Archive E.J. Hutchinson Early Church Fathers Nota Bene Reformed Irenicism

Timor et Amor

In the first poem of the Heroides, a collection of love elegies in the form of letters (mostly) from mythical heroines to their absent lovers, Ovid has Penelope say to Odysseus: Res est solliciti plena timoris amor (“Love is a thing full of anxious fear”), as he plays on the similarity in sound and difference in meaning between the words timor and amor.

These two qualities are conjoined also in 1 John 4:18 [Vulg.]: Timor non est in caritate sed perfecta caritas foras mittit timorem quoniam timor poenam habet; qui autem timet non est perfectus in caritate (“There is no fear in charity but perfect charity sends fear away, since fear has [to do with] punishment; but he who fears is not perfect [or “has not been perfected”] in charity”). But the point here is different (love drives out fear); the vocabulary (caritas instead of amor) is as well, and so there is not the same kind of potential for soundplay as Ovid exploits.

But that would change.

Thus, when looking through Aquinas’ Treatise on Law, I came across the following

Tertio ad legem pertinet inducere homines ad observantias mandatorum. Et hoc quidem lex vetus faciebat timore poenarum, lex autem nova facit hoc per amorem, qui in cordibus nostris infunditur per gratiam Christi, quae in lege nova confertur, sed in lege veteri figurabatur. Et ideo dicit Augustinus, contra Adimantum Manichaei discipulum, quod brevis differentia est legis et Evangelii, timor et amor.

Thirdly, it belongs to the law to induce men to observe its commandments. This the Old Law did by the fear of punishment: but the New Law, by love, which is poured into our hearts by the grace of Christ, bestowed in the New Law, but foreshadowed in the Old. Hence Augustine says (Contra Adimant. Manich. discip. xvii) that “there is little difference [*The ‘little difference’ refers to the Latin words ‘timor’ and ‘amor’—‘fear’ and ‘love.’] between the Law and the Gospel—fear and love.”

This sent me back to the text of Augustine Aquinas refers to, the Contra Adimantum Manichaei discipulum liber unus. Aquinas is right that Augustine makes basically this point, though his report of Augustine’s words is inexact (he talks, for instance, of the Old and New Testamenta and homines rather than Old and New Leges; and where Aquinas has brevis differentia est legis et Evangelii, Augustine has haec est brevissima et apertissima differentia duorum Testamentorum). But what is relevant for my purposes in this post is that he is able to take advantage of the same soundplay as Ovid, but to use it in order to make the point of 1 John. Here is the section in question:

Si ergo tempore Novi Testamenti, quo maxime caritas commendatur, de poenis visibilibus divinitus iniectus est carnalibus timor; quanto magis tempore Veteris Testamenti hoc congruisse illi populo intellegendum est, quem timor Legis tamquam paedagogi coercebat? Nam haec est brevissima et apertissima differentia duorum Testamentorum, timor et amor: illud ad veterem, hoc ad novum hominem pertinet; utrumque tamen unius Dei misericordissima dispensatione prolatum atque coniunctum.

If, therefore, in the time of the New Testament, in which charity is especially commended, fear about visible punishments has been cast upon the carnal, how much more, in the time of the Old Testament,  should this be understood to have been appropriate to that people whom the fear [timor] of the Law, as a pedagogue, was restraining? For this is the most concise and evident difference between the two Testaments, fear and love [timor et amor]: the former pertains to the old, the latter to the new man–each one, nevertheless, was brought forth and united [with the other] in the most merciful dispensation of the one God.1

While Augustine begins with caritas (as in 1 John), he changes to amor, in order to employ precisely the same rhetorical flourish Ovid couldn’t resist, though here recalibrated theological-canonical terms.

Perhaps one could explain this in terms of Augustinian semiotic theory: Augustine may have given up his chair of rhetoric (signum) in Milan after his conversion, but he never gave up rhetoric itself (res)!



  1. The translation is my own.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.