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91557314 Augustine on God as Love and Love as God

91557314 Augustine on God as Love and Love as God

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Published by: Michael Gibson on May 22, 2012
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12/31/2012

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DOCTORES ECCLESIAEAUGUSTINE ON GOD AS LOVEAND LOVE AS GOD
Lewis Ayres
HOW SHOULD WE CALL GOD LOVE?There comes a point at which talking of God as love can seem intenselyspeculative or simply self-deluding. Love is a term which, perhaps
To say
more than any other of those which Christians apply to God, is com-
"God loves
" prehensible only in the context of a personal relationship with another,
has always
or at least in terms of the love of 
a person
for something else. To say
come easily
"God loves" has always come easily to the lips of Christians, and yet
to the lips
perhaps too easily if such statements result in our failure to think 
of Christians,
through the implications of what it means for the triune mystery of God to "love." This does not mean that we should stop talking of Godas love, in fact one of the things I want to suggest here is that the veryambiguity of the term allows "love" to be one of the most important,most fruitful, theologically potent and suggestive terms which Christians apply to God.
 Lewis Ayres,
Lecturer 
in Systematic and 
Historical
Theology,
School
of Hebrew,
Biblical
and 
Theological
Studies, Trinity College, University of Dublin, Dublin 2,
Ireland.
470
Lewis Ayres
 
However, this complexity
and
suggestivenes should perhaps meanthat when
we try to
construct
a
theology
o
God's love
we can
bestproceed with
a
simultaneous discussion
of the
means
by
which
we
learn about that love, including, centrally, discussion
o
how
and on
what basis
our
love may
or
may not be compared with God's. Goingfurther,
the
methodological discussion indicated
in the
last sentenceshould itself be understood as part
o
a wider exercise
in
Christology,theological analogy, eclesiology, and, centrally, trinitarian theology.My intention here
is
to offer an account of one key, but often controversial, resource
in the
theological task 
o
talking about God's love,
the
work 
o
St.
Augustine
o
Hippo (AD 356-430). A great deal
o
modernsystematic theology has tended to offer
a
very clear story of theologicalhistory in which Augustine is both the originator
o
much subsequentthought
in the
West
and in
particular
the
originator
o
many thingstaken to be
bad in
that tradition. My own position
is
that this history
is
often far too simplified: many of the later positions supposedly takenfrom him bear little relation
to
his actual thought; many
o
the thingshe is taken to have originated are the product or even commonplace ohis day and can be found
in
many
o
those
o
his contemporaries
and
near contemporaries that recent theologians have treated much moregenerously. However, we will best find the true nature
o
his genius,and the real problems with his thought,
i
we attend more carefully
to
his actual text.Augustine's corpus
o
writing is huge
in
quantity and vast
in
range.
I
will be centrally concerned here with his commentary
in
ten homilieson
1
John, delivered almost certainly
in the
year 407.
I
will also
use
Augustine's
Tractates
on
the
Gospel
of 
John
as
corroboration
at
somepoints; the tractates on
1
John were preached during the Easter octave,interrupting
his
series
o
sermons
on
John,
and we
find
in
these
two
1.
For an
attempt
to
describe some
of the
problems
of 
such readings
of 
Augustine
in the
areaof trinitarian theology
see M.
Barnes, "Augustine
in
Contemporary Trinitarian Theology/'
Theological
Studies
56
(1995), pp. 237-250.2.
The
literature
on
these homilies
is
still rather thin, despite
the
frequency with whichAugustine's treatment
of God as
love
is
referred
to. A key
introduction
to
Augustine'sincarnational theology
now
available
in
English
is to be
found
in B.
Studer,
Trinity
and 
 Incarnation: The Faith
of 
the Early Church
(Edinburgh:
T. & T.
Clark, 1993).
On the
homiliesthemselves
see D.
Dideberg,
Saint Augustin
et 
la première épître de s. Jean
(Paris: Beauchesne,1975);
for
a brief introduction in English
E.
G. Cassidy, "Augustine's Exegesis of the First Epistleof John,"
in
V. Twomey
«Se
T.
Finan (eds.),
Scriptural Interpretation
in
the
Fathers
(Dublin: FourCourts Press, 1995),
pp.
201-220. More generally
on the
subject
of 
love
in
Augustine
see R.
Canning's recent
The
Unity of Love for
God and Neighbour in
St. Augustine
(Leuven: Augustinian
Historical Institute, 1993),
on
the specific theme ofthis paper see
p.
301ff.
I
have used the editionof P. Agaaesse,
Sources Chrétiennes,
vol.
75
(Paris: Editions
du Cerf,
1961).
The
translation used
here
is the
very recent
St. Augustine:
Tractates on
the
Gospel 
of 
John 112-24: Tractates
on
the First
 Epistle
of 
John,
tr. J. W.
Rettig,
The Fathers
of 
the Church,
vol. 92
(Washington,
DC:
CatholicUniversity
of 
America Press, 1995). References
to
homilies
are
given
by
section number
in the
text.
3.
For
quotation here
I
have adapted
the
older translation:
St.
Augustine: Homilies on the
Gospel
 of 
John,
et al,
tr. J.
Gibb &
J.
Innes,
Nicene and Post Nicene
Fathers,
vol. 7
(Grand Rapids
MI:
Eerdmans, 1983).
The
Latin text
is
available
in R.
Willems (ed.), CCSL
36
(1990). Again,references
to the
homilies
are
given
in the
text.
 A
great deal
of modernsystematic
theology hastended to offer a
very
clear story of theological history
in
which
 Augustine
is boththe originator of much subsequent thought 
in the
West and 
in
 particular theoriginator of 
many
thingstaken to be bad 
in
that 
tradition.
PRO ECCLESIA
Vol. V, No. 4
471
 
works both many similar themes and very close mirroring of phraseology at a number of points. Once we are aware that the 1 John serieswas preached at the time of baptising chatechumens and celebratingthe mystery of Easter, it is no surprise Augustine focuses this work onthe nature of Christian faith, love and community.Three sections of the homilies on
1
John will be considered here: in theinitial sections of the paper I concentrate on the first homily in theseries, which does not deal directly with God as love, but which to someextent can be read as a microcosm of the whole series. My aim is tofollow the argument of this sermon to get a feel for that whole, and toget a basic grasp of the interconnection of themes found in the homily.The final sections of the paper are devoted to sections of later homilies,in which Augustine looks directly at God as love.THE CHURCH AS WITNESS TO THE INCARNATE WORD
 Augustineintroduces akey theme
of 
his Christologyby saying alsothat the
Word,
which should naturally
be
manifest tothe heart, is for usmanifest now intheflesh,to the eyes.
The first homily comments on 1 John 1:1-2:11, and links together thetheology of incarnation and an understanding of the role and functionof the church in witnessing to that event. The homily begins with thestatement that Christ is the manifestation of God. This a key theme of the whole series, and is immediately interpreted as meaning that theWord which
previously
had been manifest only to the angels is
now
manifest to people. Augustine introduces a key theme of his Christology by saying also that the Word, which should naturally be manifestto the heart, is for us manifest now in the flesh, to the eyes (§1):"And the life itself was manifested" ... and in what way was itmanifested? For "it was from the beginning," but it was not manifestedto men; itwas,however, manifested
to
the angels, seeing
[it]
and feedingupon
[it] as
their bread. But what does Scripture
say?
"Man ate the breadof angels" Therefore, life itself was manifested in the flesh ... in orderthat that the reality that can be seen by the heart alone might be seenalso by the eyes, in order that it might heal hearts.This initial statement, which follows fairly closely the actual words of 1 John 1, hints both at the importance for Augustine of Christ as theone who can lead us through and in the material and temporal worldto "see" God, and also that Christ is usually portrayed by Augustinenot abstractly or generally as the manifestation of "God," but concretely as the manifestation of "life
itself,"
of the "one through whom allthings were made." This reading of the importance of "life
itself"
isborne out strongly by the second of Augustine's tractates on John'sGospel (§10):"He was in the world, and the world was made by him." Do not think that he was in the world as the earth is in the world ... [as] the stars,
472
Lewis Ayres

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