‘By Having Him More Fully He Loves More Fully’

Lent 2014: Readings from Augustine

“If you love me, keep my commandments: and I will ask the Father and He shall give you another Paraclete, that He may abide with you forever, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him and does not know Him. But you shall know Him because He will dwell with you and shall be in you” (John 14:15-17). When St. Augustine took up these words of Jesus at the Last Supper, he prefaced his remarks with this comment:

In these few words of the Lord there are many things that might be sought, but it would be too much for us either to seek all that might be sought here or to find all that we seek here. But as much as the Lord gives us and in proportion to our and your capacity, listen to what we are to say and you are to hear, and take what we are able to give and ask him for what we are not able to give. (In Ioannem Tr. 74, 1; PL 35, 1826)

A first question is prompted by the fact that Jesus seems to make the Father’s gift of the Spirit follow upon the disciple’s love of Christ, when without the Spirit poured into our hearts (Rom 5:5), we can neither love Christ nor follow his commands. Augustine offers as an answer:

We should understand that one who loves already has the holy Spirit and by having him he merits to have him more fully, and by having him more fully he loves more fully.  The disciples already had the Spirit whom the Lord was promising, for without him they would not have called him Lord, but they did not yet have him in the way was promising. So they both had him and did not have him since they did not have him as much as they were to have him. ... They had him in a hidden manner, they were still to receive him in a manifest way because it was part of that greater gift of the holy Spirit that they were to become aware of what they had. The Apostle said of this gift: “We have not received the spirit of this world, but the spirit which is from God that we may know the things that have been given to us by God (1 Cor 2:12).

Another question was posed by the Lord’s manifesting the gift of the Spirit twice, once on Easter day (Jn 20:22) and again on Pentecost (Acts 2). Why twice? A first answer is that it was because there are two commandments of love which the Spirit enables. But Augustine goes on at greater length with a second answer:

Without the holy Spirit we cannot love Christ or keep his commands, and the less we receive him the less we are able to do this, and the more we receive him, the more we are able to do it.

Jesus then contrasted the spirit of the world–that is those who love the world–to the Spirit that comes from God.

“The world,” he said, “cannot receive that Spirit because it does not see him and does not know him. Love of the world does not have the invisible eyes by which the Holy Spirit can only be seen, invisibly.  But you,” he added, “shall know Him because He will dwell with you and be in you.” ... But to prevent us from imagining that His words, “He will dwell with you, had the same meaning as when a guest dwells with one man in a visible way, He explained what “He will dwell with you” meant, when He added the words, “He will be in you.” He is seen, therefore, in an invisible way [invisibiliter videtur], and we cannot have any knowledge of him unless he is in us. It’s just as how our consciousness is seen by us in us: we can see another’s face but not our own, and we see our consciousness but not another’s. But while our consciousness is never anywhere except in us, the holy Spirit can be apart from us: he is given so that he may also be in us. But the Spirit cannot be seen and known as he ought to be seen and known unless he is in us. (In Ioannem Tr. 74, 1-4; PL 35, 1826ff)

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About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.