Theology Thursday: Severus Snape and the Ordo Amoris (Part I)

“No natural feelings are high or low, holy or unholy, in themselves. They are all holy when God’s hand is on the rein. They all go bad when they set up on their own and make themselves into false gods.”

-C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

*WARNING:* Lots of Harry Potter spoilers, for all seven books.

Severus Snape is perhaps the most problematic character in the entire Harry Potter series. He is a brilliant potioneer, but he prefers to direct his energy into bullying twelve-year-olds and nursing grudges. He tries to poison Neville’s toad, makes fun of Hermione’s appearance, attempts to subject an innocent man to the Dementor’s Kiss, and plays favorites with his students. In short, he’s immature and petty.

In recent years, fans have critiqued the hell out of Rowling’s attempt to redeem Snape… as they should.

Good summary of the many, many things wrong with Severus Snape.

Clearly Snape is not a “good guy”–he is a deeply flawed human being who ended up acting bravely on self-interested motives. Some fans even go so far as to insist that Snape never loved Lily at all, and that his feelings towards her were merely a sexual appetite. But the truth is more complicated. It’s not that Snape never loved Lily. It’s that his love was disordered, and it devolved into a self-gratifying obsession.

Augustine writes about the “ordo amoris”: the order of love. The basic concept is that one must look at everything one loves through one’s love for God, and love for God takes precedence over everything else. If God does not order your loves, then your love for someone or something will become idolatrous and spiral into an appetite to be satisfied.

(N.B. This isn’t to say that you should love others less, or that you’re wrong if you don’t always *feel* overpowering affection for God. But these nuances are for a theologian, not a bookish student with a blog, to explain. I recommend The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis for a comprehensive look at love.)

Perhaps an example of a disordered love would be helpful. Consider an illustration based on a scene in C.S. Lewis’ novel The Great Divorce.

Mary is a mother who has lost her son, Jimmy. Understandably, she is distraught, and so are Bill and Jane, her husband and daughter. They all grieve together for a time.

However, there comes a point when Bill and Jane notice a change between themselves and Mary. Bill and Jane still miss Jimmy, but they are ready to transition into life without him. They remember him and use his loss to remind themselves of how important their family relationships are to them. Mary, on the other hand, insists on keeping Jimmy’s room exactly the way he left it. She refuses to move houses, although the family needs to, because of all the memories of Jimmy she has in their current home. Holidays are not an occasion for joy, but for sorrow, because Mary makes sure everyone remembers that Jimmy is not there to join them.

Several years later, when they can stand the tension no longer, Bill and Jane tentatively confront Mary about wallowing in the past. She accuses them of not loving her, of not loving Jimmy, and remains convinced of her own virtue.

See where Mary went wrong? Her love for her son makes her love others less, not more. Of course grief and love for Jimmy are good things; but once they become her reason for living, her love is not love at all. It’s an appetite–something that she nurses and broods over, something that pulls her further and further into herself.

And that’s exactly what happened to Snape.


In my next installment of “Severus Snape and the Ordo Amoris,” I’ll delve into Snape’s psyche, analyzing the choices he made that disordered his love. That post will come next Thursday.

For now, though, I’d love to hear from you. How do you feel about Snape? Do you think his loves are disordered? Let me know in comments!

Can’t get enough of Theology Thursday? Read all my Theology Thursday posts here.

7 thoughts on “Theology Thursday: Severus Snape and the Ordo Amoris (Part I)

  1. I always find the attempts to proclaim Snape a good and moral person equally interesting and problematic. It’s pretty clear that Snape is only doing what he does because Dumbledore tells him Lily would have wanted it. So…Snape would have been a Death Eater if Lily had wanted it? Also, as you say, he’s a bully. His actions for the Order don’t erase the fact that he’s such a horrible teacher that Neville’s boggart, his greatest fear, is Snape! Even J. K. Rowling said in an interview shortly after the release of Book 7 that Snape remains petty and a bully.

    I like how you tied the discussion back to St. Augustine and C. S. Lewis. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yay! I missed Theology Thursday! 🙂 I like how you connected HP and Lewis. The Four Loves is probably my number one non-fiction book. Your post reminded me of when Lewis talks about Mrs. Fidget in the chapter on Affection. Mrs. Fidget supposedly “lived for her family” and tried to give them everything, but in reality her “gift-love” was a “need-love” because she needed to give it. Her love becomes an obsession and she gives her love for selfish reasons. Similarly, Snape’s love for Lily becomes an obsession, and he sacrifices himself not to save Harry but to add to Lily’s esteem of him.

    Liked by 1 person

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