We were made for love, and made by Love, for “God is charity” (1 Jn. 4:8), and “he made us, and not we ourselves” (Ps. 99:3). To love is in our nature as beings possessed of bodies with their passions and, at a higher level, with that rational appetency we call the will. We inevitably love; we cannot not love.
Yet, this inevitability of love written into our nature does not assure that we will love rightly. Among the effects of the fall are malice in the will and concupiscence in the passions. The passions and the will are both “appetitive” faculties. Philosophers tell us that appetition follows cognition, meaning that knowledge of a thing comes before the desire of it. Saint Augustine said it this way: “I cannot love that which I do not know.” It is the external and internal senses that provide the necessary cognition to kindle the passions, while the intellect gives the soul that higher knowledge of the good that the will seeks; hence, Saint Thomas calls the will the “intellectual appetite.”
With these bodily and rational appetites, we are directed to the good; but, as our appetites are disordered through original and actual sin, that love might lead us to the petty theft of some bauble we perceive as good. The disorder can obviously far exceed petty theft in gravity. When human weakness and malice progress unabated, the results are shocking headlines — and eternal damnation.
Love spans from a simple attraction to the good in inanimate things all the way up the hierarchy of creation, and man’s own internal hierarchy, to the pinnacle of creation and beyond. In its very lowest sense, the gravity that attracts the rock to the center of the earth is love, and so is the seeking after water and turning towards the sun by plants, as is the attraction to bodily goods that beasts have in common with us. In ourselves, aside from the passion of love we have in common with brute animals, in a higher sense, love is a movement of the will to a good known by the intellect. When theological Charity and the gift of Wisdom perfect our wills supernaturally, that love reaches its height, as with the great saints, and the little ones, too, like Saint Thérèse. The angels love, and God Himself loves. What is more, in the very inner life of the Trinity, the Holy Ghost is substantial Love, Charity in Person.
Now, if our appetites, both bodily and rational, are disordered through the effects of original sin and our own actual sins, how can we love rightly?
The answer can be stated in a multiplicity of ways, but it amounts to the same thing: LOGOS.
As the Greek philosophical tradition understood the word Logos (λόγος), it is layered with many interrelated meanings. It can mean word, reason, plan, utterance, speech, logic, explanation, rationale, argument, opinion, proportion, discourse, account, the ordering principle in the universe, or, in Stoic thought, the generative principle of cosmos. Logos gives us our word “logic” as well as the -logy ending on the names of various sciences like biology and theology (the formal, ordered studies of life and God respectively).
When Saint John told the Graeco-Roman world that “In the beginning was the Logos” (John 1:1), his readers learned of the supernatural message of the Gospel in terms of this rich philosophical patrimony. Moreover, in fourteen sublime verses, Saint John authoritatively expurgated that tradition of its errors. Those who accepted the message understood that this Logos, this ordering principle of the universe, is not the Platonic demiurge, the Stoic seminal reason (logos spermatikos), or the Pantheistic world soul (anima mundi), but a Divine Person, distinct from God the Father but also coequal to Him — at once “with God” and Himself “God.”
My use of the word logos may seem to have a certain ambiguity about it, so an explanation is in order. When I refer to “the Logos,” I am speaking of the Second Person of the Trinity, the Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom. When I omit the definite article (the), but still capitalize the word, I am speaking of the effect of that Person on creatures: i.e., the law He imposes on them, the order He creates in them.
Back to the question: How can we love rightly? By acknowledging that we were made by the Logos, and were therefore created to be ordered, rational, and living in conformity to a larger plan. This suggests to us that we live according to that other great Greek ideal, Sophia (wisdom), which is ordered knowledge. We, therefore, should avoid grasping at every passing good that offers itself licitly or illicitly to our senses, but must instead take hold of the true good — those goods, namely, which will lead us to the end for which we were made.
The Logos Himself, being a divine Person and the great Lawgiver of the New Testament, reveals to us this divine rationale for achieving our true good.
Therefore, our love ought to be regulated, controlled, and disciplined according to Logos. Far from being limited or constraining, such conformity is rather elevating and dilating; and it makes perfect sense to us. Why? Because our minds were created by a Mind through His Creative Logos. We were made to know; moreover, we were made to know in an orderly way, to see the order of the grand schema in creation — if only in bits and pieces. Because our minds have this impress of the Divine Mind on them, they see the order in creation placed there by that Mind through His Logos.
When the Logos comes in the Flesh to give us a higher Law transcending even the law of nature, we can understand that this higher law of grace perfects our nature so that we might achieve a supernatural end. At the center of this New Law is the remarkably demanding, twofold precept of charity, impossible for men to observe without the grace of the Holy Ghost.
Let’s look at the question the other way round, top-to-bottom instead of bottom-to-top.
In eternity, the Logos is so called because He is the perfectly adequate self-understanding of the Father. This is how He is generated by the Father: as His substantial thought. In explaining the Trinitarian Processions, Saint Thomas makes the two names, “Son” and “Logos” to be perfectly synonymous. We can illustrate his point with our English verb “conceive.” A lady who is pregnant is said to have “conceived” a child. When a thought enters my mind, I am said to have “conceived” an idea. These two senses of the word meet in that eternal Conception that is the Father’s begetting of his Word, at once a thought and an offspring: “Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee” (Ps. 2:7; cf. Acts 13:33, Heb. 1:5, and Heb. 5:5).
But if the generation of the Son is a divine “conception,” a supereminently cognitive act, where, in the inner life of God, is the volitional action of loving? That would be found in the second procession that occurs in eternity, the spiration of the Holy Ghost from the Father and the Son. The Father and His Only-Begotten behold each Other and love each Other perfectly, and that Love proceeding from both as from one principle is itself a Person. Thus, in all truth, do we call the Holy Ghost substantial Charity or hypostatic Love. Saint Thomas concludes that Love is a proper name of the Third Person and that it is by Him that the First and Second Persons love one Another. (In terms of the Third Person’s relationship with us, the Angelic Doctor also says that “Gift” is His proper name.)
So, even in the very inner life of God, Logos precedes Charity: Being is first (the Father), then Knowing (the Son), then Loving (the Holy Ghost). To be sure, we are speaking of an eternal reality; the three divine Persons are coeternal as well as coequal (we are not subordinationists).
It strikes me as most significant that the same Evangelist who gives us the very deep meditation on the Logos of God in the Prologue of His Gospel also writes so sublimely of the Charity of God in his Epistles, especially in 1 John 4. In his Commentary on Galatians, Saint Jerome tells us that toward the end of his life, all Saint John told his disciples in Ephesus was, “Little children, love one another,” explaining to a perplexed disciple that he insisted on this so much, “[b]ecause it is the Lord’s commandment and if it alone is kept, it is sufficient.”
What these ideas, from that deepest of all the Evangelists, suggest to me is that you cannot be steeped in the Love of God without first being steeped in the supernatural, metaphysical order and truth of Logos. In other words, you cannot love rightly without Logos.
What do we do if our loves are in disarray? We need God’s grace to put them in order, but on our part, we must do penance, which begins with Logos. As Brother Francis put it in The Challenge of Faith, “Thought is the leading principle of human action. Penance is essentially a change of thought (metanoia [literally, “change of mind,” the word is translated “penance” in the DRB]). We can be made holy by switching to holy thoughts.”
Asking the Logos Made Flesh to enlighten our minds with holy thoughts is not so small a thing as it sounds — and would not be a wasted Christmas wish.