[2.6.5] St Augustine on Happiness, Virtue and Love of God and Neighbor

St Agustine (354-430 AD) writes about ethical issues in a series of opuses (De civitate deiDe ordineDe beata vitaConfessionesDe trinitate). Based on these writings, we can conclude that:

  • Persons have goals and virtues.
  • His ethics is eudaimonistic (meaning that happiness is the highest goal in life); however, he postulates that ordinary humans can be reach happiness just in the afterlife.
  • Virtues can be virtues as such, like prudence, courage, justice and temperance, and true virtues.
  • Happiness, and at the same time, the true virtue, is caritas, the love of God and neighbor.
  • The true virtue in this life is hindered by temptation, while eschatological virtues are not.
  • Will, directed by love, has a central role in its system (see also [2.5.1] and [2.5.3]).
  • Another (negative form) of love is cupidity, the love of the “bodies”.
  • Human deeds virtues are analyzed from a teleological and intentional perspective.

The OntoUML diagram below presents the main components of Augustine’s ethics:

Augustine’s Ethics
PersonA human person has Goal; has Virtue
BodyThe body of human person.exclusive part of Person
GoalGoal of a human person.
HighestGoal“He takes it as axiomatic that happiness is the ultimate [highest] goal pursued by all human beings (e.g., De beata vita 10; De civitate dei 10.1; De trinitate 13.7, quoting Cicero’s Hortensius; for an interesting discussion of how the desire for happiness relates to our equally natural desires for pleasure and for truth).” is subkind of Goal; is Happiness
SubordinateGoalSubordinate goals are other goals of the Person, e.g. pleasure, truth.is subkind of Goal
Happiness“The basic structure of Augustine’s ethics is that of ancient eudaimonism…, but he defers happiness to the afterlife and blames the ancient ethicists for their arrogant conviction—resulting from their ignorance of the fallen condition of humankind—that they could reach happiness in this life by philosophical endeavor (De civitate dei 19.4; Wolterstorff 2012; for a more optimistic view, cf. the early De ordine 2.26). is Caritas
LoveLove is a crucial and overarching notion in Augustine’s ethics. It is closely related to virtue and often used synonymously with will […] or intention (intentio). Augustine’s basic text is, of course, the biblical command to love God and neighbor (Matthew 22.37; 39), which he is however prepared, throughout his life, to interpret in terms of Platonic erotic love […]. As in the Symposium and in Plotinus (Enneads I.6), love is a force in our souls that attracts us to the true beauty we find nowhere else but in and above ourselves; it drives us to ascend from the sensible to the intelligible world and to the cognition and contemplation of God […].”directs Will
Will“In a more general way, love means the overall direction of our will (positively) toward God or (negatively) toward ourselves or corporeal creature (De civitate dei 14.7; […]).”
Caritas“love means the overall direction of our will (positively) toward God or (negatively) toward ourselves or corporeal creature (De civitate dei 14.7; […]). The former is called love in a good sense (caritas), the latter cupidity or concupiscence (cupiditas), i.e., misdirected and sinful love (De doctrina christiana 3.16).” is subkind of Love; relates Person with God, or Person with Person (love of neighbor)
Cupidity “love means the overall direction of our will (positively) toward God or (negatively) toward ourselves or corporeal creature (De civitate dei 14.7; […]). The former is called love in a good sense (caritas), the latter cupidity or concupiscence (cupiditas), i.e., misdirected and sinful love (De doctrina christiana 3.16). […]
The root of sin is excessive self-love that wants to put the self in the position of God and is equivalent with pride (De civitate dei 14.28). It must be distinguished from the legitimate self-love that is part of the biblical commandment and strives for true happiness by subordinating the self to God (O’Donovan 1980).”
is subkind of Love; relates Body with Body
VirtueVirtue is an inner disposition or motivational habit that enables us to perform every action we perform out of right love. There are several catalogues of the traditional four cardinal virtues prudence, justice, courage and temperance that redefine these as varieties of the love of God either in this life or in the eschaton (De moribus 1.25; Letter 155.12; cf. Letter 155.16 for the cardinal virtues as varieties of love of the neighbor; De libero arbitrio 1.27 for descriptions of the virtues in terms of good will). His briefest definition of virtue is ‘ordered love'”.
TrueVirtueTrue virtue is Caritas, motivated by love and God and neighbor.is Caritas; is subkind of Virtue
VirtueAsSuch“Augustine […] distinguishes between true (i.e., Christian) virtue that is motivated by love of God and ‘virtue as such (virtus ipsa: De civitate dei 5.19) that performs the same appropriate actions but is, in the last resort, guided by self-love or pride (ib. 5.12; 19.25) [prudence, justice, courage and temperance]. Among other things, this distinction underpins his solution of the so-called problem of pagan virtue […] because it permits ascribing virtue in a meaningful sense to pagan and pre-Christian paradigms of virtue like Socrates without having to admit that they were eligible for salvation. If a ‘teleological’ perspective on virtue is adopted that exclusively focuses on ends, the virtues of the pagan must be judged vices rather than virtues and will be punished accordingly (De civitate dei 19.25, the passage from which the non-Augustinian phrase that pagan virtues are “splendid vices” seems to be derived […]). An “operative” perspective however reveals that as far as appropriate actions are concerned, virtuous non-Christians differ from the foolish and wicked but are indistinguishable from virtuous Christians. From this point of view, Socrates is closer to Paul than to Nero, even though his virtue will not bring him happiness, i.e., eternal bliss.” is subkind of Virtue
VirtueInThisLife“Both eschatological virtue and virtue in this life are thus love of God; they only differ in that the latter is subject to hindrances and temptation. For this reason, those who have true love of God—e.g., Christian martyrs—are happy already in this life, at least in hope (e.g., Confessiones 10.29).” Augustine’s description of eschatological and non-eschatological virtues (Letter 155) is partly modelled on the Neoplatonic doctrine of the scale of virtues with its ascending hierarchy of social or civic, purificatory and contemplative virtues […]. When analyzing virtue in this life, Augustine takes up the Stoic distinction, familiar to him from Cicero (De officiis 1.7–8), between a virtue’s final end (finis) and its appropriate action (officium; cf., e.g., Contra Iulianum 4.21; De civitate dei 10.18). The appropriate action that characterizes virtue in this life but is no longer needed in eternal bliss is to subdue the lower parts of soul to reason and to resist the temptations that emerge from the permanent conflict between good and bad volitions (as it were, a permanent “akratic” state; […] that results from our fallen condition (De civitate dei 19.4).” is a phase of Virtue
EschatlogicalVirtueEschatological virtue is free from hindrances and temptation. is a phase of Virtue
GodChristian God


  • All citations from: Tornau, Christian, “Saint Augustine“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2020 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

First published: 9/1/2020
Updated: 14/9/2021

4 thoughts on “[2.6.5] St Augustine on Happiness, Virtue and Love of God and Neighbor

  1. dhondhon 25/03/2022 / 03:55

    is our love of our neigbors affect our holiness?


  2. reydonnollora 25/03/2022 / 04:00

    Despite of the challenges that St. Agustine of Hippo experience, he remain faithful to God. He see Jesus is present through in the people thats why he converted to be belive in God alone.


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