SHARING THE DIVINE LIFE
The nature of friendship
Surely the amateur burglar, striking up an acquaintance with an expert in his line, cannot be said to have true friendship. He hopes to get something out of it, at least some expertness in burglary. The girl who is an official fascinator, looking out for material comfort for the future, is certainly not a true friend of her men friends. Neither of these is true friendship because neither of them is based on unselfish love.
Mutual benevolent love, on a common ground
Unselfish love means no more than the constant, effective desire to do good to another. Briefly, it means that we have identified ourselves with another; his will is our will so that his good is our good, his happiness our happiness. But unselfish love is not necessarily a guarantee of friendship, it is not the whole story. The charming girl student may feel ever so kindly towards her professor of Ancient History and still fail resoundingly whenever he has anything to do with her examinations. For friendship there must also be a common ground upon which two can walk; a requirement not at all difficult to meet. We have common ground enough with men and women about us: we also worry about bills at the first of the month, we too are thrilled at football games; we have our secret, unrealized hopes, our sorrows, sacrifices, little triumphs. In any one of these fields we can meet countless other men and women. The difficulty is, can we meet them unselfishly? Can we see in them our other selves? Can we attain to that mutual, benevolent, unselfish love on this common ground and so be assured of real friendship?
The friendship of men: Its strength
Friendship would certainly seem to be worth having. It means, at the very least, that through it we live, not one narrow life, rather we live two lives. A door is thrown open and we are admitted to regions that are proper to God alone, for by friendship we stroll into the soul of another. It offers us completion for our incomplete, lonely human hearts, a fulfillment that is sought by every man from the beginning of his existence. If friendship brought no more than this to a man, it might quite reasonably be foregone. An unlimited amount of cosmetics will not beautify an ugly face, it will merely hide its ugliness; nor will a football suit change the puny physique of a man. These additions are extrinsic to the face and the physique; and it is always true that only the intrinsic additions to man really perfect him. In other words the important thing about friendship is what it does to the individuals involved. It brings out the best in every man, rather paradoxically it is true, by making him forget himself. It opens up to him possibilities of sacrifice that he has formerly associated with heroism, with the sublime in the efforts of man. Understand, now, by friendship is meant all human love: whether between man and man, woman and woman, man and woman — indeed all human love that escapes the taint of selfishness.
While friendship is a great comfort, it is not to be pictured in terms of dim lights, quiet corners and intimate whispers. Rather it scans wide horizons with deep wisdom and is a source of enormous strength. It shows us, for example, the stupidity of gloomy sacrifice; it tears away the veil of mystery from the cheerfulness, even eagerness, of love’s embrace of hardships. Perhaps when we say that friendship is rare, we are really apologizing for ourselves, explaining that we are not strong. At least, as soon as we make self basic, we have begun to corrupt sacrifice and coddle cowardice; we have begun to tear out the foundations of friendship. More than that, we have begun to tear out something from the depths of the human heart; for men have always looked, perhaps at times only wistfully, to sacrifice as the fullest expression of a generous heart.
For all its strength, comfort, sublimity, human friendship has about it the frail delicacy of old lace. It is frail because its truth can never be clearly seen but must always be taken on faith, and because its task of surrender can never be fully accomplished. In a word, human friendship is never a rugged thing because of our inability to share our inner self. The closest we come to sharing the truth of friendship is in our clumsy symbols of it; perhaps the closest we come to accomplishing its task is in the physical generation of children. In neither case can we give ourselves utterly to another. Fundamentally, the reason is obvious: we cannot give ourselves away utterly because we do not belong completely to ourselves.
The friendship of God
Friendship’s loss can be as unobtrusively quiet a thing as the death of a rose. It has none of the hard durability of a virtue, for it is rather an outgrowth of virtue; it pre supposes a goodness in us that others can love. This is an unflattering answer to the tight-lipped, bitter-faced individual’s complaint that he has no friends; if he realized the full implication of that complaint, undoubtedly he would squeeze the fact into the narrow confines of his petty soul and bind it hand and foot On the other hand, this truth explains the vitality and universality of God’s love, stressing its distinction from human love. We must discover the good we love; God does not discover it, He creates it. We can, and do plant the flag of discovery and chant our Te Deumtoo soon; for us, friendship holds extreme possibilities of evil, as well as extreme possibilities of good, for we can make the mistake of throwing open the doors of our soul to a marauder.
To an honest human heart, the sublime experience of human love is a joyful humiliation. There is nothing contradictory in the office boy’s lofty gesture as he tells the newsboy to keep the change, and the panicky haste with which he responds to his beloved’s slightest wish. He is at the same time a lord and a slave. To him, as to everyone, love is humiliating because of his intimate knowledge of his own imperfection. We are ashamed because we fall so far short of the opinion our friends have of us. Yet we expand with an odd, exuberant joy. It seems so impossible that someone can value us so highly, can put us above everything else, even above themselves. That very joy and humiliation spur us on to heights we could never reach without love. In fact, unselfish human love is always a kind of miracle. It is as incredible to an honest mind as the works of God; yet there is a friendship much more incredible even than this supreme effort of the human heart — the friendship with God which is called charity.
Its benevolent love: affective and effective
We would never have dared to use the word friendship in relation to God if He Himself had not done so first, if He had not come among us and lived familiarly with us. Now we are friends of God in the strictest sense of the word. There is between us and God a mutual, unselfish love. It is to be understood, however, that God does not putter about the wreckage of human nature looking for something of good to love, as an ambulance-chasing lawyer might scan an automobile crash in search of a client. God’s love does not discover good, as ours does; it creates the good it loves. In other words, on God’s side this friendship is effective, creative; He loves us that He might make us good. On our side, the friendship is not effective but affective; it confronts us with all that is desirable. We love Him because in Him we see, in its full perfection, all that we have seen merely mirrored, imaged, in the world about us, even in the world of men and women. It is not too difficult to see the unselfish love on broth sides of this friendship between God and man.
Its common ground — the life of God
What is much more difficult to see is the common ground upon which we can walk with God. It is not a matter of a super-highway. Plastic surgery will not make us look any more like God; nor can a Paris designer make a modern hat god-like. We cannot pull ourselves up to His level; nor could we — nor would we want to if we could — pull Him down to our level. But He can, and He does, lift us up to the level of Divinity. This is the incredible thing in the friendship of God: the common ground upon which that friendship strolls is the life of God Himself. Men and women are upraised to the point where they can, and do, live the life of God. And the medium by which that miracle of divine generosity is accomplished is His divine grace.
No lengthy argument is necessary to prove that this life of God within us is imperfect now. But none the less this divine life is a reality here and now; it will be perfected in us only in heaven. Here and now, far as we are from heaven. we know God as God knows Himself, for He has given ns that intimate knowledge in telling us the truths of faith. We love Him as He loves Himself, because of His supreme goodness. We live on the divine plane; our acts, dimly like His, are of eternal significance within the family of God. This, then, is our friendship with God: a mutual, benevolent love, based on the mysterious common ground of divine life.
Its strength — a habit
This friendship is not a half-hearted affair of suspicion and secrets withheld; it does not wait on a mood for intimacy. God shares His inner life with us and our souls are naked and open to His divine eye. There are no depths of affections which, because they cannot be done up in the clumsy wrappings of words, must depend for their expression on a pressure of the hand, a caressing glance, the quick welling of tears. Our souls are thrown open to God; God has thrown Himself open to us. More than that, the love of God has put something positive within that soul of ours, His is a creative love; and the creation of His Love within us is called the habit of charity.
In other words, this love of ours for God is not the empty echo of a ventriloquist’s vanity. Our will does not put forth this love as a mere instrument responding helplessly to a musician’s touch, even though the musician be a Divine Artist. We produce acts that are our very own; and, as we saw in the second volume of this work, our intellects and wills can produce acts only when those tremendous reservoirs of power have been tapped by the pipelines of habit, when they have been determined to a course of action by habit. It is the habit of charity which is the immediate principle, the determining factor, in our acts of love of God.
There is a profound significance in the fact that the effect of God’s creative caress is a habit. This means that what is natural to God has now become second-nature for us; charity is connatural to a human heart. It is a strong, free, joyous thing. For habit, if it does anything, produces its acts ever more perfectly, more easily, more joyfully, more efficaciously. The brave man enjoys his courage; the temperate man enjoys his moderation. To put the same truth in another way, stingy, begrudging, laborious or even bitter charity is a mockery. Thomas says rightly: “There is no virtue, no habit, that has so much of an inclination to its own action as has charity. There is no habit that acts with so much joy.” Fuller reasons for this will be given in the course of this chapter as it becomes more clear that charity is the supreme habit, that it is moved by no other but moves all others, in a word that it enjoys the fullest freedom.
Its excellence — a virtue
It will, perhaps, be better to concentrate on this habit of charity within us in treating of divine friendship; after all, that is our side of this friendship and, as in all friendships, the one side which is under our control. As a good habit, charity is a virtue. In fact it is a kind of super-virtue; a giant that stands head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd. Its great strength is impatient of the limitations imposed on other virtues; to attempt to confine it to those rules would be like condemning Dante or Shakespeare to oblivion on grounds of punctuation. Temperance, for example, is a virtue insofar as it measures up to the rule of human reason which is the rule of human action; the same is true of justice and fortitude. But charity does not stop at the rule of human reason. It plunges beyond that to attain the rule which is behind the rule of human reason, the supreme rule of human action, the supreme guide to successful living — God Himself. Charity can by no means be mistaken for a moral virtue for it does not even seek the good of reason. It is not faith, whose object is God as supremely credible; nor is it hope, whose object is God as attainable through the help of His omnipotence. Charity is a distinct, a special virtue whose object is God as the supremely Lovable Being.
Charity moves through the world with a lover’s smile on its face and a lover’s gentleness in its hands. Strangely enough the world she sees is a lover’s world, giving her back smile for smile. It is as though the simplicity of love’s concentration gave all the world a simple unity that made it take on something of the splendor of divinity. Certain it is that everything with which our heart makes contact through charity glows with the lustrous beauty of divinity. For by charity we love everything and everyone because we love God.
Human love has a variety that charity totally lacks. We might love a wise man for the wisdom we might share, a good conversationalist for the entertainment he gives us, wife and children for their very selves; there is no such distinction in the love of charity. For charity, you see, is not a partial but a total love. It has no end but the end of utter unselfishness, the end of the divine good; its common ground does not vary according to nationality, interests, relationship, but is always the same unvarying share in divine life. This is an extremely important truth which will be brought out more fully as this chapter unfolds: it will be sufficient to point out here that this means that love of neighbor is not the teetering chair upon which we stand precariously reaching for God. We do not reach God through our neighbor; rather we reach our neighbor through God. We love our neighbor because in some way he belongs to our Friend Who is God, or because he participates with us in that common ground by which we are friends of God, the common ground of divine life. There are no short cuts to altruism; we must go the long, triangular way around, through God to neighbor.
Its relations to other virtues: The supreme virtue
In the preceding volume of this work we saw that virtue was not a dull, routine thing, but the condition for all progress, the basis for extraordinary action, the groundwork for heroism. If this be true of all the virtues, the good habits, we can expect extraordinary things to be almost ordinary when we come to the habit of charity. For charity is the supreme principle of sublime human action in this life, it is the peak of all the virtues. Beside the achievements of charity, the accomplishments of intellectual and moral habits are the precocious drawings of a child contrasted with the work of a master. The intellectual and moral habits are clumsy, humble servants who know well that they are not equipped to serve the master directly; charity walks straight into the presence of God. The object of faith compares with that of charity as a photograph compares with the living presence of a friend; while hope’s object, in a like comparison, is a medal from a king compared to a warm welcome into the royal family life. Charity seeks only God and loves Him for Himself.
There is an unconscious humor in the way we ordinarily phrase that truth: charity seeks only God. It is something like the shrewdness in Thomas’ answer when, having submitted his manuscript on the Blessed Sacrament to the crucifix, the voice of the Lord asked him what reward he would have for writing so well of Him. Thomas said: “Nothing but Thee, O Lord.” Nothing else! No partial reward, no image of the divinity; only the divinity itself would satisfy Thomas. That is what charity wants: only God; in other words, everything.
When a miser rushes into his burning house to save his money at the cost of his life, the bystanders may pity his foolishness; they will not admire him as a brave man. This is an exhibition of the virtue of fortitude. He is not practicing the virtue of temperance when he abstains because it costs money to buy drinks. These are not virtues; they have the wrong goal, they do not bring a man to his end. Yet we do sometimes make the mistake of thinking a man without charity can have perfect virtue.
The form of all the virtues
It simply cannot be done. Charity, in the order of virtue, is the breath of life. Without it, other virtues drag themselves along dispiritedly to a half-way mark, and then fall down exhausted. The other virtues without charity are like men who do not know God; they have a life of their own, but a disappointingly incomplete life. We might say that charity enables the virtues to lead double lives, just as grace enables us to lead two lives. The soul of man gives him natural life; but with no more than this, men must stop at the borders of nature. Grace, perfecting the soul, allows man to lead a divine life; in other words, it goes beyond the natural stopping place of the soul and pushes on to the ultimate goal of the vision of God. So the virtues direct a man to their own proper object, they live their own proper lives; charity comes along and pushes them far beyond that half-way place to the end of ends. Just as prudence is absolutely necessary if there are to be any virtues at all, so charity is necessary if there are to be any perfect virtues. Without prudence, there is no virtue; without charity there is no perfect virtue, but only that imperfect virtue that bogs down far short of God. That end of ends is proper only to charity.
Charity and the soul of man: Its object and origin
It might be well, here, to rule out the modern confusion of love with mere sentiment. Long, happy sighs, a dazed expression, or copious tears shed at a movie may mean no more than a low, an exceedingly low I.Q. Love, if it be worthy of a human being, must have something rational in it; after all, it proceeds from man’s rational appetite, his will. Yet charity is often far from reasonable. A cursory reading of the lives of the saints will impress us immediately with their divine madness, their attempts at impossible things, which nevertheless they accomplished. To say that charity is rational is like saying a mathematical genius is good at arithmetic. Reason is not the rule of charity as it is of the human virtues. Charity is regulated only by the wisdom of God Himself.
For charity exceeds all nature, aiming at God Himself; so, of course, it exceeds all reason. It is not to be explained by natural principles, nor by constantly placed human acts. True enough, God is the most lovable thing there is; but it is also true that God is the most knowable thing there is, and yet to us, He is the least known. So also He is the least loved. In our choice of things to love, we must furnish the angels with much material for kindly amusement. We are like children who much prefer toys to warm clothes as Christmas gifts. If the house were burning down, the child would be quite satisfied if he could grab all his toys and carry them to safety; certainly he would not shed tears over the loss of his galoshes. A child must be poured into warm clothes; charity must be poured into us. Nor is this gift necessarily given according to our natural capacity for love. A great lover is not necessarily a great saint; although a great saint is always a very great lover. Surely one of the secondary joys of heaven will be the discovery of the ranking stars in the game of love; imagine the buzz that will run through the heavenly ranks when Don Juan and Thomas Aquinas come up for a comparison of their averages! For charity, like all the theological virtues, is above nature. Our very preparation for it is itself a supernatural preparation; we can be very sure that curly hair, a flashing smile or soulful eyes have nothing whatever to do with the amount of charity we receive from God.
However, this truth must be well understood. The fact that charity is not from nature, nor doled out in proportion to natural capacity for love, does not mean that there is nothing for us to do about it. A man cannot sit back and wait for something to happen, half-expecting, perhaps, that some morning he will wake up and, to the astonishment of his wife, suddenly be a saint. There is a great deal we can do about charity, for it is beyond all doubt true that charity can be increased. This means no more than that we can constantly come closer to God, for the approach to God is not by a lunge of the body, but by a lunge of the heart. Our life has rightly been called a “way”; it is a way to an end, to a goal, to God. We can always move towards that goal as long as we have life. We approach God by love, by charity.
More concretely, we can do in this thing of charity, what we can do in any friendship. The busy young man who is furious because his beloved is not waiting beside the telephone for his call, the young lady who pouts because her friend is not attentive enough or who scans every inch of a gift in search of a price tag will soon be looking for other partners. We know from experience how surely friendship can be killed by attempting to increase it through pressure, not upon ourselves, but upon the other party. Our love does not reform our friends, it re-forms us. At least the one thing we can do about friendship is to work on our side of it, to deepen the common ground, within ourselves, upon which that friendship is based. We get nowhere by insisting on thoughtfulness, attention, caresses; for all that comes from the other side, the side that is beyond our control.
In this divine friendship, the common ground is the divine life. We can increase that friendship in only one way: by deepening that common ground, by increasing the life of God within our soul. Certainly we cannot increase divine love, any more than we can increase human love, by a kind of promiscuity. It is useless to look around for more things to love by charity, for with the tiniest amount of charity all things that can be loved by charity, are so loved. If we except any of them, we have already destroyed charity. An increase in weight may make us bigger lovers, but not greater ones. We cannot search around eagerly for some new, improved kind of charity, there is no new kind. There is only one kind, the kind that loves God for Himself. We increase charity by digging it deeper into our souls; and in no other way.
To say that a man has become great through the years, does not mean that he has developed extraordinary muscles or increased his vegetative powers tremendously. It means that he has become more of a man. He has done more of the things that are proper to humanity: more thinking, deeper loving, more orderly action. Increase, in anything, must be judged according to the nature of that thing. So charity, which is a habit, must increase the way habits increase. It is the nature of every habit to be in a faculty; its increase, then, means that it is more deeply in that faculty, it is greater because it has penetrated more deeply into its subject. Or, very briefly the increase of charity can never be by extension; it is never quantitative but always a matter of intensity.
It has been said that in the spiritual life, to stand still is to go backward. You may be able to detect a bit of the brogue in that. Yet it is true if properly understood; that is, if we understand that the very dispositions for progress are themselves a kind of progress. The very use of a habit, any habit, is a disposition for a better use of that habit; but actually the habit will not increase until we have produced an act more intense than the habit itself. For example, if our habit of charity is, say, of the power of five, and for a period of a year we have produced only acts of the power of four, then during all that year we have not actually increased our charity. But we have, during all of that year, piled up dispositions for better acts of charity. Actual increase of charity is only by more intense acts; but dispositive increase is brought about by every one of our acts.
All this would be true of any habit. But of this supernatural habit of charity, it is also true that we can merit an increase. Let us put it this way: by every act of charity we merit eternal life; but that eternal life is given to us only at the proper time — the moment of death. So, also, by every act of charity we merit an increase in the habit of charity; but that increase is to be given only at its proper time — when we produce a more intense act of charity.
Its boundless perfection
When a father asks his little girl how much she loves her daddy, he is taking a loving revenge for all the unanswerable questions she has showered upon him; he knows the question is very difficult to answer. Later on in life, the answer will be so much easier. By then we know that the measure of love is sacrifice; but we never know any definite limit to the possibilities of the human heart for love. Yet there are limits. This is only a human heart and thc object of its human love is only a human being, possessed of only a limited goodness, along with many defects and shortcomings. If we find it difficult to place a limit to human friendship, we find it impossible to place a limit to divine friendship. There is simply nothing to limit it but the human heart itself. God is always, eminently, infinitely desirable; the constant flood of His grace makes more and more intense acts of charity always possible to us. And even that finite heart, which must harbor all this love, increases its capacity for love by loving.
All this is not discouraging, in the sense that the work of loving is an impossible job, never to be finished; rather it is encouraging in the sense of assuring us that we shall never be satiated with divine love. It does not mean that we are condemned to failure, never reaching perfection in divine love. In one sense, that divine friendship, that charity, is always perfect — in the sense that we always love God above all things because He Himself is so supremely good; in another sense, it is always imperfect, for certainly we can never love God as much as He deserves to be loved — that would demand an infinite act. But there is another sense in which charity is progressively more and more perfect.
Obviously it is in heaven, not in this life, that we are free constantly to praise and love God without interruption. In this life, the best we can do is to refuse to trifle with His rivals. It may be our vocation to make a sweeping denunciation of all impediments to love, actually excluding, as religious do, even necessary things of life that we may be free for God. Or it may be that we can exclude these impediments only habitually, as do all the faithfull when they place their hearts in God habitually so that they refuse to think or to will anything contrary to that divine love; that is, when they keep the Ten Commandments. From yet another angle, the angle of emphasis of the act of charity, the progressive perfection of charity is easily seen.
Almost every Christian is familiar with this division on the grounds of emphasis, a division often stated as the three grades of spiritual life: the purgative, the illuminative and the unitive way. St. Thomas phrases it more simply, calling it the state of the beginner, of one progressing and of the perfect. Perhaps all this can be made clear by an example. In our settlement of the West, the first pioneers went out with guns in their hands to explore the country, defending their lives every instant. They were followed by the settlers and the railroad builders, who still had their guns at hand ready to protect their lives every moment. Finally the farmers came, established their farms and lived in a degree of peace, but still under the necessity of protecting themselves. In the spiritual life, in the first stages of charity, our chief preoccupation is to protect ourselves from the enemy, sin. In the second stage, our interest is principally progress in charity, penetrating the country of God, but we are still in danger, constant danger. Finally, in the third stage, our principal task is an experience and enjoyment of God. Yet in all these stages, there must be a constant alertness to any incursion of sin. In more simple terms, we might say that the purgative state is our period of infancy, when we are in greatest danger of disease or death; the illuminative state is one of adolescence, where we are more fully developing our powers; finally, the unitive state is a state of spiritual adulthood.
Its decrease and loss
But not even an adult can, successfully, dispute the right of way with an express train, nor frown typhoid out of the room. However perfect our charity in this life it can always be lost. In fact, it can be lost in one crashing instant through a single mortal sin. These two, charity and mortal sin, are mutually exclusives: one is a total surrender to God; the other is a complete rebellion against God. One places God above all things, the other places man himself above all things; one is light, the other darkness. And sin is always possible to our human will as long as God is not seen face to face.
While this is always possible, it is not usual; in fact, it is quite extraordinary. Normally we do not pass from depths to heights, or heights to depths, in one jump; we are cautious even in our sins. Charity is ordinarily lost through a previous diminution of it. Not that we can cut down charity as we slice down a loaf of bread. We must wear charity down by shadow boxing it, for there is no means of getting at it directly. Like all love, this love too was made to last forever; an element of temporality, of caution, some means of escape is a frank statement of the absence of love. Charity itself cannot fail. Look at it closely: God cannot become less lovable; the flood of His grace will not desert us; this habit of charity is not a human habit; built up by human acts and to be torn down by human acts. It comes directly from God. There is absolutely no creative agency that can act upon it directly. This is a love that is secure. But it can be indirectly limited; that is, its increase can be stopped effectively in two ways. either by ceasing all acts of charity — the fruit of boredom with God — which means that we are not getting up any steam for that further, more intense act of charity which would increase the habit; or, secondly, by venial sin.
Mrs. O’Malley may send words of love from her lips while her eyes are twin vultures circling the church for signs of weakness in her prey. It is true that venial sin is not opposed to thehabit of charity; but it is impossible for us, at the same time, to make an act of love and commit a venial sin. Venial sin is opposed to the act of charity. It effectively bars the increase of charity by disposing us to the opposite of charity, to mortal sin. An honest glance at any venial sin will make this clear. It caters to our depraved tastes, increasing them; it develops our love for temporal things, petty, secondary things in comparison with the divine friendship; and it gives us the habit of transgressing the law. We are like a child who, because he has escaped unscathed when he tossed a cup on the floor, decided it would be great fun to crash all the china in one quick tug at the table-cloth. We get used to breaking the law in smaller things; the bigger things seem much less big than formerly and we are much less careful of keeping them intact. We might call venial sin a kind of spiritual polygamy. At least it scatters the forces of our will, cutting down the intensity of our love for any one object and thus assuring us of no further progress in charity. At the same time it feeds our natural appetite in a disorderly fashion, a fashion whose normal climax is mortal sin.
5. Love in the soul of man as wide as the love of God:
Goods about us: neighbors, irrational creation.
As the novel opens, Father Malachy (the miracle-worker) is sitting in a third-class railroad carriage meditating on the love of God, when suddenly two utterly unprepossessing persons come in and sit opposite him. Father Malachy’s eyes closed with a snap that almost awoke an echo, as he reflected that if, loving God, he must love his neighbors, at least he did not have to love them with his eyes open. There is something in this, at least the truth that we do not love our neighbors supernaturally because of their personal charm. But it would be truer to say that charity turns an x-ray on our neighbors uncovering hidden goodness, rather than forcing us to love them blindly.
Not even a saint would attempt to deny that this individual has a face like a horse; nor pretend that a public enemy was a kindly, misunderstood boy. The point is that even if the horse-face never wins a beauty contest and the public enemy never gets to be president, both have a solid, unfailing claim to our love. We love them because they belong to God. We can, we must, find love for them no matter what they are, just as a husband, because he loves his wife, can find some love for her relatives. These neighbors belong to our Friend. Not only that, but as long as they are in this life, they possess, or can possess, that same common ground of divine life upon which our own friendship with God is based. Really, they are united to us in God. This is not to say that charity does not extend to all human loves that arc not founded in sin. It does. But it consecrates them, lifts them up to higher ground. Christ did not demand the impossible in commanding us to love our neighbors; He asked that our love embrace them as belonging to God and as, at least potentially, friends of God and so our friends.
Charity, in other words, is not a sentimental hypocrite; nor is it a sob-sister, sick with the passion of pity. By it we do not weep over the discouragement, sickness or loneliness of our neighbors as though these were the supreme tragedies of life. The good we wish them by our mutually benevolent love is that good which belongs to charity — a share in divine life. And we do what we can to make that wish effective.
Thomas, on the whole, was an easy-going man, not easily aroused; he was particularly considerate of the opinions of others. It comes as somewhat of a shock to hear him answer the question, “Can irrational creation be loved from charity, be a friend of man?”, with an explosive “Ridiculous!” One wonders if medieval Paris, about eleven o’clock at night, had the equivalent of Park Avenue’s disgusted servants and self-conscious dogs. It is, of course, ridiculous to expect benevolent love from a creature that is driven, that cannot give and take, that cannot surrender as love demands. Irrational creatures can be loved as belonging to our divine Friend.
Still the fact that irrational creatures can, in some way, be loved, makes it clear that there is little to which charity does not extend. Certainly we must love ourselves; fortunately this is not too difficult, no matter what ravages nature and the wear and tear of life have effected. Moreover we must love ourselves, from charity, second only to God. The objection that a man can hardly be united to himself, yet charity, as friendship, demands union, overlooks a profound truth. That truth is that union demands unity as its root; and we, ourselves, are the units of that union which is our friendship with God. The love by which we love ourselves is the form, the basis, of the friendship which we have for others.
This truth has been misconstrued by opponents of St. Thomas to mean that we must love ourselves even above God, because we are the unit of that friendship with God. True, we are a unit in that friendship, but not the primary or principal unit; we are a secondary unit, God is the primary. Of these two, God and ourselves, is built the bridge by which we cross the gap separating us from our neighbor. We cannot love ourselves more than God or we have destroyed even the unit of love of ourselves which is from charity. God comes first; but immediately after God, ourselves. Because of this love of ourselves through God — as belonging to God and as His friend — it is possible to give all our neighbors the same supernatural love.
Evils about us: sinners, enemies
It is a Manichean, not a Catholic, tenet that the body is to be hated. The scourgings of the saints were gone about with the same regret a parent has in spanking a beloved but unruly child. We must, from charity, love our bodies; not for the part they play in sin, but as things of God, made by God, as being a part of us who belong to God, and as sharers in the winning of heaven and the enjoyment of its triumph. So also we must love sinners, not for their sins but for their nature, which belongs to God, and for the possibilities they have of sharing in divine friendship. We must love sinners, even though sinners most effectively hate themselves.
There is tragedy in that last phrase, a tragedy that is best expressed in a paradox: the sinner abandons God for love of himself, and reaches the goal of hatred of self; the just man abandons himself for love of God and reaches the goal of most perfect love of himself. Swinburne could write, naively, of “the raptures and roses of vice”, only because he had got lost in a fog. We do not get raptures and roses from enemies and the sinner is a bitter enemy of himself.
As a concrete test of the love and hatred of men for themselves, let us apply the signs of friendship. A friend does not wish to absorb his friend, he wishes to preserve that loved personality in all its integrity. He wishes good to his friend; moreover, he wishes it effectively, he does something about it, actually tries to get that good done. He delights in the presence of his friend and with him is at peace, for they seek the same goal. The test works out perfectly when applied to the just man relative to himself. He does not wish to destroy his own excellence, rather he desires to preserve that rational part in all its integrity; he wishes good to his soul, to his supreme part, a real, lasting, a spiritual good. And he does something about this wish by his acts of virtue. He delights to enter into the house of his soul, because there he will find peace.
This does not mean that the just man sits down and hugs himself by the hour; but his very fight against sin has the universal appeal of a man’s fight for his friends, with its connotations of mysterious communion, long calm evenings, pervading peace. Now let us look at the sinner. He does not wish to preserve the integrity, the interior life that should be his; his sin is a direct attack on it. He does not desire the spiritual goods that are alone goods of the rational part of man; quite the contrary, for he does all he can to destroy those goods. He gets no pleasure out of entering into himself; his life is an attempt to escape from himself. His moments of terror are the moments when he is forced within himself, for there he knows well he will find nothing but war. The unspeakable things that are championed today in the name of love are, actually, not the inspirations of love but of hate.
If the modern world thinks of it at all, it probably decides that Christ was not thinking of Chamberlain and Hitler when he commanded men to love their enemies; imagine demanding a flush of pleasure on Hitler’s cheek, a joyful racing of his heart at the mere mention of the name of Chamberlain! But no one has made any such demand. Christ did not ask us to feel love, but to have love. Moreover he did not ask us to love these people as enemies. In fact, as enemies, they are sinners, they have acted unjustly towards us; if they have not and we still think they are enemies, we are being stupid about it. Really they are friends, doing us good though the momentary bitterness of the good has spoiled our appreciation of it.
We are asked to love them, first of all as men, and secondly as at least potentially participants in the friendship of God; in other words, as belonging to God and as His potential friends. We do not have to kiss them; but we do have to wish them the good of charity, their eternal salvation. The signs of friendship we show them are the signs proportionate to the inner love we are obliged to have for them. We must at least show them the general signs of good will that we show to all men; “darling,” as a term of address, is certainly not obligatory; “skunk” is just as certainly forbidden. Under the stress of some particular necessity, we may be obliged to show the signs of friendship normally reserved to our particular friends — an invitation to dinner when our enemy is starving, or at least a sandwich at the back door; or a friendly approach when we know our stiffness is furnishing him with further occasion for hating us.
Good and evil above us angels, saints, devils
We may be a little exuberant in our estimation of their earthly counterparts, but we do love angels; not only as creatures of God but as active participants in the friendship of God. We can love devils in somewhat the same way we love a friend’s horse; their nature belongs to God, they are the creatures of our divine Friend. But they can never be our friends, no matter how chummy we get with them. From our point of view, devils are not an unmixed evil; they are remarkably assiduous exercise-boys who keep countless men spiritually fit, offering them constant opportunities for the practice of virtue in resisting temptation.
We could sum up all of this doctrine on the object of charity by saying, briefly, that by charity we must love God, the Cause of this divine friendship. Then we must love those who directly participate in that friendship: first of all ourselves; then our neighbor, who is associated with us in that friendship, at least potentially; finally, our bodies, which have a share in that supreme happiness of union with God in heaven through a redundance of the glory of the soul. All else is loved solely as belonging to our divine Friend.
Friendship’s preferences: The place of God
This is all clear as long as we stick to general statements; but when we come down to particulars, it is another story. There is for example the perplexity of the man faced with choosing between the rescue of his wife and his mother in a shipwreck; or between the starvation of his wife and of his children. Who comes first? What to do? The question is not settled by the rescuer drowning himself, nor the husband allowing the whole family to starve.
Much of this difficulty is cleared up by a simple distinction. Perhaps the choice will not be made any easier, but it will certainly be made clearer if we remember that there are two kinds of love. The first is appreciative love, which corresponds to the objective goodness or lovableness. This is the love which falls under precept; it is an objective thing, for its object is not something subject to our will, but existing in the ontological order. We are commanded in the appreciative line, the line of evaluation, because it follows the objective goodness; this is nothing more than truth in love. The second might be called intensive or subjective love. You find it in full force in the heart of a mother of a worthless son, for it depends not on the objective value of the thing loved so much as its closeness to us. This love does not fall under precept.
As an illustration of the contusion of this distinction, I was once told by a young nun that she had not written home for nine months, because, as she explained, she had left all things for God. This was a concrete expression of her love of God above all things, even above her parents. As a matter of fact, by religious profession God is loved above all else appreciatively; it is perfectly normal to have a much more intensive love for parents than for God.
The place of ourselves
In fact we can push this further and say that it is the ordinary thing to have a more intensive love for grandchildren, or even for a chance acquaintance; but if it comes to an exclusive choice between anyone or anything and God, the choice must be in God’s favor. He is the reason for loving all else. In Himself He is the most desirable, the most lovable Being. In this objective or appreciative order, we love God first, then ourselves, then our neighbor; in the concrete, this will at least mean that we can never put ourselves above God, and never commit the smallest sin (do ourselves the slightest spiritual damage) to further the good of our neighbor, even to save him from eternal damnation.
The place of neighbor: Inequality
In our love of neighbor there is, of course, variety; it would be a dull world indeed in which there were none of the ups and downs of love. We have, in fact, a double ground for our preferences, namely, our neighbor’s closeness to God and his closeness to ourselves. Their proximity to God determines their objective lovability, as a basis of appreciative love; their proximity to us explains, in a dark manner, the mysterious variety of human tastes in love, as it furnishes the basis for intensive love.
Double foundation: goodness and bonds of union
A man’s proximity to God is determined by his participation in divine perfections. And of all the bonds which tie one man to another, St. Thomas selects, as the closest, the bond of blood. That is still a little too general to be genuinely informative. Determining it further, Thomas says that we should love parents more than sons, father more than mother, and parents more than a wife or a husband. Understand, all this is on the appreciative or objective side. Thomas is arguing from the one consideration of parents as parents. We love them as the principle or source of our being; as such their claim to love is most like God’s own. Parents are the principles of our life, our sons are not; so we love our parents more objectively, but usually we love our sons more intensely, for sons are really a part of us. A father, as the active principle, is more the principle of generation than a mother; on this ground alone, he is to be loved more, though on countless other grounds the claim of the mother may be superior. On this same consideration — of principle, or source of being — parents are loved more objectively, a wife more intensely. This same line of argument is extended beyond the bonds of blood and justifiably so. Thus, for instance, we love a benefactor as a principle of a good that has come to us, but a beneficiary as a part of ourselves; consequently the benefactor is loved more objectively, a beneficiary more intensively. All this is not merely academic; it gives the solid basis of rational preference in those crucial moments when tragic preference must be made. Although, it is true, not many men are ever faced with the dilemma of deciding whether father, mother, wife, child or friend shall have the last crust that stands between them all and starvation.
Conclusion: The norm of friendship — generosity.
We can, I believe, sum up this chapter briefly in terms of friendship. Friendship is a mutual benevolent love on a common ground, and has as its normal rule, unselfishness; or, in more simple terms, generosity. Our friendship is as deep as the identification of our will with the will of another; insofar as we see someone else as another self; insofar as we find our happiness in giving good to another, whatever the cost.
Friendship and the nature of man
From the beginning, it has not been good for man to be alone. Man has recognized himself as incomplete; he has sought other selves, and carried that search even to the heights, in seeking a divine Friend. We must share our lives with others because our hearts are so big; we must have the companionship of others because our hearts are so small and weak. Betrayal of a friend is a kind of suicide, with all of suicide’s cowardice and despair. It is difficult for a man to live a whole human life without friends, because it is exceedingly difficult to any man to be sufficient unto himself.
The limits of friendship
Yet this yearning of man for friendship, for the completion offered by love, is doomed to disappointment when it is restricted to the purely human sphere. There is, after all, a limit to the generosity of men and women; a limit to what they can give; a limit to what, of themselves, they are able to share. There is a much greater limit to their capacity to do the good they wish for their friends; and perhaps an even greater limit to their capacity for instilling generosity in others. Even were we to overlook all these limitations, there is the terrific limitation of time on human love. For, left to itself, the love of men for men must end at death.
Friends of God: Living the life of God
Embrace as wide as the arms of God
It was divinely fitting that this yearning of the human heart should be fulfilled by the only friendship capable of satisfying it. In that divine friendship, all the limitations of human friendship are done away with. There can be no question of the infinite generosity of God nor of His capacity for doing effectively the good He wills us. His is a creative love. There can be no question of His ability to share His inner self with us. We find the friends of God living the life of God, so much so that this divine life is the very basis of the friendship, the common ground upon which they walk arm and arm with God. We find them loving with the love of God, knowing God as He knows Himself. These friends of God have an embrace as wide as the arms of God, so wide indeed as to include everything: neighbors, friends, enemies, sinners, even irrational creation.
Loving with the love of God
If the patois of friendship be sacrifice, these friends of God have a marvellous fluency. If sacrifice is the rule of thumb by which we judge the depth and value of friendship, its willingness to surrender, it is not surprising to come upon eager, joyful, unquestioning self-denial in the lives of the saints. There is no mystery in the complete surrender of men and women to the love of God; there is no mystery in the young hope, the unfailing joy, tile intense living of the friends of God, whatever be the discouraging circumstances of poverty, suffering and death.
- Charity and the modern world:
- Doctrines of hate
- Doctrines of selfishness
In the modern world, the friends of God are persons apart. They are in the world, but not of it; in fact, quite opposed to what it advocates. There is no echo in their hearts to the ringing appeals for hatred of men for men, class for class, race for race, and nation for nation. They know better than to believe when they are told that it is by hate that happiness is to be brought to the poor, that men are to be given opportunities to live full human lives, that the evils of the world are to he overcome. For behind all these doctrines of hate are the unholy hosts of selfishness. The man himself, or the class itself, or the nation itself has been made the supreme thing; and that means the death of sacrifice. It means the death of love, for it means that we are no longer able to see beyond ourselves, or beyond that limited sphere we have identified with ourselves — beyond the class, the race, the nation. We have closed our hearts to everything else; moreover, we have closed our minds to everything else and so, forever, sealed our hearts in a tomb.
The narrow love of men
Even those who recoil in horror from the doctrine of hate and selfishness to champion a doctrine of humanism — of love for men, development of the human race and the possibilities of human endeavor — even these have done little to satisfy the heart of man. They have restricted the human heart to the narrow limits of human love, with all its limitations, above all with its pitiful gesture of despairing farewell at the door of death.
The death of love
These are not the things that satisfy the human heart. It was made for something much greater than all this. Consequently the human heart cannot stand by unmoved and watch love put to death, whether by hate, by selfishness, or by narrowness. Today the human heart is not standing by, in spite of the tremendous propaganda that attempts to lull it to stagnant inactivity and dull resignation. The human heart today is seeking, as it never sought before, that satisfaction, that fullness, that completion, which can come only with a friendship that is divine. In other words, the world of today is hungry for charity.