“And so love was present under the old covenant just as it is under the new”

I know, beloved, how well fed you are every day by the exhortations of Holy Scripture, and what nourishment your hearts find in the word of God. Nevertheless, the affection we have for one another compels me to say something to you, beloved, about love. What else is there to speak of apart from love? To speak about love there is no need to select some special passage of Scripture to serve as a text for the homily; open the Bible at any page and you will find it extolling love. We know this is so from the Lord himself, as the Gospel reminds us, for when asked what were the most important commandments of the law he answered: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

And then, just in case you might be tempted to search further through the pages of Holy Scripture for some commandments other than these two, he added: “The entire law and the prophets also depend upon these two commandments.” If the entire law and the prophets depend upon these two commandments, how much more must the gospel do so?

People are renewed by love. As sinful desire ages them, so love rejuvenates them. Enmeshed in the toils of his desires the psalmist laments: “I have grown old surrounded by my enemies.” Love, on the other hand, is the sign of our renewal as we know from the Lord’s own words: “I give you a new commandment—love one another.”

Even in former times there were people who loved God without thought of reward, and whose hearts were purified by their chaste longing for him. They drew back the veils obscuring the ancient promises, and caught a glimpse through these figures of a new covenant to come. They saw that all the precepts and promises of the old covenant, geared to the capacities of an unregenerate people, prefigured a new covenant which the Lord would bring to fulfillment in the last age.

The Apostle says this quite clearly: “The things that happened to them were symbolic, and were recorded for us who are living in the last age.” When the time for it came the new covenant began to be openly proclaimed, and those ancient figures were expounded and explained so that all might understand that the old covenant promises pointed to the new covenant. And so love was present under the old covenant just as it is under the new, though then it was more hidden and fear was more apparent, whereas now love is more clearly seen and fear is diminished. For as love grows stronger we feel more secure, and when our feeling of security is complete fear vanishes, since, as the apostle John declares: “Perfect love casts out fear.”

St Augustine of Hippo

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