For this Ad Rem, I am sharing some snippets from the talk I gave at this past weekend’s Saint Benedict Center Conference, whose theme was “Cultivating and Passing on a Catholic Worldview.” The title of my talk was “‘Virtue is the Order of Love’: Charity as Informing the Catholic Worldview.”
FOR charity to inform our Catholic worldview, we need to situate our concept of the love of God and neighbor properly within the dogmatic data of the Church. That is to say, our concept of charity must be firmly rooted in the sacred Deposit of the Faith. This is not to restrict the idea of love, but to liberate it from mawkish romanticism, enervating sentimentality, and worldly lust — in other words, to free it from the trashy accretions of centuries of love songs, from those Medieval troubadours to the productions of modern pop and country singers — making it possible for the authentic love of God and neighbor to expand in and dilate our souls.
In order to proceed with this work of liberating love from falsehoods, I will speak of charity under several different formalities and across a variety of ontological planes. Because our considerations here have to do with Charity as part of a Catholic worldview, in keeping with our larger conference theme, I will first speak of the primordial Charity that preexists the world itself, and which served as the motive for the world coming into existence in the first place, and, after the fall, which was the reason for the redemption. I will then consider charity as it is in individual men, that is, the theological virtue of Charity as the queen of the virtues, whose perfection constitutes the very perfection of man himself. Finally, I will speak of the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, as the locus of God’s love for man and the social embodiment of man’s love for one another. All the while, we want to get a view of charity, of love, that is in keeping with Saint Augustine’s utterance that gives me part of my title: “Virtus est ordo amoris” — virtue is the order of love. By “order of love,” Saint Augustine did not mean “the thing love commands,” but ordered love or love set in its proper order.
For Saint Augustine, the theological virtue of charity orders all of our loves and moves us to love rightly, which is why he could also say, with no fear of encouraging laxity or licentiousness, “love, and do what you will.” If we truly love God, our wills will be united with His, and we will do what pleases Him.
This moral truth — considered both in general and in all of its minute ramifications — is so because it conforms to the reality that ordered love is what brought us and all the cosmos into being in the first place. It also conforms to the reality that the ordered love we speak of is both in God, and is God. If we truly conform ourselves to this ordered love, our outlook on the world will be at once more contemplative and, I will argue, more apostolic.
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Let me begin my considerations of ordered love in God Himself. Msgr. Joseph Pohle wrote this of God’s love for Himself: “Like God’s conception of Himself [i.e., his self-knowledge], the love He has for Himself is really identical with His Essence.” [God is simple; all of his attributes are one in him and identical with His Essense.] Msgr. Pohle continues,
As with mortal men, so too with Almighty God, all volition [i.e., willing] culminates in love. Therefore the basic act of the Divine Will is God’s Love of Himself. Being the supreme and infinite good, God is infinitely lovable. This lovability must be adequately exhausted by an equally infinite act of love. Consequently, God is pure substantial Love. Cfr. I John IV, 8: “God is charity.” Now, since the Supreme Good is nothing but the Divine Essence considered sub ratione bonitatis [i.e., under the aspect of the good], Substantial Charity must coincide with the Divine Essence. [God: His Knowability, Essence, and Attributes, pp. 423-424]
Even before we consider the Trinitarian processions, one of which is the spiration of the Holy Ghost as Hypostatic Charity, or Love in Person, we see that the Divine Essence Itself, looked at as the Supreme Good, is the first object of God’s love, and this is why we say that “God is love,” or “charity.” All willing begins here — with God’s own love, which is properly ordered first to Himself as the Highest Good.
Now, considering the Trinitarian processions, Msgr. Pohle says this in his book on the Trinity:
If, then, the works of love are attributed to the Holy Ghost, it must be because He is love, because He proceeds from love as His principle or source; — not, it is true, from that essential Love which is common to all three Divine Persons, but from the reciprocal notional love of the Father and Son, of which the immanent product is Hypostatic Charity, i.e., the Person of the Holy Ghost. Love being the fundamental affection of the will, the Holy Ghost must proceed from the Father and the Son by mode of will.” [The Divine Trinity, pp. 205-206]
Let’s back up a little and consider not only the Holy Ghost’s procession, but the anterior procession of the Son from the Father. … (Here was a discussion of the significance of the Second Person being Logos, the essential content of which may be found here.) …
We see, then, that in the very inner life of God, Logos precedes Charity: Being is first (the Father), then Knowing (the Son), then Loving (the Holy Ghost).
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 — which we have already referenced in saying, “God is charity.” 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.
If we add to all this the formula used by so many eastern Fathers of the Church that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father through the Son, I believe we have an even stronger affirmation, given what we said about the various interrelated meanings of Logos, that the Charity-in-Person that is the Holy Ghost is a supremely and essentially ordered Love.
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Brother Francis wrote in his little book of meditations, The Challenge of Faith, that “St. Augustine saw a necessary order of dependence in the three theological virtues: no hope without faith, and no charity without both.” This shows faith as foundational to hope and charity, and faith and hope as foundational to charity. This doctrine is absolutely true. Unless one has faith there is no supernatural life at all. This is why the Council of Trent called faith the initium salutis — the beginning of salvation. But there is something that needs to be appreciated concerning the inverse order of dependency, that which comes from above. Without charity, the more foundational theological virtues are not “living.” Without sanctifying grace and its necessary concomitant, theological love, there is no merit to one’s faith or hope. And this is also true of the cardinal virtues and the fifty or so moral virtues that “hang” on them as on four “hinges.” Saint Paul wrote, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision: but faith that worketh by charity” (Gal. 5:6). He also wrote, “But doing the truth in charity, we may in all things grow up in him who is the head, even Christ” (Eph. 4:15). Dr. Pieper argues in his book on the cardinal virtues that without prudence, there is no justice, fortitude, or temperance. But without charity, none of those virtues can act supernaturally; none can store up treasures in heaven.
Saint Augustine spoke of the cardinal virtues as four forms of the love of God:
As far as virtue leading us to a happy life is concerned, I believe that virtue is nothing other than perfect love of God. I regard the fourfold division of virtue as taken from the four forms of love. I wish all felt the influence of those four virtues in their minds as much as they have their names on their mouths! I would not hesitate to define them this way:
Temperance is Love giving itself entirely to what is loved.
Fortitude is Love readily bearing everything for the sake of what is loved.
Justice is Love serving only what is loved, and therefore ruling rightly.
Prudence is Love distinguishing wisely between what hinders it and what helps it.
The object of this love is nothing other than God, the chief good, the highest wisdom, the perfect harmony. So we may express the definition this way:
Temperance is love keeping itself entire and uncorrupted for God.
Fortitude is love bearing everything readily for the sake of God.
Justice is love serving God only.
Prudence is love making a right distinction between what helps it towards God and what might hinder it. (Saint Augustine, Morals of the Catholic Church, 12, quoted in A Year with the Church Fathers, by Mike Aquilina.)
We might call this perfection of the lower by the higher “vertical causality,” whereby what is higher gives a more perfect form to what is beneath it.
Another illustration of this idea is found in the doctrine of the Gifts. According to Saint Thomas Aquinas, the virtues perfect the man and the Gifts of the Holy Ghost perfect the virtues. Thus Wisdom, the highest of the gifts perfects charity, the highest of the virtues. Saint James tells us that “Every best gift, and every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no change, nor shadow of alteration” (Jas. 1:17). We can image supernatural grace coming down from the Father, through the Son, and Holy Ghost, and, after laying the foundational virtues in the soul, perfecting them by stacking on top of them higher virtues and gifts that perfect the foundations.
Yet another way we might see this is in the so called elicited and commanded acts of the virtue of charity (cf. ST IIa IIae, Q. 32, A. 1). The acts that charity elicits are proper to this virtue. Saint Thomas says “to love” is the proper act of charity. But charity also has its “commanded” acts, that is, acts of the other virtues commanded by charity. If the Love of God “commands” the acts of the other virtues, every good act becomes an act of charity. I think this is one of the secrets of Saint Thérèse’s sanctity.