The Journal of Inklings Studies 2, No. 2 (October 2012)
‘To whom my own glad debts are incalculable’:
St. Augustine and human loves in The Four Loves
and Till We Have Faces
This essay examines C.S. Lewis’ criticism of St. Augustine in The Four Loves and his development of Augustinian themes in Till We Have Faces. Lewis reads Augustine, in his discussion of his friend’s death in Confessions Book IV, as endorsing the moral that one should love only that which will not bring us heartbreak. This, according to Lewis, is the wrong way to privilege the love of God over human loves, one that owes more to Augustine’s philosophical context than to Christianity. I argue that Lewis’ reading of Augustine is mistaken, that Augustine is saying something very different and much more profound, and that Lewis himself explores these same depths in Till We Have Faces. Both Lewis’ novel and Augustine’s Confessions IV meditate on time and eternity, complete and incomplete love, truth and falsehood, and the severe shortcomings in our self-knowledge. Augustine, like Lewis’ narrator, is examining the untruth, in both the moral and intellectual senses of the term, of his human love. Loving the beloved in God, for both Lewis and Augustine, does not mean choosing security over the possibility of heartbreak as such; rather it means seeing the beloved truly, as a complete person, for the first time.