The foundation of any structure keeps it in line – keeps the frame standing. A good architect puts up a building in such an order that the pieces combine together to function in unison.
One of the prayers I have been enjoying lately is a prayer from St. Thomas Aquinas for a well ordered life. The structure and order of our lives flow from our love of God, and from that foundation we are able to rightly love those around us – to properly love everything including ourselves, others, and creation around us.
This comes from a unitive idea of love put forward by Augustine. All of morality come from rightly ordered love, disordered love results in all immorality. It isn’t that human beings sin because they are seeking directly to be evil, but rather because they have an irrational love – a disordered love.
In other words we act towards a perceived good.
Our evaluation what that good is very possibly wrong. Most of us have experiences wanting the wrong thing at least once in our lives. However, we have to consider this a bit further if we are going to get at what Augustine means by disordered love.
If our actions are towards a perceived good, usually we develop a framework around our lives that orient our whole lives towards the thing we ultimately enjoy. If family is what you enjoy the most, you work and play and act in such a way that your family (or your perception of your family) is at the center of your motivation.
God of course should be the ultimate object of desire, our primary object of enjoyment and love.
Augustine takes that language of enjoyment and wants us to enjoy only God, every thing else and everyone else in life are object of use to enjoy God.
When I first heard this, I thought it sounded cold. But that perception of coldness comes from misunderstanding Augustine. He does not think we can rightly love self or neighbor without a proper orientation of our hearts towards God. He also considers this ‘use’ a form of love. The ‘use’ of neighbor and creation is his way of describing the limits of creatures and an insistence that we not love the created more than the creator.
Uti – use of neighbor/self/creation – to frui – enjoy – God then is all part of the way we structure our lives in concert with our foundation. The love of God changes the shape of how we love one another and love ourselves.