Volume 48, Issue 1/2, 2017
Reconsiderations Conference V
“Et lacrymatus est Jesus” (John 11:35)
The Sorrow of Jesus in the Teaching of Augustine and Aquinas on the Affections
Although the doctrine of the affections constitutes an essential part of both psychology and ethics for Classical Greek philosophy, the passion of sorrow was seldom discussed. The Bible, by contrast, frequently mentions the feeling of sorrow, and Christianity, unlike Stoic ethical ideals, assigns sorrow a positive significance—at least to a degree.
While it is true that the Gospels generally prefer to paint a picture of Christ as a quiet teacher and master, a few pericopes—especially within the Gospel of John—narrate the sorrow of Jesus in some detail. Integrating the Johannine depictions of Jesus’s sorrow proved quite a challenge for patristic and medieval exegetes, including Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. Both thinkers wrote a Commentary on the Gospel of John and, in their systematic works, both treated the emotions in a principled and philosophical manner. Having engaged Classical Greek and Hellenistic theories on the emotions, Augustine and Aquinas went on to develop a uniquely Christian understanding of the passiones animae, which, in turn, became paradigmatic for the generations that followed. Focusing on their respective commentaries on the Gospel of John, this essay explains what the passiones animae are and why they were seen as an ethical problem in the patristic and medieval periods. It highlights the connection between Augustine and Aquinas as well as their respective contributions both to the doctrine of affections in general and to Christianity’s understanding of sorrow in particular.