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I just read a fascinating sermon by Augustine on the love of money for one of my classes. The sermon was given on the occasion of a feast of a martyr, and Augustine’s main goal is to undercut the idea that the martyrs were somehow super-human in their capacity for pain and self-denial. He does this by arguing that everyone goes to incredible lengths to obtain what they really want/love:

Think of all the evils that greedy men are prepared to face. Think how they will put up with hardships, in order to win the things they are greedy for–things that seem unbearable to people who don’t share their greed. But love makes them brave. (53)

So, the martyrs were not special in their suffering, but they were special in the cause of their suffering. He urges, “my brothers, make the invisible goals of the martyrs your aim. Love the things they loved….Choose your cause first of all, as far as you can” (57).

He does not, however, say that there is no place for a love of money–in fact, he encourages people to store up their treasures in heaven, where thieves cannot enter, nor moth consume. He says, “Why are you hesitating to move your possessions? Send them on ahead, so that you can follow them there” (56). He writes,

I am not saying that you should have no loves; I simply want your loves to be properly ordered. Put heavenly things before earthly, immortal things before mortal, everlasting things before transitory ones. And put the Lord before everything, and not just by praising him, but also by loving him. It is easy enough to give him preference when it comes to praise. But then temptation comes along. Then, I ask you, do you show different priorities in your love from the preferences you showed in your praise? (59)

I find this helpful–Augustine never urges us to give anything up, but merely to love everything as it ought to be loved. He does not disparage money; he merely points out that there are more important things (and an infinitely more important God), and so we should act accordingly.

What, or whom, do you really love?

“Sermon 335C: On the feast of a martyr,” in Augustine: Political Writings
, ed. E. M. Atkins and R. J. Dodaro (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001), p. 53-59.

Edit 9/25/08, 2:27pm: An alert reader found this link to the sermon on Google Books.

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