Gerald W. Schlabach
Age-old debates over self-love and self-denial continue to preoccupy the Christian community. Many see self-love as incompatible with the self-sacrifice of Christ, while feminists and liberation theologians contest the notion that self-sacrifice is the test of authentic Christian love. The resolution to this dilemma, argues Gerald Schlabach, lies with St. Augustine.
In this engaging book, Schlabach examines how Augustine reconciled self-love and self-denial in a unified Christian love. He demonstrates the crucial role that continence played in Augustine’s teaching, showing it to be more than an attitude toward sexuality but rather the operative mode of Augustinian caritas.
Addressing historical theology, contemporary Christian ethics, feminism, and pastoral considerations, Schlabach traces the role that self-denial played in Augustine’s teaching. He shows that an integration of self-love and self-denial suggests that one can distinguish true Christian self-denial from mere victimization, and that the good we seek when we love—whether directed toward neighbor, enemy, or self—is not self-serving but rather a participation in a mutual relationship with God and his creation.
Through this critical retrieval of Augustine’s thought, Schlabach shows that self-denial is meaningful only when ordered to a higher good, as when Christ endured the suffering of the cross. He demonstrates practical applications of how charity working through continence can maintain right self-love and proper self-denial in our daily lives, and proposes that Christian self-sacrifice is a willing acceptance of a good derived from working on behalf of others.
Schlabach rediscovers a unity of Christian love and opens up new resources even for skeptical readers who may not consider themselves Augustinians. His work offers provocative reading for all who are concerned with keeping their lives and work rooted in the Christian tradition.