ON THE VIRTUE OF LOVE
"In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that He has first loved us,
and sent His
Son as the payment for our sins." 1 John 4:10
I. Love is the highest of the Christian virtues. It involves a recognition and celebration of the goodness of God above all, of other people as created in His image, and by implication of all of creation and showing forth His goodness.
A. The theme of love
runs heavily throughout Scripture, with the greatest emphasis in: the
Song of Songs, a poem about the love between a bride and groom that
is an analogy of God's love for His people and for each person; Psalms
118 and 136, which celebrate God's enduring love; the Gospel according
to John; and the first letter of John.
B. The notion that
the love of God is the highest of commandments is clear from the Old
Testament. Duet. 6:5. The book of Leviticus does also says
that we should love our neighbor as ourselves, but that book alone does
not give this commandment the emphasis that Jesus does. In addition,
in Leviticus, that commandment applies basically to countrymen.
Lev. 19:18. Jesus made it clear that the love of all other people
flows from the love of God. See Matt. 22:34-39; Mark 12:28-34;
C. Although not strictly
defined in the Bible, the most extensive comment on love is in 1 Corinthians
13:1-13, which both celebrates love as the highest of the virtues and
attempts to describe love. Above all love "rejoices in the truth"
of another and is the first promise of the vision of goodness in heaven.
However, even here St. Paul seems to concede that love on earth is only
a partial visions, rejoicing in the truth, but also seeing as in a blurry
mirror, awaiting fulfillment when we "know perfectly as [we] are known"
D. Love celebrates
the goodness in another, and also the goodness that God intends for
another. It sees in another person what God sees. Thus,
St. John says that those who love are in God. E.g., 1 John 4:11-12.
St. Thomas associates love with wisdom, the understanding of the plan
of God. See Summa Theologica II-II q. 45 art. 4.
Thus, all true love is, at least indirectly, a worship of God.
See 1 John 4;12, 20-21
E. Love seeks to know more about the person as he is and as God intends him to be. And this perception of the goodness of the other person in turn leads to greater love. Thus, to love and to know must go together.
II. Love brings to fulfillment lesser virtues and good but lesser loves.
A. Benevolence desire
to do good for others. See Summa Theologica II-II q. 31.
It is good in itself and commanded by God as necessary for true love
(as well as a living faith, see James 2:14-17), but in itself does not
go to the depths of love.
B. Almsgiving (often
called charity by the world) seeks to use worldly goods for a good purpose.
This goal is likewise worthy, but in itself does not join people as
true love does. Thus, one may have "charity without love."
Summa Theologica II-Ii q. 32 art. 1. However, the full delight
in benevolence and almsgiving can only come with charity.
C. Fraternal correction
and forgiveness are two sides of the same coin of dealing with flaws
in the beloved. See Matt. 18:15-20. The idea is that, if
one loves a person, one seeks to have that person overcome whatever
presents them from the goodness that God calls them to. It forgives,
thus not imprisoning a person in past faults, but also corrects to overcome
D. As C.S. Lewis points out in The Four Loves, the love of God is built upon and controls all human loves so that they can be more fully themselves, while complementing each other. As St. Thomas points out, the love of God brings about a peace within the self because it orders all human desires and loves toward the beloved and above all toward God. See Summa Theologica II-II q. 29. It also leads to a peace among all who love God, but not necessarily with the world.
involves the benevolence of people based upon shared goals or vision
in life. Aristotle and most of the ancient Greek philosophers
listed this love as the highest of humans loves. However, as Lewis
points out, friendship can lead one to ill as well as good and can lead
to a certain arrogance. If disciplined by the love of God, it
is the basis for our relationship with God through Jesus, who says,
"You are my friends if you do what I command you." John 15:14.
2. Romantic love
joins a man and a woman in complementing each other through bringing
the other side of the human race. It was the first love of humans
and the source of about half of the poetry in English. If disciplined
by God, it is the image of God's love for His people, as symbolized
by the Song of Songs and even more so by the fact that Jesus took the
Church as His bride. However, if let go on its own, it is also
the source of much of the greatest folly in the world. Contrast
Judges 16:4-21 with Tobit 8. The Books of Wisdom, Sirach, and
Proverbs also present Wisdom as a true and lovely woman, as opposed
to folly which is attractive but treacherous. See Wisdom 7-8,
10; Sirach 14:20-15:10; Proverbs 8-9.
is the love of familiar things, and especially of the family.
The family is where people generally first receive love and therefore
learn to love. The Church is the family of God, in which we are
adopted through Jesus Christ. See Romans 8:11-17; Gal. 4:1-7.
Without the love of God, this love can become jealous and territorial.
With God's love, it becomes the foundation of all of society and of
the faith and the first society and what the Catechism calls "the
the love of a nation or an area, involves gratitude for appreciation
of the goodness of the land one lives in, and the goodness that can
be. The Old Testament builds upon the Jewish patriotism for their
homeland, the first promise of the everlasting kingdom. At Pentecost,
all the nations of the known world gathered before the Church and heard
the Gospel in their own language. It was a first promise of the
gathering of the nations, prophesied by Isaiah and the Book of Revelations.
See Is. 60:1-14, 66:18-21; Rev. 21:22-27. But, as with the prophets,
true patriotism also involves a willingness to critique the injustices
of one's land, and hold it to a higher standard. As G.K. Chesterton
once wrote, "To say "My country right or wrong' is like saying 'My
family drunk or sober.'"
5. Love of creation,
or nature, involves a celebration of God's creative goodness, as shown
in nature. The psalmist and Christian writers generally sees in
nature an image of the glory of God. See Ps. 19, 50:1-6.
Paradise is describes as "the new heavens and the new earth" indicating
a certain connection to this earth. See Rev. 21:1. Without
the love of God, this love, however, can degenerate into a sort of idolatry,
as the Book of Wisdom and St. Paul warn. See Wisdom 13:1-9; Romans
III. Love both leads to joy and sorrow on this earth, in preparation for the joy of heaven.
A. As St. Thomas
points out, joy is the natural overflowing of love, for love finds delight
in the goodness of others, and above all in the goodness of God, of
which there is no end. See Summa Theologica II-II q.28
art. 1. Thus does Scripture repeatedly call for joy. As
St. Paul says, "Rejoice in the Lord always." Phil 4:4.
B. However, love involves opening oneself up to sorrow at separation from the beloved and at evil done to, or especially by the beloved. See Summa Theologica II-II q.28 art. 1-2. Thus, Jesus Himself grieved at peoples' hardness of heart, wept at the tomb of Lazarus and over Jerusalem's impending destruction, and suffered for the sins of humanity. See, e.g., Mark 3:5; Luke 19:41; John 11:35; Rom. 5:8.