In his inaugural address, President Joe Biden spoke of national unity and used words from St. Augustine. Augustine wrote that we can discern the character of a nation’s people by their shared loves, Biden spoke of rallying around those loves.
St. Augustine: “it will be a superior people in proportion as it is bound together by higher interests, inferior in proportion as it is bound together by lower.”
Augustine describes the consequences of a people who are unified by their love for the wrong things and their failure to direct their love toward God. He tells of Romans, Athenians, Egyptians and Assyrians—all once great nations that fell because of common loves of vice, selfishness, strife and disunity.
Augustine encourages us to be a people of shared higher loves, the highest being our love for God. He warns us of the fates of republics whose people loved poorly—and beneath themselves—as bearers of their Creator’s image.
By using St. Augustine’s words, but missing their meaning, the president lost an opportunity to encourage us to be a better people. When read and applied contextually, the passage challenges us to soften our bitter hearts toward each other by loving the lover of our souls.
Unity means nothing when we unite behind just anything. It means everything when we come together powered by the greatest loves—our love for God and for one another.