On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Seven
The Death of Ivan Ilych
By Leo Tolstoy

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

~1 Corinthians 13:13

You know Cupid, but how about Cupidity?  Chapter Seven of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well examines the virtue of love with examples drawn from Leo Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilych.  Today we examine lust and love. 

As Karen wrote

This supernatural, theological love is a powerful theme in Leo Tolstoy’s short novel The Death of Ivan Ilych. In the story, charity sharply contrasts with the empty, self-centered lives that populate the story. Ivan’s life in particular is characterized not by the virtue of charity but by another kind of love: the vice of cupidity.

Most of us connect the word cupidity with its source, Cupid, the god of desire and erotic love in classical mythology. We associate Cupid with romance and Valentine’s Day, but this sort of desire is not all that cupidity entails. Within ancient Christian tradition, cupidity was associated with lust and ambition, the counterpart of the virtue of charity or godly love. Augustine explains that love is the “impulse” to “enjoy God on his own account and one’s neighbor on account of God.” In contrast, cupidity (or lust) is “the impulse of one’s mind to enjoy oneself and one’s neighbor and any corporeal thing not on account of God.” While charity is desire that moves us toward God, cupidity is desire that moves us away from God. Thus, while there are many kinds of loves that are proper and many things that are proper to love, to love well requires the proper ordering of these loves, Augustine says. 

Does romantic love include lust?

On Reading Well


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Rick Wilcox

Rick is voraciously interested in the holistic transformation of people individually and in an organizational context - enabled by technology, educated continuously through multi-channel systems and informed by the wisdom of history's greatest thinkers. He is a Ph.D. student at Faulkner University, focusing on the appearance of the Logos in English Literature. He earned a Master of Arts in Christian Education at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Master of Science in Management from Sam Houston State University. His undergraduate studies earned a BA with double majors in Sociology and Theology from Houston Baptist University. Rick is an ordained minister who leads the Parenting Teens Adult Community at Faith Bible Church in The Woodlands Texas.