Love and St. Augustine’s Weight Problem

“My weight is my love.” (Pondus meum amor meus.) ~ Confessions 13.9.10
 “You made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” (Fecisti nos ad te et inquietum est cor nostrum, donec requiescat in te.) ~ Confessions 1.1

Love is, quite literally, the burning heart of Augustinian theology. Love determines all of our human existence and is the greatest of the gifts of the Spirit. Augustine speaks of love as a kind of “weight,” a metaphor that is easily lost on a contemporary reader. In order to understand it, one needs a bit of knowledge about the pre-Newtonian concept of “gravity” (our very word comes from the Latin gravitas, “weight”).

Ancients knew that some things, such as rocks, tend to fall down, and that other things, such as smoke, tend to rise. They explained this in terms of the four elements: earth, air, water, and fire. All objects are made up of some combination of these four elements, a solution not entirely unlike our modern atomic theory, except that we have many more elements. However, they also believed that each element had a proper realm. The air realm was the highest, the earth realm the lowest, and the other two intermediary. Thus, in this theory, every object has a proper place, depending on its elemental makeup, and will strive to come to that place. When it succeeds, it is at rest and will remain there until disturbed by some other force. That’s why rocks fall when dropped and smoke rises unless trapped. “Weight,” then, is the place something naturally occupies in the cosmos.

Augustine applies this concept not to the human body, but to the soul. What makes the difference between higher (better) and lower (worse) souls? What is the elemental composition of a soul? Here enters Augustine’s dictum, “My weight is my love.” The human being is uniquely capable of loving different things. Some love honor, some money, some pleasure. But, and this is Augustine’s point, the soul does not remain unaffected by its love. It is transformed into what it loves. A soul that loves transitory, insubstantial things becomes merely a shadow. A soul that loves heavenly things becomes heavenly itself.

Now enters the second quote from Confessions. Augustine realizes that there is a difference between the soul’s weight, based on its current love, and its true weight, engraved by the design of the Creator. That is, a soul may be being pulled down by base loves, and yet, even as it descends, it does not reach the repose that objects attain when they reach their place. Our created purpose, to love God alone for his own sake and other things for God’s sake, still retains a pull on us, even as we reject it. Thus, the way to find repose, to reach one’s place, is to love God. As one loves God, one’s soul becomes godlike (in a human way). The path of righteousness is the path to God is the path to rest.

How does one come to love God? By being first loved by God. Jesus, the Word who was with God and was God, came from his place to our place. He showed us the way of righteousness, the way of humility. On the cross, he bore our hate to heal our love. For all those who come  in faith, the waters of baptism are the font of the Spirit, who sheds abroad the love of God in our hearts (Rom. 5:1). By living the Jesus-like life in faith, hope, and love, the soul ascends to God, where it attains its true weight and finds repose.

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Published in: on February 17, 2012 at 11:53 am  Leave a Comment  
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