Patristic Swordplay

On some morning during one of the last two semesters, we discussed in class whether or not we were to love angels. Actually, the temperature probably registered higher than a discussion, but I can’t remember if it reached a full argument. Either way, I do recall there being some tension.

We had been going through some of Augustine’s writings. We had all read bits and pieces from his Confessions and City of God, as well as passages from some of his lesser known, but no less masterful, works. In Chapter XXX of Book I of On Christian Doctrine, Augustine asks whether or not the two greatest commandments, to love God and to love our neighbour as ourselves, apply to the angels. I had forgotten our minor class spat when I came across the passage in question last night, having decided to read On Christian Doctrine this summer.

Here’s how Augustine makes his case. In Luke 10, a certain expert in Jewish law has questioned Jesus on how to go about acquiring eternal life. When Christ asks him what the law teaches, the man replies with the two greatest commandments, the correct answer. He then asks our Lord, “And who is my neighbor?” Christ responds with the parable of the Good Samaritan. “Thus,” Augustine draws his sword, “we should understand that he is our neighbor to whom the office of mercy should be shown if he needs it, or would be shown it in the event that he needs it. It follows that he also is our neighbor who in turn shows this office to us.” The neighbours in that famous parable are the wounded man and the Good Samaritan, the one in need of mercy and the one who provides it.

The blade of the bishop glides with a steady hand: “Thus if he is most justly called a neighbor to whom the office of mercy is shown or from whom it is to be expected, it is clear that this command in accordance with which we are enjoined to love our neighbor also includes the holy angels by whom so many works of mercy are performed for us, as we may easily see in many places of the divine Scriptures.”

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One thought on “Patristic Swordplay

  1. Interesting.That Augustine would make the case that angels are our neighbours is a bit odd to me. There is logic in his argument, however. I will have to consider this one. I would like to have been there for the discussion.

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