Augustine, Lewis, and a Rightly Ordered Love
by Thiago Silva, ThM
In the pursuit of a meaningful and fulfilling life, the ancient philosopher and theologian Augustine of Hippo proposed the concept of “reordering our loves.”
Augustine believed that true virtue and moral goodness stem from properly aligning our affections and desires with what is truly valuable and worthy.
Augustine, in his influential work “The City of God,” emphasized the centrality of God’s love in reordering our affections.
He asserted that our ultimate fulfillment lies in loving God above all else and aligning our other loves in relation to this supreme love. “Augustine believed that true virtue and moral goodness stem from properly aligning our affections and desires with what is truly valuable and worthy.”
For Augustine, the pursuit of virtue and moral goodness required the proper ordering of our desires, with God as the ultimate object of love and devotion. He writes,
“But if the Creator is truly loved – that is, if He Himself is loved, and not something else in place of Him – then He cannot be wrongly loved. We must, however, observe right order even in our love for the very love by which we love that which is worthy to be loved, so that there may be in us that virtue which enables us to live well. Hence, it seems to me that a brief and true definition of virtue is ‘rightly ordered love’” (City of God, XV.22).
Building upon Augustine’s ideas, C.S. Lewis further explored the notion of reordering our loves in his works.
Lewis explains that “ordo amoris”, or the order of affections, is the order of priorities we have: what is most important and what is least important.
“St. Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind of degree of love which is appropriate to it. Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought. When the age for reflective thought comes, the pupil who has been thus trained in ‘ordinate affections’ or ‘just sentiments’ will easily find the first principles in Ethics; but to the corrupt man they will never be visible at all and he can make no progress in that science. Plato before him had said the same. The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting and hateful” (The Abolition of Man).
In one of his letter, Lewis talks about the importance of a rightly ordered love:“Lewis also highlighted the dangers of disordered loves, referring to them as ‘idols’ that captivate and distract us from the pursuit of authentic love and virtue.”
“To love you as I should, I must worship God as Creator. When I have learnt to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now. In so far as I learn to love my earthly dearest at the expense of God and instead of God, I shall be moving towards the state in which I shall not love my earthly dearest at all. When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased” (Letters of C. S. Lewis).
In his book, The Four Loves, Lewis identified various forms of love, such as affection, friendship, eros, and charity, and examined how they can be either distorted or rightly ordered.
He argued that true fulfillment arises when these loves are aligned with the divine love and infused with moral goodness.
Lewis also highlighted the dangers of disordered loves, referring to them as “idols” that captivate and distract us from the pursuit of authentic love and virtue. “Both Augustine and Lewis recognized that reordering our loves is not a one-time event but an ongoing process.”
These idols can take the form of worldly desires, selfish pursuits, or misplaced attachments.
Lewis encouraged a deliberate examination of our loves, discerning whether they contribute to our moral development or hinder our spiritual growth.
Both Augustine and Lewis recognized that reordering our loves is not a one-time event but an ongoing process.
It requires introspection, self-awareness, and a willingness to confront and reshape our attachments.
This transformative journey involves detaching ourselves from unhealthy or misaligned loves and redirecting our desires towards the pursuit of higher virtues and the love of God. “Augustine and Lewis convey a shared message: reordering our loves is essential for personal and moral development, and it leads to a life of deeper fulfillment and spiritual growth.”
Augustine argues that love becomes virtuous and morally good when it is “rightly ordered.”
Moreover, both Augustine and Lewis acknowledged the transformative power of divine grace in the process of reordering our loves.
Augustine stressed the importance of God’s grace in enabling us to love rightly, while Lewis emphasized the role of God’s love as the source of our capacity to reorder our affections.
Ultimately, Augustine and Lewis convey a shared message: reordering our loves is essential for personal and moral development, and it leads to a life of deeper fulfillment and spiritual growth.
By aligning our loves with God’s order, we are able to pursue virtuous actions, cultivate healthy relationships, and experience a profound sense of purpose and joy.“By aligning our loves with God’s order, we are able to pursue virtuous actions, cultivate healthy relationships, and experience a profound sense of purpose and joy.”
Reordering our loves bears significant fruits in our lives. As we align ourselves with what is truly valuable, we experience a profound sense of purpose and fulfillment.
Virtuous actions flow naturally from this reordered love, leading to a life characterized by compassion, justice, and integrity.
Additionally, the process of reordering our loves allows us to transcend the ephemeral and embrace enduring values that bring deep and lasting joy.
Augustine and Lewis offer valuable insights into the concept of reordering our loves. Their teachings emphasize the significance of placing God at the center of our affections and aligning our other loves accordingly.
Through this transformative process, we can embrace a life of virtue, experience genuine fulfillment, and foster a harmonious relationship with ourselves, others, and the divine.
A rightly ordered love entails loving God with our entire being—heart, soul, mind, and strength. This love is characterized by devotion, reverence, and obedience to God’s commandments. “As we grow in our love for God, we develop a greater love for what is pleasing to Him and a decreasing attachment to sinful desires.”
It involves aligning our desires and affections with God’s revealed truth and seeking to glorify Him in all aspects of life.
Through the work of the Holy Spirit, our affections are progressively conformed to God’s will and purposes. As we grow in our love for God, we develop a greater love for what is pleasing to Him and a decreasing attachment to sinful desires.
This love extends to our neighbors, fellow believers, and even our enemies. It involves seeking their well-being, showing compassion, and actively pursuing justice and mercy in our interactions with others.
In summary, a “rightly ordered love” is the redirection of our affections and desires towards God and His purposes.
It involves loving God wholeheartedly, conforming to Christ’s likeness, and extending love to others and the world around us.
This love is empowered by God’s grace and transformative work in our lives, leading to a more virtuous and fulfilling existence.
What should I do, then? Begin by reflecting on your current loves and attachments.
Take time to evaluate what you prioritize, what drives your actions, and where you invest your time, energy, and resources.
Honest self-awareness is crucial in recognizing any disordered loves that may be hindering your personal sanctification, growth, and virtue.
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