Three Posts on Love – I

11 06 2009

Charity therefore brought Him to the flesh. Whoever therefore has not charity denies that Christ is 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, deniest with the heart; sayest in words, deniest 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 dividest unity. Therefore by this understand ye the spirit that is from God. Give the earthen vessels a tap, put them to the proof, whether haply 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 is 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 is come in the flesh; denies, here also, not in tongue but in life; not in words but in deeds. It is manifest therefore by what we may know the brethren. Many within are in a sort within [the Church]; but none without except he be indeed without.

-St. Augustine

Reading St. Augustine’s homilies on I John, the thing that strikes me most is the confluence that Augustine makes between true charity and being in the Church. The homilies of course were against the Donatists who would separate themselves from the Church for reasons of personal “integrity” and discipline. The difficult idea for the modern reader is that the implications of the Church Father’s language drive us far from our own “humanitarian” perspective of love. To sin against love is to hate your brother, and the way that St. Augustine approaches the love of brother is primarily from an ecclesial perspective. It would seem, in my own reading, that there is no real charity outside the Church, and those who sin most gravely against the Church are those who would divide it, or rather tear apart the Body of Christ.
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