Ad Limina Apostolorum (Blog) | St. Augustine's Library
Wednesday, September 01, 2004

On Discipleship and Self-Hate 

This Sunday's Gospel 'lays the smack down,' so to speak, on those who would wish to be our Lord's disciples:

"If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own self, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple."

'Hate' is a harsh word. But there's no backpedaling on it. The Amplified Bible, that awful monstrosity, betrays its squeamishness by awkwardly inserting "in the sense of indifference to or relative disregard for them in comparison with his attitude toward God." The word 'hate' (Gk. miseo^) means just that, 'hate,' as it is used in Luke 21:17 ("All men will hate you because of me," cf. also Matt. 10:22, 24:9). But certainly there is more to this 'hard saying' than meets the eye. Jesus is certainly not concerned with generating negative feelings towards members of our families, or self-loathing, for that matter. The trouble is, what exactly is Jesus concerned with?

The key to this passage, I think, is in the climax of the sentence . . . 'and even his own self.' St. Augustine, in his 46th Homily on the New Testament, addresses this passage in terms of a priority of loves. Man, for St. Augustine, is always caught in the flux of two competing loves, the love of self (cupiditas) and the love of God (caritas). To love oneself is to prize one's own will, to idolize one's own desires and lusts above all else. But paradoxically, the man who loves himself is "driven away from himself, to love those things beyond himself." The man full of self-love can never rest in himself. Whether his preference is for money, for women, or for power, he can never be satisfied with what he possesses, but is always driven to strive for more, but always in vain. He becomes dissipated, exhausted, spent, estranged from himself, 'fallen from himself,' like the prodigal son who finds himself in a strange land.

Paradoxically, for St. Augustine, it is by denying himself that man finds himself: "learn to love thyself by not loving thyself!" The man who loves God prizes only God's will, and the very life of God, and he finds this divine life within his own very self. This is not, contra Ms. Dole, to speak of 'the divinity of every soul,' but it is nonetheless true that man - created in the image of God and thereby participating by his very nature in the life of God - discovers the Godhead primarily by 'returning into Himself,' rather than by dissipating himself in empty and selfish pursuits outside of himself in God's creation. In the quiet of His own soul - memory, reason, and will - He discovers the Triune God.

This is how man finds God by denying Himself: "Let him withdraw himself from himself, that he may cleave unto God." And in this framework, given a proper prioritizing of loves, we may address the 'harshness' of Christ's saying. "Hard and grevious does this appear," says Augustine - to carry one's cross, to hate one's own self, to deny oneself.

"But what He commands is not hard or grevious, who aids us in order that what He commands may be done . . . For whatsoever is hard in what is commanded, charity makes easy. We know what great things love itself can do . . . How great hardships have men suffered, what indignities and intolerable things have they endured, to attain to the object of their love? whether it be a lover of money . . . a lover of honour . . . or a lover of beautiful women. And who could enumerate all sorts of loves? Yet consider what labour all lovers undergo, and are not conscious of their labours!"

# posted by Jamie : 1:44 PM


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Ad Limina Apostolorum: An ecclesiastical term meaning a pilgrimage to the sepulchres of St. Peter and St. Paul at Rome, i.e., to the Basilica of the Prince of the Apostles and to the Basilica of St. Paul "outside the walls".

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