Reading what I wrote yesterday (part 1), it seems that trying to analyse the English word ‘love’ may have been a red herring. Augustine was a Berber who grew up in what is now Algeria, in the late 4th century, and was educated and wrote in Latin. Whatever he meant by ‘love’ is unlikely to square with the connotations the word carries for us in early 21st century English. Catholic theologians, responding to Biden’s speech online, emphasize that Augustine would have been thinking of Godly devotion as the primary force knitting a multitude into one people.
A week ago Joe Biden – President Joe Biden – said this in his inaugural speech:
Many centuries ago, Saint Augustine, a saint in my church, wrote that a people was a multitude defined by the common objects of their love.
That phrase, common objects of their love, attracted my attention, for reasons I’ll explain in the second part of this post. But first a sideways step. Because Biden’s reference got me wondering what love means here. I wanted to try and iron this out before getting back to the new president, and Augustine, because love clearly means different things in different contexts. Sometimes wildly different things.