Saint Augustine on Felicity


In The City of God, St. Augustine writes of the elevation of Felicity to the status of a goddess. On the value of felicity as something to be sought he writes:

Felicity, however, is certainly more valuable than a kingdom. For no one doubts that a man might easily be found who may fear to be made a king; but no one is found who is unwilling to be happy.

Later he writes:

But if Felicity is not a goddess, because as is true, it is a gift of God, that god must be sought who has power to give it, and that hurtful multitude of false gods must be abandoned which the vain multitude of foolish men follows after, making gods to itself of the gifts of God, and offending Himself whose gifts they are by the stubbornness of a proud will. For he cannot be free from infelicity who worships Felicity as a goddess, and forsakes God, the giver of felicity; just as he cannot be free from hunger who licks a painted loaf of bread, and does not buy it of the man who has a real one.

Saint Augustine on FelicityNow, in 21st Century America, we are unlikely to encounter anyone who is tempted to erect a statue to the goddess Felicity. Yet, we are in danger of worshipping felicity. Happiness seems to be the primary goal of many we interact with on a daily basis.

The church is not immune to this worship of happiness. The “name it, claim it” version of Christianity places happiness as the primary goal of the Christian life. In fact, in the extreme versions of this brand of the “word faith” movement, lack of happiness is understood to be a sin or a defect in belief and worship.

But, as Augustine points out, felicity is a gift to be enjoyed, but not a primary goal in life. We are to worship the giver of felicity, not the gift.