Love is the form of the theological virtues, which makes it the form of all virtue, including the four cardinal moral virtues of temperance, justice, fortitude, and prudence. This means among other things, that love is the final cause of human moral action. While St. Augustine is correct that there are only two possible objects of love—God or self—the latter may take many different expressions, manifested in the choice of a variety of self-serving objects. The objects of love (whether of God or self) draw us toward themselves and order the choices we make. They define the relative virtue and vice of our moral actions. And, ultimately, our loves define who we are as human persons. Thus, love of God draws us toward Him; love of self draws us toward ourselves. As such, our loves also indicate to which city we pledge our primary allegiance.
Properly ordered love is directed towards God, while disordered love is directed towards the self. “The first is submissive to God,” St. Augustine explains, while “the second tries to rival God”. Love of self is a usurpation of love, to the exclusion of love of God. Love of God necessarily includes proper love of self. This implies that when the city is properly ordered toward love of God, it will be properly ordered in every other way. If worship of God is the object of the love of the city, the city will otherwise properly order love among its citizens.
The Gospel narratives of Holy Week illustrate the acute precision of St. Augustine’s analysis, both of the fall of humankind and the animating spirit of the earthly city. And they illustrate the inherent tension between the two cities. The earthly city with its disordered love perennially attempts to usurp the authority of the City of God. And those who believe that they are members of the City of God often find themselves more fully members of the earthly city than they would have thought.
When Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the people seemed to be expressing their allegiance to the City of God. By all appearances, their adulation of Jesus as the new King of Israel seemed to indicate that their love was ordered toward the heavenly city. Thus, it seemed that the passions of the earthly city were being subordinated to the Son of God, expressed in their greetings of “hosanna!” But as we know, the mood quickly changed. When Christ insisted that love is properly ordered only by the politics of heavenly kingdom, the self-love of his ostensible followers was quickly exposed. And, thus, they turned away from Christ and back toward themselves, through their proxy, Barabbas.
St. Augustine implicitly predicted this in both works cited above. In the earthly city, “the princes and the nations are ruled by the love of ruling”, he explains in The City of God. But in the City of God, “the princes and subjects serve one another in love”. The members of the earthly city could not submit to serving others, epitomized by the ultimate gift of Christ’s crucifixion. Thus, they returned to serving themselves, ordering their lives by self-love. Of course, in this time between time, St. Augustine observes in The Literal Commentary on Genesis, the two cities are “intermingled”. But they “shall be divided in the last judgment”. Holy Week is the account of that intermingling and ultimate distinction. And Holy Week serves as an admonition to all of us to order our lives toward God—and thus toward the other—and away from ourselves.
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