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Lovely Fear

For we do not fear them, seeing they cannot take away from us what we love (St. Augustine, Christian Doctrine, Bk. I, Chpt. 29).

Fear is the effect of love. What we love makes us afraid. Two loves make for two kinds of fear: a good one and a bad one. 

In this post, we will unravel the relationship between love and fear, as well as the different kinds of them.

Love and Fear

There can be no doubt that there is no cause for fear save the loss of what we love, when we possess it, or the failure to obtain what we hope for. Therefore all fear is caused by our loving something: and consequently love is the cause of fear (St. Augustine, “83 Questions,” Q.33).

What am I afraid of? The question is worth asking. For, according to St. Augustine, where my fear is, there shall my heart be also. 

But is this the case?

According to St. Thomas, all the emotions are based on love because they are based on some particular thing we take to be a “good.” He explains it this way: 

Love is the source of all the emotions. For joy and desire are only of a good that is loved; fear and sorrow are only of evil that is contrary to the beloved good; and from these all the other emotions arise…(SCG, Chpt. 91) (emphasis added).

Drawing the connection between goods and emotions, we can say that the good which we see produces the feeling of love; the good as it draws us, produces desire; and, the good once possessed produces joy

For example, the man who takes peanut butter to be a good, likes it when he sees it, desires it as it draws him, and enjoys it, if he tastes it. 

On the other hand, someone allergic to peanut butter might see peanut butter as an evil, and therefore feel hatred at the sight of it, aversion as it repels him, and finally sorrow, if he is forced to eat it.

So, with all the emotions it is the lovely good that causes them. And therefore, fear is nothing but the emotion that comes from the possibility of losing that good which we love.

But not all fears are the same because not all loves are the same, and from two different kinds of love, comes two different kinds of fear.

A Tale of Two Cities

Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self (St. Augustine, City of God, Bk. XIV, Chpt. XXVIII).

As philosophy teaches, contraries cannot exist in the same thing in the same way. For example, water cannot be both boiling hot and ice cold, for heat and cold are contraries. The principle also applies to the spiritual life, as St. John of the Cross says:

…two contraries (even as philosophy teaches us) cannot coexist in one person; and that darkness which is the affection for creatures, and light, which is God, are contrary to each other…(Ascent of Mt. Carmel, Chpt. IV., P.II).

So, just as water must be either hot or cold or some degree between, so too our love must be either directed toward the created, or the uncreated, or be in some degree between them. With this in mind, St. Augustine draws up for us a “love continuum.” He writes:

The decrease of cupidity, is the growth of charity, and its complete absence is the perfection of charity (83 Questions, Q.36).

For St. Augustine, cupidity is simply the love of the created things without reference to God. 

Therefore, it is not so much the love of created things (in general) that is dangerous; for, after all, we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves. It is the love of created goods as an end instead of a means which causes problems.

Herein lies worldly love, and the worldly fears which come from it.

Worldly Fear

Worldly fear, as the effect of worldly love, is illustrated well in this passage from Wisdom:

But miserable, with their hopes set on dead things, are the men who give the name “gods” to the works of men’s hands…So he takes thought for it, that it may not fall, because he knows that it cannot help itself, for it is only an image and has need of help (Wis. 13:16).

The passage depicts the fashioning of a material “god,” and the subsequent anxiety of having to take care of it. 

Unfortunately, one can make an idol out of any number of things: work, the opinions of others, and finances. These rival loves make for rival gods, and just like idols made out of wood and metal, they cannot look after themselves; and therefore, force their worshiper to constantly “take thought for them.” 

On the other hand, in the absence of a creaturely love, creaturely fear disappears. For, if one doesn’t love the things of the world, what is there for him to be afraid of? What does he have to lose? Nothing. 

Except, his soul.

Godly Fear

“Have you seen him whom my soul loves?” Scarcely had I passed them, when I found him whom my soul loves. I held him, and would not let him go…(Song 3:2-4).

The woman who loves her husband does not want to let him go. She does not want to lose him; she fears his loss. This kind of fear is called “chaste fear,” according to St. Thomas: the fear of the lover.

Opposed to this, is the fear of the adultress, who instead of fearing her husband’s absence, fears his presence. She fears his presence because of the guilt and consequences that come with it. This fear is termed “servile fear,” which chaste fear drives away (Cf. 1 Jn. 4:18). Between these two fears, is a mixture of them, called “initial fear” (Cf. ST., I-II, Q. 19., A.5)

Therefore, growing in the love of God will inevitably mean growing in the fear of God. The journey passes from worldly fears to the fear of God; and within the fear of God, one passes from the fear of punishment to the fear of loss. And as charity increases, so too will one’s fear increase, as St. Thomas says:

Now filial fear must necessarily increase when charity increases, even as an effect increases with the increase of its cause. For the more one loves a man, the more one fears to offend him and to be separated from him (ST., I-II, Q. 19., A.10).


So, where exactly do I stand?

Let us question our fears. For, like the question of oneness, fear gives us that more honest glimpse into our hearts. 

What am I routinely nervous about? Is it related to God? Does it worry me because it might impact my future with or without God? 

The point here is not to live in fear, but to stop fearing the wrong things—by not loving the wrong things.

Then, after we have taken inventory of our fears, let us test their corresponding loves against that True Love. Then, let us strive to imitate that love of one of the great saints and teachers of love: Teresa of Avila. 

We close with her words:

Perhaps we do not know what love is, nor does this greatly surprise me. Love does not consist in great sweetness of devotion, but in a fervent determination to strive to please God in all things, in avoiding, as far as possible, all that would offend Him, and in praying for the increase of the glory and honor of His Son and for the growth of the Catholic Church. These are the signs of love…(Interior Castle, The Fourth Mansion, Chpt. I).

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