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Chapter 25: Christian Love as the Principle of Christian Life

Appendix 3: Self-affirmation, self-denial, and charity

The relationship between love of God and Christian morality has sometimes been explained differently than here, in such a way that divine love is thought to impose requirements upon human action which in no way conduce to the fulfillment of human persons as such. For example, it has been said that charity is an unselfish, personal love of communion with God, by which one finds more pleasure in God and his interests than in oneself and one’s own interests. Many Christians have tended to suppose that the proper self-interest of human persons in their own fulfillment constitutes alienation from God.

Two kinds of confusion underlie this sort of mistake. One lies in failing to recognize that divine goodness and human goods are so utterly diverse that there simply can be no direct competition between them. The other lies in confusing the self whose identity is defined by sin with the true human self.

The first confusion is apparent as soon as anyone begins talking about God’s interests, as if God had a set of interests of his own. Truly, in the sense that human individuals (including Jesus as man) have a self, God has none. His love of his own goodness cannot be a source of selfishness, for he can gain nothing from others. His love of others is all-embracing, altogether nondiscriminatory, and purely generous. It follows that when the love of God which is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit is turned upon ourselves and our fellow human beings, the result is a reconciliation of ourselves with our own true interests, not an alienation of ourselves from our own interests in favor of “God’s interests” (see S.t., 1, q. 60, a. 5; 2–2, q. 25, aa. 4, 7).

The second confusion is apparent as soon as anyone recognizes the sense in which Jesus does and does not have a normal, human self. What he lacks is the sort of self we sinners have insofar as we are sinners, namely, a self whose identity is defined in part by sinful commitments and sinful divisions from others. However, Jesus really has a human self in the sense that he can and does make that sincere gift of himself without which no human individual is able to find his or her true self (see GS 24).

St. Paul’s statement, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me,” should not be detached from what follows immediately: “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2.20). Paul’s point is that one whose life is lived in communion with the redemptive act of Jesus does not constitute his or her own identity by an independent basic commitment, but only has existential identity by sharing in Jesus’ redemptive act.

Similarly, the point of saying that Christians live no longer for themselves but for Jesus (see 2 Cor 5.15) is that a Christian has no private, personal life. The redemptive community formed by Jesus embraces the totality of one’s life. In respect to the new covenant, one has not the private sphere and liberty one retains as a member of other societies, such as the family and civil society. One’s whole human life falls within one’s responsibilities as a member of the body of Jesus.