I’ve been seeing this quote posted under the C.S. Lewis tag for a couple weeks now, and I find it kind of worrying. Not just because it’s a misquotation, but moreover because it’s actually the exact opposite of what Lewis was trying to say. The quote in question comes from his book The Four Loves, which is one of my favorites of his works:
In words which can still bring tears to the eyes, St. Augustine describes the desolation into which the death of his friend Nebridius plunged him (Confessions IV, 10). Then he draws a moral. This is what comes, he says, of giving one’s heart to anything but God. All human beings pass away. Do not let your happiness depend on something you may lose. If love is to be a blessing, not a misery, it must be for the only Beloved who will never pass away.
So you can see that the quote isn’t even Lewis’ idea to begin with. It’s part of a summarization of something that Saint Augustine has written, but which Lewis goes on to refute:
Of course this is excellent sense. Don’t put your goods in a leaky vessel. Don’t spend too much on a house you may be turned out of. And there is no man alive who responds more naturally than I to such canny maxims. I am a safety-first creature. Of all arguments against love none makes so strong an appeal to my nature as “Careful! This might lead you to suffering.”
To my nature, my temperament, yes. Not to my conscience. When I respond to that appeal I seem to myself to be a thousand miles away from Christ. If I am sure of anything I am sure that His teaching was never meant to confirm my congenital preference for safe investments and limited liabilities. I doubt whether there is anything in me that pleases Him less. And who could conceivably begin to love God on such a prudential ground — because the security (so to speak) is better? Who could even include it among the grounds for loving? Would you choose a wife or a Friend — if it comes to that, would you choose a dog — in this spirit? One must be outside the world of love, of all loves, before one thus calculates. Eros, lawless Eros, preferring the Beloved to happiness, is more like Love himself than this.
I think that this passage in the Confessions is less a part of St. Augustine’s Christendom than a hangover from the high-minded Pagan philosophies in which he grew up. It is closer to Stoic “apathy” or neo-Platonic mysticism than to charity. We follow One who wept over Jerusalem and at the grave of Lazarus, and, loving all, yet had one disciple whom, in a special sense, he “loved.” St. Paul has a higher authority with us than St. Augustine — St. Paul who shows no sign that he would not have suffered like a man, and no feeling that he ought not so to have suffered, if Epaphroditus had died (Phil. 2:27).
Naturally, the emphasis is mine. But I think the point is obvious. Not only is the idea and spirit of this quote completely the opposite of what Lewis means to say, but it’s completely opposed to the spirit of Christ. If it was just some random person to whom the quote was attributed, I’d just let it go. You can’t respond to everything or refute every inaccuracy. But the fact that this idea is being put forth not only as something that Lewis said, but also as spiritual advice that he had written is, I think, a potentially dangerous thing.