Does Gandhi's paraphrase of Augustine's phrase distort its meaning?



His [St. Augustine's] Letter 211 (c. 424) contains the phrase Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum, which translates roughly to “With love for mankind and hatred of sins.” The phrase has become more famous as “love the sinner but hate the sin” or “hate the sin and not the sinner” (the latter form appearing in Mohandas Gandhi’s 1929 autobiography).

I would happily embrace Augustine's maxim, but feel that Gandhi's individualization of it, to 'sin' and 'sinner', in place of 'sins' and 'sinners', distorts it into something unacceptable.

I'm just asking whether any philosopher has pointed that out, or made a similar claim about the particularization of similar ethical maxims.


Posted 2019-08-15T15:55:15.583



Clearly, it is not beyond all recognition since you relate the two without any evidence that Gandhi even had Augustine's phrase in mind when he wrote his, and take both without context. Christians seem to be happy enough with Gandhi's version, see Christianity SE

– Conifold – 2019-08-16T00:39:19.113

5The individization of the phrase is older than Gandhi. Vivekananda was using the phrase in India in the 1890s; in the West, the Philokalia has the individuation in several places. – Swami Vishwananda – 2019-08-16T13:39:23.967

i understand that this is primarily opinion based, but not necessarily only so... and that answer (which won't be forthcoming) would be amazing! – None – 2019-08-16T18:02:16.160

I must commend your astute observation in how a small lexical change makes for a non-trivial semantic difference. As for what Gandhi wrote and what St Augustine I don't know. However the two statements do have a different flavor. I may attempt to say more but first here are two answers of mine : one and two. Do they find some resonance?

– Rusi-packing-up – 2019-08-18T05:12:23.980

maybe so, thanks @Rusi – None – 2019-08-18T10:07:31.297

@Rusi i wasn't reading it as hatred of our sins (in the original version), but it makes sense either way (doing so or not) i think – None – 2019-08-18T13:01:31.087


The quote says the latter form appears in Gandhi's autobiography, not that he came up with it, he was probably just repeating a common maxim--the second-to-last paragraph of this answer mentions various Christian writers publishing basically the same phrase in the 1700s. Also, Augustine did write an "individualized" statement with a similar idea here: "No sinner is to be loved as a sinner; and every man is to be loved as a man for God's sake".

– Hypnosifl – 2020-01-15T21:02:35.233



I think we usually don't need to compare these two. But if we compare them we would find both of their significance. The first one doesn't consider each individual specifically; I feel. When we put the first one into practice there is a great chance of dilemma in many occasions. There is a chance of ignoring that particular sinner's individuality/mind. Most often the person who is treating a sinner may ignore the quality 'love'. I mean, loving his 'essence'(soul)...(Even if he didn't forget one or two qualities for humanity.)

Often, circumstances make a sinner. If you hate the sinner always, how could he become a good person? Just remember the (author's) background of the Ramayana--Story of Ratnakara (Valmiki). Would we ever get that great Epic if he were ignored? How did Rama treat Ravana always (in the Ramyana)? What was his attitude towards him?

So, I would say that the first one pleases most people, but the second one pleases the wise as well as the sinner and gives a motivation for him to become good. Certainly, you can please most people with the first statement. So you may give the first one as an advice to (almost) anybody; but not the second one. (Suppose) When dealing a sinner sometimes you would also become a 'sinner' accidentally. How should we treat you then? Just remember that.

If you wish to take the essence of both, I would say: The usage 'ove for mankind' made the first statement 'milk' and the usage 'love the sinner' made the second 'butter'.

I'm just asking whether any philosopher has pointed that out, or made a similar claim about the particularization of similar ethical maxims.

I don't know whether anybody had ever tried to discriminate the individualization of Gandhiji's words.

So, to your question,

Does Gandhi's paraphrase of Augustine's phrase distort its meaning?

If churning is any kind of distortion or deformation, Gandhiji's statement is also a distortion; otherwise not. This might mislead the people who can't assimilate the meaning in its correct sense. Many people would misunderstand you and your idea if you use these words of Gandhiji for giving advice.


Posted 2019-08-15T15:55:15.583

Reputation: 2 594

interesting opinion, thanks – None – 2019-08-16T17:18:46.997