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Chapter 25: Christian Love as the Principle of Christian Life

Question B: Why does Christian love require moral goodness?

1. As question A showed, charity itself is not a human act; rather, it is a disposition to more than human fulfillment in God’s intimate life. Still, since Christian life is formed through the act of faith by charity, the human acts of Christian life can be called “acts of charity.” These acts must be morally good; they must issue from a will toward integral human fulfillment. That this is so is obvious. But why is it so? Why should a child of God be required to live in view of merely human fulfillment?

2. Moral goodness is not required as a necessary condition or a means for gaining or receiving charity. Charity is a gift of God, a gift which justifies fallen human beings and enables them to live virtuous lives (see S.t., 1–2, q. 113, aa. 7–9). Without God’s grace, no one merits anything (see S.t., 1–2, q. 114). It is no part of Catholic faith to suppose a person can be justified by good works, as if the prodigal son could earn his father’s love (see DS 1523–31/795–800).

3. Having received the gift of divine love, however, one both can and must fulfill the moral requirements of the commandments (see DS 1536–39/804). Salvation by God’s grace requires a good life not as a means but as an integral part. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2.10).

Love fulfills the law (see Rom 13.8–10). Saving faith is the faith which works through love (see Gal 5.6–14). One must act upon the saving word, not merely listen to it (see Jas 1.22–25). One must not merely say, “Lord, Lord,” but must build on sound foundations and do the will of the heavenly Father (see Mt 7.21–27; Lk 6.46–49).

4. One way of clarifying this is to say that, as children will obey their father out of love for him, so charity requires that we obey our heavenly Father; but, since part of the good he wills is the living of humanly good lives, our charity—our love of God—obliges us to be morally good. This is correct, but it can be misunderstood. The connection between loving God and being morally good is intrinsic. It is not an extrinsic requirement, arbitrarily imposed, which God might reverse or simply waive (like a father who promises a child a bicycle for doing a certain job, then gives the bicycle even though the job has not been done).

5. God is perfect goodness. Every other good reflects and participates in his perfect goodness. Loving God is thus inseparable from loving created things to the full measure of their goodness. But one who does not love human fulfillment to the extent this is in his or her own power is failing to love a created thing as it should be loved and so failing in love of God. The requirements of morality, however, are simply the implications of love of human fulfillment to the extent it is within human power. Therefore, one is obliged to meet the requirements of morality if one is to love God with charity. One whose love of God is sincere and consistently carried out will detest what is morally evil and cling to what is humanly good (see Rom 12.9).

6. From this point of view, loving one’s brothers and sisters in Jesus is simply a matter of being consistent with oneself: “If any one says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also” (1 Jn 4.20–21; cf. Jn 15.12). Sharing in the same divine love should mean sharing human goods; failure to do the latter indicates either that the former is unreal or that one is behaving in a manner dreadfully inconsistent with one’s status as a child of God.

7. Precisely insofar as one determines oneself by one’s free choices, moral evil harms not only others but oneself: It is a kind of self-mutilation or existential suicide. One who loves God loves those whom he loves. But God, although he loves morally evil people insofar as they are not wholly evil, simply cannot love their moral evil. To love as God loves, therefore, one must hate oneself insofar as one is morally evil. But if one freely chooses to be and to remain morally evil, one is loving oneself as morally evil. Thus, one who chooses to be and to remain evil is not loving as God loves and cannot love God.

8. To sum up in a negative manner: A human being simply cannot be open to infinite goodness if he or she is closed against that share in it which is his or her own personal fulfillment. As human free choice and divine love cannot be at odds in Jesus, so in the Christian: “No one born of God commits sin; for God’s nature abides in him, and he cannot sin because he is born of God” (1 Jn 3.9). One cannot be disposed to infinite goodness by divine love if one is closed by a morally evil act to that participation in infinite goodness present in the human fulfillment which moral evil negates (see S.t., 2–2, q. 25, aa. 1, 4–5).

The requirement to love one’s neighbor also can be drawn from the general principle that love of God entails love of all the human goods, and these are realized only in the whole human family. Often one cannot do much to promote these goods except in a few persons, but one can always reverence the goods of persons. Hence, St. Paul teaches: “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom 13.8–10). Thus love of God demands service to all the basic human goods, at least the service of not violating the commandments which protect them. If people do love one another in a fully generous and sound way, they promote one another’s true good. Thus human goods will be made to flourish abundantly. The act of faith, by which Christians give themselves to God, will not be a package without contents, but a package full of human good things.