For Gaudete Sunday — Augustine on Joy

Peter Brown says the following about Augustine’s understanding of human nature and religious development:

“Delight is the only possible source of action, nothing else can move the will. Therefore, man can act only if he can mobilize his feelings, only if he is affected by the object of delight.” Augustine of Hippo, pp. 154-155

“Augustine came to view delight as the mainspring of human action; but this delight escaped human control. Delight is discontinuous, startlingly erratic; Augustine now moves in a world of love at first sight, chance encounters,, and just as important, of sudden equally inexplicable patches of deadness: [Augustine wrote:] ‘Who can embrace wholeheartedly what gives him no delight? But who can determine for himself that what will delight him should come his way, and when it comes, that it should, in fact, delight him?'” 155

I found these passages in Augustine’s Spirit and Letter:

#5: We, however, on our side affirm that the human will is so divinely aided in the pursuit of righteousness, that (in addition to man’s being created with a free-will, and in addition to the teaching by which he is instructed how he ought to live) he receives the Holy Ghost, by whom there is formed in his mind a delight in, and a love of, that supreme and unchangeable good God, even now while he is still walking by faith and not yet by sight;gift to him of the earnest, as it were, of the free gift, he may conceive an ardent desire to cleave to his Maker, and may burn to enter upon the participation in that true existence. A man’s free-will, indeed, avails for nothing except to sin, if he knows not the way of truth; and even after his duty and his proper aim shall begin to become known to him, unless he also take delight in and feel a love for it, he neither does his duty, nor sets about it, nor lives rightly. Now, in order that such a course may engage our affections, God’s love is shed abroad in our hearts, not through the free-will which arises from ourselves, but through the Holy Ghost, which is given to us. (Romans 5:5)

#26: For no fruit is good which does not grow from the root of love. If, however, that faith be present which works by love, (Galatians 5:6) then one begins to delight in the law of God after the inward man, (Romans 7:22) and this delight is the gift of the spirit, not of the letter;

#42: It is therefore apparent what difference there is between the old covenant and the new—that in the former the law is written on tables, while in the latter on hearts; so that what in the one alarms from without, in the other delights from within; and in the former man becomes a transgressor through the letter that kills, in the other a lover through the life-giving spirit. We must therefore avoid saying, that the way in which God assists us to work righteousness, and works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure, Philippians 2:13 is by externally addressing to our faculties precepts of holiness; for He gives His increase internally, 1 Corinthians 3:7 by shedding love abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given to us. Romans 5:5

Romans 5.5 appears frequently in Augustine’s writing — the  love is shed abroad in our hearts.
It is grace. So he will write: “The fact that those things that make for successful progress towards God should cause us delight is not acquired by our good intentions, earnestness and the value of our own good will — but is dependent upon the inspiration granted us by God.” (see Brown, p 155)  So Brown notes this paradox: our self-determination depends on that which escapes self-determination (155 and 373-374): “The vital capacity to unite feeling and knowledge comes from an area outside man’s power of self-determination. ‘From a depth that we do not see, comes everything that you can see.'” Thus, “the idea that we depend for our ability to determine ourselves, on areas that we cannot ourselves determine, is central to Augustine’s therapeutic attitude to the relation between grace and free will.”

A fitting approach to understanding Gaudete Sunday — concluding with this passage Brown finds in Augustine’s commentary on John: “Give me a man in love; he knows what I mean. Give me one who yearns; give me one who is hungry; give me one far away in this desert, who is thirsty and sighs for the spring of the eternal country. Give me that sort of man; he knows what I mean. But if I speak to a cold man, he just does not know what I am talking about.” (26.4)

Third Sunday in Advent.
Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. Modestia vestra nota
sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus enim prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis:
sed in omni oratione petitiones vestræ innotescant apud Deum.
Benedixisti Domine terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Jacob.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.
Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have
no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and
supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God.
Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of
Jacob.” (Philippians 4:4–6; Psalm 85
(84):1)..

2 Comments
  1. Thank you very much for this post, which found me at a very providential time. I have recently been reflecting on the role of delight in my life and work, and these quotations were quite helpful.

  2. Indeed, these quotations are so helpful. Your essays go beyond an intellectual study of your topic ( especially the work of JPII, Newman, and Augustine). They are filled with such joy and love and delight from you. Thank you so much. This is exactly what Blessed John Paul did, and he did it in this loud, raucous culture in which it is hard for this kind of joyus message to be heard. And so does this forum. Blessed Advent to all.

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