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By John Bauerschmidt

Enmity is defined as “deep-seated unfriendliness accompanied by readiness to quarrel or fight; hostility; antagonism” (Funk & Wagnall’s Standard College Dictionary). As a state of being, it’s perched somewhere between the deadly sins of pride, envy, and anger (from the traditional list of seven), partaking of the qualities of all three. In its political manifestation, it describes the fractured place we occupy as a nation. We are “at enmity” with one another.

The widespread presence of deep animosity in our society presents a challenge for the pastors of the Church and for its members. We have a heightened awareness of the political and social views of our social media “friends” and “followers,” who are often our fellow parishioners. The bonds of affection that unite the members of the church sometimes seem less important than other passionate convictions. Preaching and teaching in an environment of antipathy is enormously challenging, especially without falling into the danger of either silencing one’s faithful convictions or becoming merely partisan.

Two important points should be made before going further. First, proceeding under the subject heading of enmity should not obscure or take away from the deadly effects of the sin of racism in our national life, as if all we’re experiencing could be reduced to hostility between individuals, and race discounted as unimportant. Make no mistake: sins corporate and personal are real. Second, we should not paint with too broad a brush. Our enmity has limits; we’re not quite in the war of all against all described by Hobbes. There remain broad swathes of relative peace in our national life, areas of endeavor in which people still go about their business without a nervous glance over their shoulder. At least, that’s a luxury that’s true for some of us, some of the time.

John Bossy observed in Christianity in the West: 1400-1700 that Christians tended, at the beginning of this period, to ascribe greater seriousness to the sins of aversion (pride, envy, anger) than to the sins of desire (sloth, lechery, gluttony, with avarice shifting between the two). Bossy notes that the reason for the ranking was the power of the sins of aversion to destroy community. He pointed to Chaucer’s parson in The Canterbury Tales, who considered envy the worst of sins, the one “most directly opposite to solidarity and charity, and the source of back-biting, rancour and discord.” Envy “was related to wrath as an interior feeling to its outward expression: wrath did not really mean uncontrollable bad temper, but a settled and formal hatred toward a neighbour, inspiring acts of malice or vengeance against him” (Bossy, 36).

As the period advanced, Bossy argues, the categories shifted, with the sins of desire receiving greater attention in the practice of pastoral ministry. This was partly the result of the diminished role of the church vis-à-vis the rising power of the state in maintaining public peace, and a consequent different emphasis in community life. The church’s business was reconciliation, after all, while the state was concerned with tranquility. In Bossy’s analysis, the ten commandments also achieved a greater catechetical and ascetical prominence at this time, across the new confessional divides of Western Christianity, introducing a new calculus of moral value.

Bossy also notes that the process of transition was a slow one, and never absolute. We can see the truth of his remark by taking note ourselves of the continuing prominence of sins of aversion in Cranmer’s liturgy of 1549 and afterward, with the exhortation immediately before Communion: “Ye who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbors…” Here, and in his other communion exhortations, Cranmer evinced a concern with community and sociality that would have done honor to Chaucer’s fictional parson.

We’re at a time in our national life when a deep-seated antagonism, and a willingness to quarrel and fight, are on display. Here we must be careful to mark out the difference between enmity and opposition to evil: the distinction that St. Augustine was getting at by noting repeatedly that we are to love the sinner and hate the sin. Nevertheless, we’re aware in a new way of the power of sins of aversion to capture the human heart. This power is manifest both socially and politically, and is compounded by the pandemic. Enmity, situated at the nexus of our competing hostilities, can quickly dominate the field.

Enmity has its opposite, of course, and that is amity. According to St. Augustine, “Every human being is part of the human race, and human nature is a social entity, and has naturally the great benefit and power of friendship” (De bono conjugali 1.1). The classical philosophical tradition placed a high value on friendship, the mutual attraction and concord of those in agreement in heart and mind. Augustine, an heir to this tradition, added to it the Christian concept of charity, the mutual love that exists among the members of the church. This love of neighbor does not depend on agreement or attraction but rather on the love of God.

Amity, however, is not reducible either to the mutual attraction that lay at the heart of the classical notion of friendship, or to the mutual love of the members of the church. As Augustine wrote to Proba, at her monastic community of women:

The claims of friendship, moreover, are not to be confined within too narrow range, for it embraces all to whom love and kindly affection are due, although the heart goes out to some of these more freely, to others more cautiously; yea, it even extends to our enemies, for whom also we are commanded to pray. There is accordingly no one in the whole human family to whom kindly affection is not due by reason of the bond of a common humanity, although it may not be due on the ground of reciprocal love (Epistula 130.13).

Augustine understood the good of social amity, and the value of peace intrinsic to any society. The nature of human beings as social creatures requires forms of social cohesion, a common desire for earthly peace. “By the very laws of his nature, he seems, so to speak, forced into fellowship and, as far as in him lies, into peace with every man…” (De civitate dei 19.12). This peace is something short of the peace of the heavenly city; it’s uncertain and likely to be unsettled. In this life, “peace is a good unguaranteed” (De civitiate dei 19.5). Augustine recognized that earthly peace is threatened by pride, which leads some to put themselves in the place of God and dominate others in an unjust peace. “Anyone, then, who is rational enough to prefer right to wrong and order to disorder can see that the kind of peace that is based on injustice… does not deserve the name of peace” (De civitate dei 19.12).

The cultivation of friendliness, in our context, is a form of social good. The peace of the earthly city is to be prized, though we are called to the heavenly Jerusalem. The cultivation of solidarity and charity are part of our mission and ministry, going beyond the parish boundaries. The church’s business is not tranquility but rather reconciliation. Yet if enmity amongst persons is a sin, it calls for repentance. We know in our society the unsubtle attractions and destructive force of the sins of aversion. Leading the members of the church to repentance has many challenges but also a new urgency, for pastors, preachers, and teachers.

The Rt. Rev. Dr. John Bauerschmidt is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee.


  1. Thanks for these thoughtful reflections. If enmity thrives on being on the ‘right side’ I fear that instinct is now dominant. The allure appears to be, ‘when we get it right, then there will be….”. I wonder if having delete buttons ever before us, means we transfer that set of reflexes everywhere.

    I look forward to reading Bossy.

    • Thank you as well. Bossy has shaped my thinking about the medieval world, and my convictions around continuity in the period after. Well worth reading: he’s had plenty of followers in the years after writing this book, but a close reading continues to yield marvelous insight.

      Enmity is anger that has put down stakes and dug trenches. This post had its origins in the period immediately after the 2016 election, though the phenomenon I’m writing about has a longer genealogy. How to be in love and charity with your neighbors is serious, full time work for Christians; just because we’re sure they’re wrong-headed doesn’t excuse us from the task.

      Thanks again for commenting.

      • We have been living in France for the last four years. I lived in Scotland for ten years and have logged about 4 years of time in Germany. There does seem to be something about the racial issue here that is difficult fully to understand. I suppose every culture searches for some way to identify scapegoats (Jews, Muslims, Protestant vs Catholic). Francophone Blacks in France share a common desire to speak French. I do think American attitudes toward ‘history’ and toward ‘progress’ deeply stamp the culture and make it distinctive in key ways, vis-a-vis medieval patterns in Europe. Not sure what all this amounts to, but it is a factor I believe. We reach the west coast and then head for the Moon.

  2. Bishop, I’d like to throw in my two cents. First, a defense of the passion of anger (a la Aquinas): The willingness to fight may, in some people (or peoples!), signal the activity or emergence of a virtue – an irascible passion moving someone toward fighting for a good that shouldn’t be lost, in a situation where to sit back, to refuse to fight or get your ‘back up’ might constitute spiritual sloth.

    Secondly, a question: How do I rightly not put up with injustice to my neighbor, or also rightly and boldly disagree with my neighbor, while also cultivating friendliness? How does social activism/change proceed, for example, without activating or encouraging enmity?

    • Thank you for these reflections: most welcome. Enmity is deep-seated antagonism, so it isn’t moving anyone anywhere; rather, by definition it’s settling down for the long haul of hatred. Enmity is all about unchanging hostility.

      I agree: anger, as a passion that can move us to the good, is something else from enmity. It’s a good question for practical casuistry whether acquiescence in any particular case is a form of spiritual sloth. Sloth, of course, is a chief ingredient in a settled hatred: an habitual unwillingness to reexamine and to repent.

      The case study in the junction between anger and enmity that I would reach for these days is: the face mask! There are a number of anecdotes about the presence or absence of protective masks arousing anger in observers, on both sides of this curious dividing line. Is there an American who cannot at least imagine what that feeling might be like? Experience of the feeling would be one thing; but enmity would be another.

      Social activism and change, without encouraging enmity: that’s one form of the pastoral problem I’m pointing toward! I have to admit it was not the main instance of thought behind the post, though it is an excellent case in point. I had in mind the antagonism of our political and social divides, as matter for repentance. What is at risk is the peace of civil society.

      But in this case you raise, the charge to the pastors and members of the church would be (I think) to find ways to express solidarity and charity with the other while working for change. Remembering as well, that the other is not external to the Body of Christ but within the community also; also, we hope, looking for ways to express solidarity and charity towards their others. A vexing pastoral question with a number of answers, I suspect.

      Thanks for pointing out that the issue before us is not simply one of repentance, but the active cultivation of friendliness.


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