Love, Virtue of

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In classical Catholic theology love was understood as the supernatural or theological virtue of charity and its acts. Through divinely infused charity a person is oriented directly to the goodness of God as he is in himself, and God is loved for his own sake; the self and others are loved inasmuch as they potentially or actually participate in the divine goodness.

Since charity intends God as he is in himself rather than as only Creator of the universe, it was understood to be distinct from natural love of God, based on natural knowledge of him as source of the universe. Accordingly, charity presupposes the supernatural knowledge of God that is faith, which in turn exists only as a response to a free, supernatural, divine revelation.

Even this most rudimentary statement of the meaning of charity in classical theology discloses that the concept, "charity," is inseparably bound to the meanings of such other concepts as natural love, natural knowledge, faith, revelation, the natural and the supernatural. Charity is analyzed and its meaning employed as a part of a theological conceptual system; its meaning is assigned in conjunction with the assignments of other meanings within the system.

The direction of contemporary theology that was established by Vatican Council II has passed from a classical world view and into historical consciousness. That has brought about theological developments of the concepts inseparably bound to the notion of charity in classical theology. The meaning of charity itself, it is therefore clear, must evolve similarly.

In the textbook way of pursuing theology, the principal treatise on charity has traditionally been part of moral theology, a discipline oriented in the past to the preparation of confessors. The orientation towards praxis, it is now generally recognized, was conducive to understanding the Christian life in a minimalistic way. The Christian life as presented in the textbook setting is the life of the precepts or commandments. It is distinct from the life of the counsels, which was classified also as the life of striving for perfection and was studied in another discipline, ascetical theology.

As an element of Christian life, charity did not escape the minimalizing tendency in the science of the life of the precepts. Moral theologians generally maintained that Christ's new law of charity added no moral precepts in a material sense to those already contained in the Decalogue; charity, rather, brought a new "form" to acts in accord with those precepts. Thus moral theology tailored charity to fit the life of the precepts. While the face of charity in ascetical theology was generous and selfsacrificing, mirroring the countenance of its crucified Lord, the face of charity in moral theology was often egocentric and self-serving. Moralists saw charity as love, first, for God; secondly, for self; and only thirdly, for neighbor. Since the Christian life studied by ascetical theology was considered to be extraordinary, and since biblical research had not yet come into existence, the moralists' understanding of charity prevailed in classical Catholic theology.

Models for Understanding Charity. Three models or ways of understanding charity are now discernible in theology. They can be called potency-act, I-Thou, and self-transcendence respectively.

Potency-Act Model. The potency-act model of charity prevailed in moral theology from its beginnings as an independent discipline until the period of Vatican Council II. Basic to this model is the notion that love is an act of the intellectual appetite, the will. Man desires happiness, and his beatitude in the order of salvation is the beatific vision of the divine essence, in which man's supernaturally elevated intellectual appetite for the perfect good is completely fulfilled. Love for God is radically love for the perfect good, which God in himself is and to which the human intellectual appetite is ordered, at least when supernaturally elevated by charity. The neighbor is loved inasmuch as she or he is related to the divine goodness.

The strength of the potency-act model is its insistence on God's transcendence. If God is understood as the perfect, universal good, which totally satisfies the human appetite and in which alone the beatitude of man consists (Summa theologiae 1a2ae, 2.8), there can be no tendency toward the false immanentism inclined to seek God only as present in the neighbor and not also as the transcendent Mystery and to reduce religion to social service in the secular city.

Nevertheless, this model has several limitations. The uniqueness of the person of the neighbor seems to be undervalued and ultimately superfluous. If the neighbor is loved only inasmuch as he or she participates in the divine goodness, it is difficult to explain how the neighbor is loved precisely inasmuch as he or she is not God but a unique person in his or her "otherness" in relation to God. How or why the neighbor can be loved for his or her own sake is not readily explicable, and there is a tendency to regard the neighbor as a means to one's own final end. St. Thomas himself concluded that the perfection of charity essential to beatitude does not necessarily include a perfection of charity for the neighbor: even if there were only one soul enjoying God, it would be perfectly happy (beata ) without a neighbor to love (ibid. 4.8 ad 3).

Another disadvantage of this model is its anthropocentrism. Man is (obediential) potency for the beatific vision, in which God is apprehended directly. God as the perfect good is seen as man's fulfillment, the fulfillment of the human appetite. The charge of regarding God here as a function of man cannot be completely escaped. A theocentric view of reality, it seems, would see man at the ultimate goal of love as a "function" of God.

A third disadvantage is demonstrated by the history of the use of this model. The model is individualistic and hardly conducive to the development of a social consciousness that strives toward the reign of God in working to ameliorate the social order on earth.

I-Thou Model. The second model of charity, the I-Thou, differs from the first in that it sees the love for "a concrete Thou" (Rahner) rather than an explicit love for God as the primary, fundamental act of charity. The love for a human Thou, according to this model, is the human and moral act par excellence. In it a person comes to himself or herself, fulfills his or her personal nature and freedom, and actuates himself or herself totally as a person in relation to all reality. The genuine love for a human Thou, moreover, is a supernatural act of charity and intends, implicitly and unthematically, God as he is in himself; and this implicit intending of God is the basic act of love for God.

Unlike the potency-act model, the I-Thou model emphasizes that love is an interpersonal relation and that, rather than rationally objectifiable goods, persons themselves in their ultimately mysterious depths are intended by love. This model makes clear also that a person is loved for his or her own sake as the unique individual that he or she is. Hence there is little tendency to regard the neighbor as a means to one's own beatitude. Love is seen here also as issuing from the mysterious core of the human spirit, touched by the Spirit of God, where a person freely disposes of herself or himself. As the notion that love is an act of the intellectual appetite is basic to the first model, basic to the second is the idea that love is the personal act par excellence of freely disposing of oneself.

A limitation of the I-Thou model, shared in its own way by the first model, is that it seems to portray a "cheap grace" of personal fulfillment. Fulfillment appears to be located prematurely in the I-Thou relation. To be sure, the love for a human Thou is seen as placing the one who loves in an authentic relation to all reality. What is not indicated, however, is that one who stands in authentic relation to all reality must experience an exigency to work toward the transformation of the social order of the world. Precisely because the person loving a human Thou is seen as actuating herself or himself in the totality of her or his person, it is unclear that authentic universal, social community could add anything essential to the personal fulfillment already realized in the I-Thou communion.

Self-Transcendence Model. A third model sees charity as self-transcendence. Whereas the second model emerged in the decade before Vatican Council II, the third began to appear, chiefly in liberation theology, only in the decade following the Council. Still undeveloped, the self-transcendence model sees man, somewhat in the manner of Eastern mysticism, as oriented to transcend himself. Its view differs from Eastern mysticism, however, in that personal individuality is won, not lost, in self-transcendence.

While the potency-act model sees man as an active potency for the good, which, when attained, actuates and fulfills him, the self-transcendence model sees him more as a passive potency, capable of being annexed, indeed through his own cooperation, to the reality greater than himself that envelops him. Man needs to be "converted" (Lonergan) to reality; he must allow himself to be annexed to reality through authentic relations to it. Knowledge, according to this model, is less a drawing of reality into the mind and an actuation of the self (intellectus quodammodo omnia ) and more a process of allowing the self to be annexed or joined, in an authentic (cognitive) relation, to the totality of what is. Similarly, love is seen as a state of conversion to reality, in which a person allows herself or himself to be united, in an authentic personal (affective and effective) relation, to the whole of reality.

Defense of the Self-Transcendence Model. The third model seems to possess the strengths but none of the weaknesses of the other two models. The idea of love as the self transcending itself through authentic personal union with the totality of reality, like the first model, certainly safeguards the transcendence of God. Indeed the third model reverses the anthropocentrism of the first and locates the individual properly within the totality of reality, seeing him or her as ultimately annexed to God himself.

Like the I-Thou model, the self-transcendence model sees love as issuing from the depths of a person, from the core of personal freedom; moreover, it recognizes that the basic act of love is the I-Thou relation and that love is directed to the Thou in the mysterious, nonobjectifiable depths of his or her person. However, the third model also makes it clear that the fulfillment experienced in the love for a human Thou is merely relative and that personal fulfillment is ultimately to be found only in the fulfillment of the totality of reality. Only the self-transcendence model, seeing the individual as called to be annexed authentically to the whole of reality, makes clear that the individual's fulfillment is ultimately inseparable from the beatitude of all mankind. Love according to this model becomes, in a word, the seeking of the kingdom of god. It becomes an active concern to transform the world by working to transform society into authentic community. When charity is understood as personal commitment to the reign of God, the unity of love for God and love for neighbor is seen in a new, more intimate and universal dimension, concealed from the eyes of the first and second models.

Bibliography: g. gilleman, The Primacy of Charity in Moral Theology, tr. w. ryan and a. vachon (Westminister, Md.1959). b. hĀring, The Law of Christ (Westminster 1964) 2:83107, 351469. r. johann, The Meaning of Love (Westminster 1959). b. lonergan, Method in Theology (New York 1972) 101124, 237244. k. rahner, Theological Investigations 5 (Baltimore and London 1966) 439459; 6 (London and New York 1974) 231249. n. rigali, "Toward a Moral Theology of Social Consciousness," Horizons: Journal of the College Theology Society 4 (1977) 169181. p. teilhard de chardin, The Phenomenon of Man, tr. b. wall (New York 1959) 237290.

[n. rigali]