“Without love my confession of the name of Christ even by shedding my blood or offering my body to be burnt will avail me nothing”

All believers are familiar with the story of the wedding of the king’s son and the banquet that followed it, and of how the Lord’s table was thrown open to all comers.

When everyone was seated “the master of the house came in to see his guests, and among them he noticed one without a wedding garment. So he said to him, ‘My friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?'”

Now what precisely does this mean? Let us try to find out what it is that some believers have, but which the wicked lack, for that will be what the wedding garment is.

Can it be one of the sacraments? Hardly, for these, as we know, are common to good and bad alike. Take baptism for example. It is true that no one comes to God except through baptism, but not every baptized person comes to him. We cannot take this sacrament as the wedding garment, then, for it is a robe worn not only by good people but also by wicked people. Perhaps, then, it is our altar that is meant, or at least what we receive from it. But we know that many who approach the altar eat and drink to their own damnation. Well, then, maybe it is fasting? The wicked can fast too. What about going to church? Some bad people also go to church.

Whatever can this wedding garment be, then? For an answer we must go to the Apostle, who says: “The purpose of our command is to arouse the love that springs from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and a genuine faith.”

There is your wedding garment. It is not love of just any kind. Many people of bad conscience appear to love one another, but you will not find in them “the love that springs from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and a genuine faith.” Only that kind of love is the wedding garment.

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels,” says the Apostle, “but have no love, I am nothing but a booming gong or a clashing cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, if I have all knowledge and understand all mysteries, if I have faith strong enough to move mountains, but have no love, I am nothing.”

In other words, even with all these gifts I am nothing without Christ. Does that mean that prophecy has no value and that knowledge of mysteries is worthless?

No, they are not worthless but I am, if I possess them but have no love. But can the lack of one good thing rob so many others of their value? Yes, without love my confession of the name of Christ even by shedding my blood or offering my body to be burnt will avail me nothing, for I may do this out of a desire for glory. That such things can be endured for the sake of empty show without any real love for God the Apostle also declares. Listen to him: “If I give away all I have to the poor, if I hand over my body to be burnt, but have no love, it will avail me nothing.” So this is what the wedding garment is.

Examine yourselves to see whether you possess it. If you do, your place at the Lord’s table is secure.

St Augustine of Hippo

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17 Responses to “Without love my confession of the name of Christ even by shedding my blood or offering my body to be burnt will avail me nothing”

  1. There’s not much to say about this, but I wish to express my hearty agreement. It is love! The love of the God who is love.

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  2. arthurja says:

    God may love me, but how can *I* love God?
    To really love God, is it not necessary for me to ignore all of the evil and suffering that he either wills or permits?
    How can I love a God who either wills or permits the deaths of millions of people, each one of whom could have been me or my mother, to occur during the Armenian Genocide and the Shoah or during the Black Death pandemic and the 1918 Spanish Flu?
    Is love of God not betrayal of humanity?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      As God created and creates humanity (and everything else) and they cannot exist without God, I would say that to love humanity (which is the image of God) and to love his creation is to love God. My response to such horrors tends to be more incomprehension than anger, and if anger, anger at God’s lack of adequate (or any) explanation for them rather than at their existence. To me the good overall is worth the horror: I would not wish non-existence on the good, glory and beauty of the world to shield it from the undoubted evil that also exists within it, and when both the creation of good and the permission of evil are from the same single source, what else can you do?

      Liked by 1 person

    • dianelos says:

      Arthurja: “To really love God, is it not necessary for me to ignore all of the evil and suffering that he either wills or permits?”

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    • dianelos says:

      To really love God, or to really love your neighbour for that matter, your love must be unconditional. To love somebody because he is good to you is not true love. Christ says this much in the Mount Sermon.

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    • Tom says:

      I feel ya Arthurja (Arthur or Art OK?).

      It’s not necessary to ignore the world’s pain and suffering in order to love God. Quite the opposite, I should think. I don’t know if anyone in ‘this’ fallen world can love God within taking full notice, as far as one can, of the evil of one’s world.

      No doubt the possibility of evil is God’s doing; the capacity to misrelate is God-given. I’ve heard Orthodox describe this in terms of ‘risk’, a risky venture. And it’s only possible to properly evaluate the risk from the perspective of the universally shared final good for which this risk, this possibility of evil, was taken. Rom 8: All the combined suffering of the world “is not worth comparing to the glory that shall be revealed in us.” Only from that perspective is any of this worth it. That’s why loving God in this world at least is always an act of faith, of trust, of hope.

      Consider a problem other than the ‘problem of evil’. Consider the ‘problem of good’. You rightly complain about the pain and suffering in the world. But your complaint is only possible, only justified, if the assumption hidden with it is true – and that is that there is some transcendent good which grounds our judgments. If there is no benevolent God who is this ‘good’, if naturalism/materialism is the final truth of things, Nihilism follows, in which case, who cares? I mean, what does it really mean to ‘complain’ about pain and suffering? Yes, pain is real, and we’re pain averse, but what aesthetic or moral sense can these make apart from transcendent realities? My point is – you need a good God, a God who is ‘the Good’, to get your moral complain off the ground. God – the problem of the Good – is the hidden assumption in your complaint. So the complaint cannot also disqualify love of God.

      I’m presently passing through the darkest and worst days of my life – existentially speaking. My whole life is a complaint you might say. Love of God is the distilled, essence of all that’s left.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Tom says:

        Then there is the ‘Problem of Typos’, a true evil.

        Liked by 1 person

      • ArthurJa says:

        Arthur is okay, don’t worry ^^

        Sorry to hear you’re not doing good, I hope this gets better…

        I’ll be meditating on your comment for quite a long time, I think – I’ll admit that I did not grasp all of it because I still fail to understand Classical Theism fully, which is of course problematic, but it sounds interesting.

        Also, is there any good book you would advise me to read on the Problem of Evil?
        I heard Brian Davies’ The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil is what’s best on that matter but I really wouldn’t know… What do you reckon? (Other people are also invited to give their opinion if they wish to do so, of course…)

        Liked by 1 person

        • rephinia says:

          The Doors of the Sea by David Bentley Hart!

          Liked by 1 person

          • ArthurJa says:

            I heard it is good but even Dr Hart, as brilliant as he is, is not fully convinced by his own answers (or anybody’s answer, really) to the problem of evil and suffering, as he himself readily admits.
            The extremely sophisticated vocabulary is also going to be problematic for me – I find solace in knowing that even native English speakers often struggle with understanding his books, so I guess that’s normal.
            Thank you very much for suggesting, though!
            That was very nice.

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        • Tom says:

          Thanks Arthur. I’ll be healed up when I see Christ. Until then, life sucks – except that I know I am his and am loved in him. For me, this year, Xty became a ‘way to suffer’, not a way to avoid suffering.

          I’m sure classical theists would not grant that I’m a classical theist. I’m an eclectic hodgepodge. But it does make sense to me that we are caught between a rock and a hard place – that is, if there is no benevolent God, Nihilism follows, absolutely, in which case there’s no kind of ‘good’ that embraces all things, a concept of ‘the good’ that can ground your complaint. A benevolent God is the only way TO complain about evil in the first place. Evil disappears when God disappears. It sucks I know, but Nihilism sucks infinitely more.

          Hart’s ‘Doors of the Sea’ is a wonderful book. Lamentations is better. (Sorry David!) It’s informing my prayers these days. The Psalms of course. I’ve been fascinated by Psalm 44 for so long, regarding which I apologize for the shameful plug, Fr Aidan: (https://anopenorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2019/03/22/the-matter-of-the-crux/). Ps 44 seems to address a real problem of evil and I never see Ps 44 (or Paul’s use of it) brought into problem of evil conversations.

          I’ve read a good share of theodicy books, but honestly I learn more from ongoing conversations and talking to people about how they process suffering within faith.

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          • ArthurJa says:

            I feel like it is going to take me quite a long time to understand these concepts (God as THE good and all of the ideas that follow from Classical Theism) but I shall try again.

            The Doors of the Sea… although I appreciate Dr Hart because he is exceptionally brilliant, as I told Rephinia, knowing Dr Hart, I am pretty sure that the vocabulary that is contained within the pages of that book is slightly too sophisticated for me.

            Does any other good book on the problem of evil and suffering come to mind?

            Liked by 1 person

          • Tom says:

            Arthur: I feel like it is going to take me quite a long time to understand these concepts (God as THE good and all of the ideas that follow from Classical Theism) but I shall try again.

            Tom: Quick note about God as ‘the Good’, or ‘Goodness’ as such. It’s not something the Evangelicals I grew up with appreciate or talk about, but it’s an extremely helpful truth. Just think about ‘good’ (or ‘beauty’, or ‘truth’, or ‘love’ – the big ‘categorical’ rocks we have to move about). We relate to it as something that is other than ourselves, something that exceeds us, measures us. To say God just is goodness as such is to say he doesn’t relate to goodness this way. He is not measured by it. It is not a concept or reality ‘out there’ which God conforms to, as is the case with us. What you name when you call upon Goodness as such, is just God. His being and life are the good, the true, and the beautiful which we use these terms to describe. These terms don’t collapse into us. They’re other than us. But in God’s case they do absolutely collapse into him. He is the good, the truth, the beautiful. Hope that helps.

            Arthur: Does any other good book on the problem of evil and suffering come to mind?

            Tom: You said you read and enjoyed Brian Davies, so perhaps noting his favorites? When I read a book like that, I try to figure how who an author I may like tends to use approvingly, then I’ll check those authors out. I like Hart, and Hart loves Stephen Clark and William Desmond, so I checked out those two. Have you read Hart’s ‘Experiencing God’? Not about the problem of evil per se, but he doesn’t break down some of his favorite books into different categories related to theism. So that would help. Also, if you haven’t read that book, it may be the best simple introduction to a basic, shared ‘classical’ view of God, and I’m happy to say it is not especially filled with the vocabulary challenges you noted in ‘Doors of the Sea’. I’d recommend it. It’s been a while (40 yrs!) since I read C. S. Lewis’s ‘The Problem of Pain’ but that could be helpful. And I remember Philip Yancey’s ‘Disappointment With God’ being really help when I read it (also many years ago). I used to live off of hardcore analytic philosophers who write about this (Richard Swinburne, Peter van Inwagen, Alvin Plantinga), but I find reading them now extremely frustrating. Two writers who continue to speak to me are Sarah Coakley (an British Anglican priest/scholar: https://www.abc.net.au/religion/evolution,-providence-and-the-trinity/10787616) and Marilyn McCord Adams (an American Episcopalian priest/scholar, now deceased). Adams just seems to unpack things in a way I can appreciate (her books include ‘Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God’ and ‘Christ and Horrors: The Coherence of Christology’). Never separate the problem of evil from Christology. If you can see your way through Hart’s ‘Experiencing God’ and then move on to MMAdams, that might help.

            Tom

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Arthur, I suspect you’ll find ‘Doors of the Sea’ quite accessible. Take a look at Hart’s “Tsunami and Theodicy” for a taste.

            Liked by 1 person

    • rephinia says:

      You love the God who is a crucified peasant *by* loving those suffering and outcast – not by ignoring them. ‘Whatever you do the least of these…’

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Iain Lovejoy says:

    Probably not a new thing to many, but my understanding of this parable was greatly improved when I heard that in weddings at the time the wedding garments were provided by the host and given to the guests on the way in. To be at the feast without one would not mean that you didn’t have a wedding garment or failed to bring yours with you, but that you snuck in the back way to avoid the welcome committee or were deliberately insulting the host by refusing to put it on.

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