“Edwards on the Religious Affections and Augustine on the Order of the Loves (ordo amoris)” By David K. Naugle

David K. Naugle is chair and professor of philosophy at Dallas Baptist University and author of Reordered Love, Reordered Lives: Learning the Deep Meaning of Happiness. In this post, he explores the writings of Jonathan Edwards and Saint Augustine and shows how both of these thinkers (in their own ways) counseled Christians to “reshape the affections and loves of [their] hearts in accordance with the loves and affections of Christ Jesus.”

David K. Naugle
David K. Naugle

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Puritan evangelical preacher, theologian, and missionary to American Indians Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) believed that the key to understanding and evaluating ourselves, others, and even spiritual movements like the first Great Awakening (1730s – 1740s), lay in what he called the “affections.” His thesis was that true religion, in great part, consists in holy affections.[1]

To be sure, these “affections” are not just the surface feelings of fondness, tenderness, or emotional attachment. In Jonathan Edwards’s sense of the word, they are much deeper than that. The affections are the deepest desires, the most powerful aspirations, the strongest motivations of the human soul. The affections are the mighty urges of our hearts. Our affections ignite us. They kindle our spirits. They set us aflame. They determine how our hearts are tilted. They incline us, lying at the base of everything we are and do. In Edward’s somewhat quaint language: “These affections we see to be the springs that set men agoing, in all the affairs of life… (emphasis added).”[2]

Reordered Love, Reordered Lives
Reordered Love, Reordered Lives

Centuries before Edwards, Saint Augustine (354-430) held to a similar idea. He recognized that as we loved in our hearts, so we were. In his Confessions, Augustine put it like this: “My weight is my love, and by it I am carried wheresoever I am carried” (13.9).

For Augustine there was unholy, disordered love that led to an ungodly, disordered life; he used the unpleasant word cupiditas to describe this condition. There was also, according to the great saint, a holy, rightly ordered love that led to a godly, ordered life; this condition he labeled caritas. For Augustine, our lives are determined by our loves, whether they be disordered or rightly ordered, whether our loves and lives be cupidity or charity.

Edwards and Augustine both held to an “anthropology of love.” God is love, and we are his embodied image and likeness. In other words, we are led by our affections. We are governed by our loves.

The big question is how might we shape or, better, reshape, the affections and loves of our hearts in accordance with the loves and affections of Christ Jesus? I suggest that the key to our discipleship, sanctification, or if you prefer, divinization or theosis, lies in properly arranging the order of our loves and holiness of our affections. The worship, sacraments, liturgies, teachings, and community of the church – the body of Christ – are central to obtaining this chief goal.

Click here to order David K. Naugle’s Reordered Love, Reordered Lives: Learning the Deep Meaning of Happiness.

[1] Jonathan Edwards, A Treatise Concerning the Religious Affections  In Three Parts, ed., John E. Smith (New Haven: Yale UP, 1959), 95.

[2] Edwards, A Treatise, p. 101.