Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Augustine on love and fear

He, then, is an enemy to righteousness who refrains from sin only through fear of punishment; but he will become the friend of righteousness if through love of it he avoids sin, for then he will be really afraid of sin. For the person who only fears the flames of hell is afraid not of sinning but of burning...

Augustine, Epistulae 145.4


Augustine argues that fear of punishment is only ever a first step in moral learning. Although a young child may refrain from hitting his brother because he fears a spanking,* there is a step forward when he fears disappointing his parents, and then another step when he fears hurting his brother. Also involved in the maturation process is coming to fear both the damage done to oneself and the affront to God when one wrongs a neighbour. To be a friend of righteousness is to hate evil because it is evil, not simply because God will judge the evildoer.

*More discussion of spanking here and here.

7 comments:

Cyberpastor said...

I wonder whether there is a final step when the son loves the good and reviles evil for that reason?

One of Freedom said...

Wow this fits nicely with Andre LaCocque's treatment of the 6th commandment I've been reading this morning. The command isn't about fear of punishment, but is a boundary defining a people in relationship with a living and loving God. His article "Thous Shalt not Kill" in Thinking Biblically is a worthwhile read.

byron said...

David: Yes, good point. The priority of the good over the evil. Nietzsche points out the problems with defining good in opposition to evil, rather than the other way round.

Frank: thanks for the reference.

drew said...

when he fears hurting his brother

Does Augustine say anything on desire - ie. desiring the good for his brother? - in this context?

byron said...

Drew: I think you're making a similar point to David (=cyberpastor). I think it's a good one. As for Augustine, the quote came from an article I was reading, so I haven't yet checked the original to see whether this is assumed or affirmed in the context. My guess is that his take on evil as privation would lead him to affirm the priority of the good. It may have been the fault of the article (which was average) to not point this out.

jm said...

that reminds me of a passage of Cicero i was reading the other day:

If, however it is punishment or the fear of retribution, and not wickedness itself, that deters people from a life of crime and villainy, then no one is unjust; instead the worthless should be called careless. By the same token, those of us who are persuaded to be good not by probity itself but by some advantage or benefit, are not good but crafty. How will a man behave in the dark if his only fear is a witness and a judge?

Cicero, De Legibus 1.40-1

drew said...

nice cicero quote - he's a very interesting guy.

Thanks for the expanded comment, Byron. I had been thinking about something else with regard to desire when I came across your post. I wonder, what 'good' would we desire in the new creation?