The idea of ordinate affection is not welcome today. Narcissism has become a celebrated virtue, and is now even given the monikers transparent, authentic, and real. The two ditches of sentimentalism and brutality now take up most of the road and a slender middle path of appropriate love is known by few and trod by fewer. Amusement is now the dominant mode for transmitting and receiving knowledge, so if it doesn’t entertain me, it may not be true. A life of vicarious wish-fulfilment in popular movies and music keep us feeling our feelings, while nostalgia and familiarity in pop culture keep us feeling full, even when we’ve not been fed. A culture of despair and nihilistic boredom is anaesthetised through constant diversion.
To speak to this culture of ordinate affection, right loves, orthopathy or appropriate sentiment is to invite everything from indifferent dismissal to scorn to incensed outrage. It’s not uncommon to have the discussion of affections labelled “ideological”, “elitist”, “esoteric”,or “speculative”, even by professing Christians.
But, he who knows only his own generation remains forever a child, said Santayana. Ordinate affection is neither a novel nor an abstruse concept. Consider:
“When the miser prefers his gold to justice, it is through no fault of the gold, but of the man; and so with every created thing. For though it be good, it may be loved with an evil as well as with a good love: it is loved rightly when it is loved ordinately; evilly, when inordinately… So that it seems to me that it is a brief but true definition of virtue to say, it is the order of love; and on this account, in the Canticles, the bride of Christ, the city of God, sings, “Order love within me”.” (City of God, XV, xxii).
“Now he is a man of just and holy life who forms an unprejudiced estimate of things, and keeps his affections also under strict control, so that he neither loves what he ought not to love, nor fails to love what he ought to love, nor loves that more which ought to be loved less, nor loves that equally which ought to be loved either less or more, nor loves that less or more which ought to be loved equally. No sinner is to be loved as a sinner; and every man is to be loved as a man for God’s sake; but God is to be loved for His own sake.” (On Christian Doctrine, I, xxvii)
“He loves thee too little, who loves anything with thee which he loves not for thy sake.” (Confessions, IX, xxix)
Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153):
“We are to love God for Himself, because of a twofold reason; nothing is more reasonable, nothing more profitable.” (On Loving God, I)
“You want me to tell you why God is to be loved and how much. I answer, the reason for loving God is God Himself; and the measure of love due to Him is immeasurable love.” (Ibid.)
The anonymous author of Theologia Germanica, (late 14th century):
“And where a creature loveth other creatures for the sake of something that they have, or loveth God, for the sake of something of her own, it is all false Love; and this Love belongeth properly to nature, for nature as nature can feel and know no other love than this; for if ye look narrowly into it, nature as nature loveth nothing beside herself. But true Love is taught and guided by the true Light and Reason, and this true, eternal and divine Light teacheth Love to love nothing but the One true and Perfect Good, and that simply for its own sake, and not for the sake of a reward, or in the hope of obtaining anything, but simply for the Love of Goodness, because it is good and hath a right to be loved.” (Theologia Germanica, XLII)
Thomas Traherne (1636–1674):
“Can you accomplish the end for which you were created, unless you be Righteous? Can you then be Righteous, unless you be just in rendering to Things their due esteem? All things were made to be yours; and you were made to prize them according to their value: which is your office and duty, the end for which you were created, and the means whereby you enjoy. …For then we please God when we are most like Him. We are like Him when our minds are in frame. Our minds are in frame when our thoughts are like His. And our thoughts are then like His when we have such conceptions of all objects as God hath, and prize all things according to their value.” (Centuries of Meditations, First Century, XII)
François Fénelon (1651–1715):
“Men have a great repugnance to this truth, and consider it to be a very hard saying, because they are lovers of self from self-interest. They understand, in a general and superficial way, that they must love God more than all his creatures, but they have no conception of loving God more than themselves, and loving themselves only for Him. They can utter these great words without difficulty, because they do not enter into their meaning, but they shudder when it is explained to them, that God and his glory are to be preferred before ourselves and everything else to such a degree that we must love his glory more than our own happiness, and must refer the latter to the former, as a subordinate means to an end.” (Spiritual Progress, III)
Henry Scougal (1650–1678):
“The worth and excellency of a soul is to be measured by the object of its love” (The Life of God in the Soul of Man).
Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758):
“For if we love him not for his own sake, but for something else, then our love is not terminated on him, but on something else, as its ultimate object. That is no true value for infinite worth, which implies no value for that worthiness in itself considered, but only on the account of something foreign. Our esteem of God is fundamentally defective, if it be not primarily for the excellency of his nature, which is the foundation of all that is valuable in him in any respect. If we love not God because he is what he is, but only because he is profitable to us, in truth we love him not at all.” (Works of Jonathan Edwards, On Original Sin 3:144)
C. S. Lewis (1898-1963):
“The form of the desired is in the desire. It is the object which makes the desire harsh or sweet, coarse or choice, ‘high’ or ‘low.’ It is the object that makes the desire itself desirable or hateful.” (Surprised By Joy)
And to bring it into this century, with no evangelical axe to grind, here is philosopher Roger Scruton:
“for a free being, there is right feeling, right experience and right enjoyment just as much as right action. The judgement of beauty orders the emotions and desires of those who make it. It may express their leisure and their taste: but it is pleasure in what they value and taste for their true ideals.” (Beauty).