Sunday, March 6, 2011

God Loves Some More Than Others

A few blogs have noted with confusion and even outrage Cardinal George's recent statement that:
A saint lives in loving intimacy with God, who creates that love in the saint by first loving him or her. Since there are great saints and little saints, God doesn’t love everyone equally. It doesn’t matter that we don’t know why God loves some people more than others, but recognizing this difference reinforces our conviction that everyone is unique and challenges any assertion that everyone is equal, except before the abstract principles of the law.
Admittedly, this seems rather shocking at first to our modern sentiments, and perhaps the Cardinal could have phrased it better by laying out a little theological context to such a statement and qualifying a bit. But the idea he clearly intends actually has a long provenance in the Catholic tradition and, the more you consider it, the more obvious it becomes.

In fact, there is an article right at the beginning of the Summa Theologica where Aquinas explores, "Whether God loves all things equally?" His answer:
Since to love a thing is to will it good, in a twofold way anything may be loved more, or less. In one way on the part of the act of the will itself, which is more or less intense. In this way God does not love some things more than others, because He loves all things by an act of the will that is one, simple, and always the same. In another way on the part of the good itself that a person wills for the beloved. In this way we are said to love that one more than another, for whom we will a greater good, though our will is not more intense. In this way we must needs say that God loves some things more than others. For since God's love is the cause of goodness in things, as has been said, no one thing would be better than another, if God did not will greater good for one than for another.
This is where I think the Cardinal could have been a little more clear. In the first sense, that of intensity of the act of the will, God cannot love anything or anyone more or less, because He loves all things with one and the same simple act of His will inasmuch as, at the most ultimate level of creation, He wills the entirety of the universe and history in one simple act, loving the whole into existence. And moderns tend to think of "amount" of love in the sense of this sort of intensity.

However, under the more scholastic definition of love as "willing the good of another," it becomes clear that one loves a thing or person more or less, in this second sense, according as the good willed is greater or lesser.

And it becomes clear just looking around the world that there are, as the Cardinal said, great saints and little saints. Even ignoring the question of material or natural goods, limiting ourselves to the question of supernatural good, if there are degrees of holiness in the plan of Providence, and subsequent degrees of glory in heaven, then God wills some people more or less good (to maximize the good of the whole) and thus can be said, in that sense, to love us more or less.

He didn't choose me, for example, to be the Mother of His Son. That is an immeasurable grace, and I didn't get it. He loves her more, and we shouldn't feel any envy over that fact.

The Cardinal also hints at the theological context of his statement when he says that God "creates that love in the saint by first loving him or her." As Aquinas explains in the Summa:
Election and love, however, are differently ordered in God, and in ourselves: because in us the will in loving does not cause good, but we are incited to love by the good which already exists; and therefore we choose someone to love, and so election in us precedes love. In God, however, it is the reverse. For His will, by which in loving He wishes good to someone, is the cause of that good possessed by some in preference to others.
In other words, we love something more or less according as we perceive in it more or less good. God, however, is the cause of the good in creatures, so rather than loving them as He perceives more or less good in them, they are more or less good according as He loves them more or less! A humbling realization.

The Cardinal suggests that "we don't know why God loves some more than others." Now, there are various systems (though none of them De Fide) that try to explain "why" some are given to merit more than others (or why some are elect and some are reprobate) based on foreseen acts of free will rather than on God just arbitrarily choosing, but most of those are unsatisfying in some regard when it comes to the interaction of grace and free will.

I have some ideas of my own about how to square that circle that I might share someday once I flesh them out more, but these questions start to get into the very complex world of grace and free will, predestination and providence, which I really don't have time to get into right now.

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