Monday, April 4, 2011

Love and Charity

I'm not sure what I'm saying here is completely theologically precise, but it is an insight that came to me when thinking about some things in the light of Cardinal George's recent statement about God loving some more than others, which I discussed before. Specifically what I found beautiful was the notion he was hinting at when he said, "A saint lives in loving intimacy with God, who creates that love in the saint by first loving him or her." I then quoted Aquinas who explained further:

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.

I thought this was a humbling and beautiful concept. The idea is simple enough. The way love in creatures normally works is that we perceive good in something or someone, and the will is attracted to that goodness. The will, by nature, is attracted to the good. The good, in fact, can in some ways only be defined with reference to desirability (albeit, that's a relative and rather circular self-contained definition; "what's good is desirable and what's desirable is good.") We can only desire goods, at least apparent goods. That's just how the will works.

In God, however, as Aquinas says...He does not see some sort of pre-existent goodness in something (certainly not in any creature external to Himself; how could goodness precede Him in any creature?) and love it on account of that goodness. Rather, God loving something makes it good by the force of His will, or at least (in free creatures) desires to incline it in that direction (ie, grace).

This got me thinking about the virtue of Charity and what it really means. I have often explained that Charity is understood to be "loving someone not even for their own sake, but for God's own sake," which is to say, loving for Love's own sake. In the Catholic system, of course, only this sort of love is worth anything in the end, which is why we do not give into the sentimentalism which would apotheosize "love" of people, even for their own sake (but with no reference to God), as a virtue in itself. And loving them for God's own sake, of course, means that without faith (at least of the natural variety), or any of the other virtues, Charity becomes impossible.

It's like a quote I've thought about a lot lately from another blog that a friend posted on his: "
In the absence of any viable, living religious faith, love, then becomes impossible, the love, that is, that ruptures time and reveals to us a hidden, transcendent dimension. Love-sickness is still possible, as are desire, affection, infatuation, lust, sentimental attachment, adoration, married bliss, enduring fondness, passionate but passing infatuations. But not the love that breaks through the barrier of time and reveals to us Eternity." I assume that love to mean, specifically, the love the Catholic tradition calls Charity.

This disturbs me at times when it comes to loved ones of mine, such as my father, who do not seem to believe in God. Charity need not reference the God of Revelation specifically (though supernatural Charity must), there is indeed a "natural charity" too with reference to "natural faith" in the God knowable by natural Reason. But it makes me very sad sometimes to think that people I consider, on a sentimental level, to "love" me very much, even for my own sake...do not have the Charity for me that I have for them. That my father, for all his love born of natural instinct and affection...ultimately does not Love me in the sense of wishing me to get to Heaven. Which is the only love that really matters in the end.

He expects both him and I to die and go extinct, to cease to exist, someday. He still finds his love relatively "meaningful" in an existentialist sort of way I guess, but it is of such a different nature than the absolute meaningfulness of true Charity, than truly wishing my ultimate fulfillment in virtue and holiness and (someday) union with God Himself in the beatific vision (all of which I wish for him)...that it saddens me. I appreciate his love on a deeply human level, but at the same time I know his love is thus so utterly finite. He would die for me, and yet it amounts ultimately to little more in the end than accretions of strong positive emotion built up upon the foundation of the self-replicatory instinct in some primate's brain; he would die to save my life, but not my soul. In other words, there is nothing transcendent in it, as there can be only in Charity, only in love for God's own sake.

However, this wasn't meant to be a sad post like that. Rather, this notion of God's love causing the goodness of things (rather than being on account of the good that already is in them) got me thinking about Charity defined as "willing the good of another." Might it be correct to say that natural love in human beings (in the scholastic sense where, basically, love = desire) is the attraction of the will to the goodness or apparent goodness in someone, but that Charity is loving as God loves, in other words, loving not on account of a pre-existent goodness that attracts the will, but rather a love that wishes someone to become good (or more good)?

In a sense, loving Christ in them, in spite of what may be their own unworthiness or evil or undesirability, and willing (for God's sake) that they might become good (as persons; which is to say moral, virtuous, and holy). That God might triumph in them. That they too might come to love us, in Charity, as we love them, just as God loves us in order that we may love Him as He loves us.

Then Charity is truly loving with the very same sort of love with which God loves. The love which desires to make people good rather than seeking after the already-good. This really brings out the importa
nce of the Christian mandate to love sinners for me, and is the source of all my hope.

1 comment:

Redspect said...

"If you haven't any charity in your heart you have the worst kind of heart trouble" to cure it help people, let's unite for one good cause, be a volunteer"save lives"!mawaddainternationalaid