Love for Neighbour in the European Migrant Crisis, c. 410 A.D.

Raymond Canning argues that in the Augustinian structure of love, “when the human subject’s uti and frui are rightly focused, the outcome will be a loving concern for others (caritate consulendi) which is presented as the very opposite of every kind of dominating ‘use’ of others (dominandi cupiditate).”[1]

Canning explores this idea by looking at Augustine’s use of Matt 25:31-46.[2] He particularly focuses on verse 40 in the context of refugees pouring into North Africa following the fall of Rome. For example, in one sermon, Augustine encourages his listeners: “Think of the poor. Think how you can clothe the naked Christ….Sisters and brothers, repeat it aloud, so that you might realize that you are not deprived of Christ’s presence. Listen to what the judge will say: ‘When you did to one of the least of mine, you did it to me.’ Each of you expects to receive Christ seated in heaven. Turn your attention to him lying under the covered-walk; direct your attention to Christ who is hungry and suffering from the cold, Christ in need and a stranger.”[3]

While this might strike some as encouraging an egoistic concern for one’s salvation, Canning argues that this should be understood in a Christological rather than a soteriological sense.[4] The neighbour’s identification with Christ is analogical. The neighbour is sacramental in the sense that he or she is a real subject of love who at the same time points beyond him- or herself to Christ, which brings us back to the significance of the incarnation for love of neighbour.

The Incarnation, far from absorbing love for neighbour into love for God, motivates and elevates love for neighbour.

[1] Raymond Canning, The Unity of Love for God and Neighbour in St. Augustine (Heverlee, Belgium: Augustinian Historical Institute, 1993), 114 quoted in Eric Gregory, Politics and the Order of Love: An Augustinian Ethic of Democratic Citizenship (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 347.

[2] Gregory, Politics and the Order of Love, 348.

[3] Augustine, Sermo 25 quoted in Gregory, 348-9.

[4] Gregory, 349.

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