The Law of Love

love-01

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I remember the day when I first heard love defined. I always imagined it was one of those fuzzy things that evaded definition.

It happened in my moral theology class. The professor, as I recalled in my journal, was responding to this question from a student: “In what sense can morality be said to be the science and art of love? The moral law seems too cold for love.” He replied by making a number of points about love:

Love means to consistently will and otherwise choose the true good of another, and morality specifies what the good is and how best to bring it about. Aquinas says it this way, “An act of love always tends toward two things: to the good that one wills, and to the person for whom one wills it; since to love a person is to wish that person good.” Law, which is the concrete expression of the demands of justice, grounds and guards love, and points the way “beyond” for love to go, since love always goes beyond justice, though never against it … To “love your neighbor as yourself” means you see their flourishing as your own. So St. Paul’s commands us in Romans 12, “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep” and then tells us in 1 Corinthians 12, “If one member of Christ’s Body suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” And the Jews have a saying, “If you save one life you save the whole world” — because everyone’s salvation demands the salvation of all … But fulfilling the command to love God is somewhat different. It cannot mean willing and choosing His fulfillment, as He is purely actualized fulfillment. He always is everything He can be. Rather, to love God can only mean loving what God loves, willing what He wills. Which is, of course, the fulfillment of our neighbor, which brings us back full circle to the two commandments Jesus tells us are two halves of a whole.

I was absolutely ecstatic to have such conceptual clarity, and so much seemed to suddenly make sense. The connection between love and the moral law, love of neighbor and self, and love of God — all part of a symphonic unity. Christians must reclaim the word love so it does not remain simply an empty cipher susceptible to any meaning given it, and they must put it into action in their lives to show just how beautiful it is.

He went on to add an additional insight on love. He said, “The Second Vatican Council, under the influence of Karol Wojtyła, further enriched our understanding of love. He said that love is not simply the detached willing another’s good, external to ourselves, but the offering of the very gift of self to another.” Then he quoted Gaudium et Spes #24, adding that Wojtyła likely was a major inspiration behind its language:

For this reason, love for God and neighbor is the first and greatest commandment. Sacred Scripture, however, teaches us that the love of God cannot be separated from love of neighbor: “If there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself…. Love therefore is the fulfillment of the Law” (Rom. 13:9-10; cf. 1 John 4:20). To men growing daily more dependent on one another, and to a world becoming more unified every day, this truth proves to be of paramount importance.

Indeed, the Lord Jesus, when He prayed to the Father, “that all may be one. . . as we are one” (John 17:21-22) opened up vistas closed to human reason, for He implied a certain likeness between the union of the divine Persons, and the unity of God’s sons in truth and charity. This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.

Then he quoted 1 Thess. 2:8: “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves [tas heautōn psychas], because you had become very dear to us.” That’s the essential meaning of communion and covenant: an exchange of selves offered in love sealed by a promise of trusting fidelity. It’s why marriage — as I often say — is the foundation of all social and ecclesial life, and the primordial icon of neighbor love in extremis, “in its most extreme form.” Society and the Church flourish only when marriage, and the family life built on it, flourishes.

Back in January a friend came to visit us from out of town for a few days and she showed us this 9 minute movie that knocked our socks off. It captures in such a moving way the heart of what Aquinas and Wojtyła convey with such abstract precision. I posted it the other day, but just in case you did not watch it before, I encourage you to watch it now. Again, it’s about 9 minutes long:

6 comments on “The Law of Love

  1. Anthony says:

    I had a professor define love once too, but he was considering what most people consider love; still, I think it was a pretty definition: “That feeling of joy that comes from knowing that someone or something exists.”

  2. nos the jew... says:

    From this day forward, for better or worse for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health till death do us part +++++++ AGAPE+++++++

  3. Jennifer says:

    So beautiful, DrT. To love what He loves, to will what He wills… incredible, incredible. Thank you for living it.

    • I am grateful you appreciate that insight so much — it was a giant leap forward for me back then in my understanding of how loving God and loving creation-and-people all fit together in a non-competitive model. I had been tortured after reading Thomas a Kempis’ Imitation of Christ, when I read the line: “As often as I have been among men I have returned less a man.” Though Kempis was arguing for the importance of withdrawing from social life to practice solitude, and avoid useless chatter, beneath it lies a tension that lurks in spiritual literature: the holy seek God alone, like eremetical monastics, and creatures are merely a means to this end; not an essential element of the end. This is profoundly neo-platonist. The beauty of Vatican II is it recovered the centrality of the Incarnation which makes the pursuit of “God alone” apart from creation impossible and unthinkable. Loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength means loving the neighbor as He does (Jn. 13:34) and loving Him in the neighbor (Matt. 25:34ff; 1 Jn. 4:20-21). And as love is the essence of human fulfillment, our life with others is essential to our fulfillment in God. Heaven will not be a mere staring with bliss at God’s Essence to the oblivion of all else, but rather the bliss of being part of a creation that has finally been set free to be God’s glory (Rom. 8:21-22).
      Good Lord, no idea why I launched into that. 🙂 Blessings, J!! DrT

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