on, as God enables me,

towards a great treasure. If you were shown a beautiful little vase, inlaid with gold, and it charmed your

eyes and drew the eager desire of your heart, would you not all say, “If only I had that vase!” And it

would be pointless for you to say it, because it would not be in your power to possess it – although

someone who wants to have it might think of stealing it from another’s house. Love is praised to you. If

it pleases you, have it, possess it. There is no need to rob anyone, no need to buy it. It is free. Take it,

clasp it. There is nothing sweeter. If this is what it is like merely to talk about it, what must it be like

when one has it?

If any of you should wish to act out of love, brothers, do not imagine it to be a self-abasing, passive and

timid thing. And do not think that love can be preserved by a sort of gentleness – or rather tame

listlessness. This is not how it is preserved. Do not imagine that you love your servant when you refrain

from beating him, or that you love your son when you do not discipline him, or that you love your

neighbor when you do not rebuke him. This is not love, it is feebleness. Love should be fervent to

correct. Take delight in good behavior, but amend what is bad. Love the person, but not the error in the

person: God made the person, but the person alone made the error. Love what God made, not what the

person made. If you love one thing, you remove another. When you esteem one thing, you change


Augustine's Love Sermon

another. But if you are severe, let it be out of love, for the sake of correction. This is why love was

represented by the dove which descended upon the Lord. [Matt. 3:16] Why did the Holy Spirit, who

pours love into us, take the form of a dove? The dove has no bitterness, yet she fights with beak and

wings for her young; hers is a fierceness without bitterness. In the same way, when a father chastises his

son he does so for discipline. As I said earlier, the kidnapper inveigles the child with bitter endearments,

in order to sell him; a father, for the sake of correction, chastises without bitterness.

This is how you should act to all people. Let this be a great lesson for you, brothers, a great rule. You all

have children, or wish to have – or if you have decided for certain to have no children, at least spiritually

you want to have children. Well, what father does not correct his son? What son does not respect his

father’s discipline? And yet he seems to be fierce with him. It is the fierceness of love, a fierceness

without bitterness, in the way of the dove, not of the raven. From this it occurs to me, my brothers, to

tell you who the violators of love are: they are the ones who have split away from the Church [i.e. the

Donatists]. As they hate love itself, so they hate the dove too. But the dove convicts them: it comes from

heaven, the heavens open, and it rests on the head of the Lord. Why? That John may hear, “This is he

that baptizes.” [John 1:33] Away from here, robbers! Away, you who invade of the possession of Christ!

You have dared to ascribe to your own things the ownership of God – although you insist on being lords

there. He recognizes and rules over his own possession; he does not cancel the deeds, but enters in and

takes charge. When any come to the Catholic Church, their baptism is not cancelled, so that the

ownership of the Commander is not cancelled. What is done in the Catholic Church? The Owner is

acknowledged and enters in under his own title. But the robber was enters in under a title that does not

belong to him.