by Richard Palin, Jr.
Quite often our natural ability to love falls short of the real challenges that face us when trying to love our imperfect neighbor. In this paper I will show how St. Thomas Aquinas provided guidance for us by building from Aristotle’s definition of the highest form of love, the love of friendship defined as loving the beloved for the beloved’s own sake. But in this maxim, St. Thomas saw the formula provided by God in Leviticus 19:18, to love your neighbor as yourself. “Whence it follows that man’s love for himself is the model of his love for another” (Summa Theologiae II-II, q. 26, a. 4 sc). Consistent with his own axiom that grace perfects nature (cf. ST I, q. 1, a. 8, ad 2), St. Thomas then moved to define charity as a form of friendship with God from which we can perfect our friendship and love of our neighbor. In keeping with this order of charity, the love of God empowers our ability to love our imperfect neighbor by enabling us to love in ways not naturally possible on our own. To love God firstly and our neighbor secondly, is not an inauthentic love of neighbor, but rather a metaphysical fusion of ends: God as the ultimate end achieved through loving our neighbor as our proximate end. Thus, “the love of God includes love of our neighbor” (ST II-II, q. 58, a. 1, ad 6). Loving our imperfect neighbor for his or her own sake as St. Thomas taught, is authentically accomplished by being empowered first by the love of God that overflows into genuine love of neighbor.
Love Specified as Love of Friendship (amor amicitiae)
If we use St. Thomas’ formulaic axiom that grace perfects nature (ST I, q. 1, a. 8, ad 2), wherein grace presupposes nature, we first must establish the nature of love as amor, and then move on to love as caritas. In St. Thomas’ treatment of love as amor, which appears in his treatise on human acts (ST I-II, qq. 22-28), he categorized amor as a sensitive, appetitive movement (q. 22, a. 3) within the concupiscible passion (q. 22, a. 1) that, when ordered properly, seeks to rest in the good (q. 25, a. 1). The intellect is involved in this movement because the appetite follows apprehension (q. 28, a. 1). “Love, like appetite, is found in the sensitive and intellective part of the soul.”[i] In other words, something can be loved only if it is known (q. 27, a. 2), as known in itself (in se). Amor is in the sensitive appetite, but is also in the intellective appetite or will in that as a passion there is a certain eagerness as well as an earnest consideration (ST II-II, q. 27, a. 2). Now this does not mean that the object is perfectly known. An object can be loved perfectly without being perfectly known, which is how we love God (q. 27, a. 2, ad 2). Love presupposes knowledge (ST I, q. 60, a. 1 sc).
The good object I propose to apprehend in this paper is the good of one’s neighbor in him or herself. The proper love of this object is love specified as the love of friendship defined as loving the beloved for the beloved’s own sake, as St. Thomas defined it, a virtuous love. “But that sought after as the last thing aobsolutley terminating the movement of the appetite, as a thing towards which for its own sake the appetite tends, is called virtuous; for the virtuous is that which is desired for its own sake.” (ST, I, q. 5, a. 6). It seems that the love of God for His own sake is an easy concept for there is no struggle in loving a Person in Whom there is nothing unlovable.[ii] It is the imperfect neighbor (the author included) that poses the challenge (ST II-II, q. 27, a. 8, arg 3) to love for his or her own sake. We must be able to recognize that our imperfect neighbor is a good in his or her own right; he or she is a subsisting good (ST I, q. 6, a. 4 sc) and to love a subsisting good is to wish it well (ST I, q. 60, a. 3). “We love someone for himself (ratione autem sui ipsius aliquem diligimus) when we love him because of his proper good” (De Caritate, a. 4). Now loving the beloved for the beloved’s own sake is a dangerous proposition if not taken under St. Thomas’ guidance by reading his whole thought on the matter. Using the phrase “for the sake of” designates a final end; which, properly speaking, is only in God (ST I-II, q. 70, a, 1, ad 2). We cannot love our neighbor solely for his or her own sake as the lover’s ultimate end as this is solely reserved for God (ST II-II, q. 27, a. 8, ad 2). So, specifying and focusing on the love of friendship for the friend’s own sake as the most noble and highest form of love of neighbor needs guidance if it is to be a Thomistic virtue. Despite the immense necessity to know that in the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition the love of self is the root of friendship (cf. ST I, q. 60, a.3; II-II, q. 25, a. 4; q. 26, a. 4), it is beyond the scope and size of this paper to include this topic.
Aristotle as a Source
St. Thomas worked with the received tradition of defining amor from Aristotle. There are three lovable objects: the good (bonum simpliciter), the pleasurable, and the useful; likewise, there are three kinds of friendship (cf. In Ethic., VIII, 3, lect. 3, 1563). With respect to the first category, St. Thomas would indicate that this type of love is to love the friend as “amicitia est per se” (Ibid., 1575). For Aristotle this means that “a friend wishes a friend to be and to live for his [the friend’s] own sake” (Nicomachean Ethics IX, 4); therefore, to love is to wish someone good (Rhetoric II, 4). “To be a friend, we say we ought to wish what is good for his own sake” (NE VIII, 2). St. Thomas would expound on this good as bonum simpliciter by writing that “just as one delights in one’s being and living by feeling it, so also in order to enjoy this in one’s friend, one must feel him to be” (In Ethic., IX, 11, 1909).[iii] In the Prima Secundae St. Thomas distinguished two dimensions of love and therefore friendship, the love of concupiscience, which is the love of the good for the friend; and the love of friendship, which is love for the friend in him or herself. In the love of friendship, the lover “wills and acts for his friend’s sake as for his own sake” (ST I-II, q. 28, a. 2). This is the love of friendship simply and purely for “a man’s affection goes out from itself simply, he wishes and does good to his friend…for his sake” (Ibid., a. 3). In an earlier work St. Thomas wrote that friendship is “to love that other person in himself (secundum seipsum)”(Summa contra gentiles III, 153, 2). In the Secunda Secundae he indicated that “perfect love is that whereby a man is loved in himself (secundum se) as when someone wishes a person some good for his own sake” (q. 17, a. 8). So, in the love of friendship, “that which is loved is loved simply (amor simpliciter) and of itself (ST I-II, q. 26, a. 4). The term simpliciter carries with it the notion of being and doing something in an unqualified and most fundamental manner.[iv] In other words, in the love of friendship, the good of the person in him or herself is isolated at the exclusion of the pleasurable and the useful even though pleasure and usefulness can be a part of virtuous friendship.
Amor simpliciter or simpliciter quiden amor amicitiae (ST I-II, q. 28, a. 3) carries with it the notion of a gift. In love “we give something to anyone gratuitously forasmuch as we wish him well. So what we first give him is the love whereby we wish him well. Hence it is manifest that love has the nature of a first gift” (ST I, q. 38, a. 2). Earlier in this corpus just cited, St. Thomas referred to Aristotle to clarify the nature of gift. This gratuitous donation is “an unreturnable giving, as Aristotle says (Topics IV, 4) — i.e., a thing which is not given with the intention of a return” (ST I, q. 38, a. 2). And again in SCG III, 153, 2, St. Thomas indicated, “Indeed, a person is loved in himself (secundum seipsum) when the lover wishes the good for him, even if the lover may receive nothing from him.”[v] The absence of return truly puts the focus on the beloved. “As regards the modality or movement of love, St. Thomas states that whatever is loved with the love-of-friendship (amor amicitiae) is loved simpliciter et per se or…simpliciter et secundum se…”[vi] Loving the beloved for the beloved’s own sake is a true gift of self without seeking a return.
Love Out of Charity (ex caritate)
From the foregoing, the act of love (amor) finds its perfect expression in the love of friendship. And “friendship…is a natural substrate that can be elevated by grace into the Christian theological virtue of charity. It is the point of contact between nature and grace. Charity, therefore, is not without a natural anticipation.”[vii] As we move on to love as caritas, we find that St. Thomas began his treatise on the theological virtue of charity found in ST II-II, qq. 23-27 by first describing caritas as a kind of friendship. But not just any kind of friendship, a friendship of man with God (ST II-II, q. 23, a. 1 and q. 24, a. 2). Although charity is not amor simpliciter, it does have the nature of friendship (ST II-II, q. 25, a. 2). Furthermore, it is not a friendship initiated by man because caritas is infused (ST II-II, q. 24, a. 2) and caused by God alone (ST II-II, q. 24, a. 10)[viii]. Caritas is a superadded habitual form of love (ST II-II, q. 23, a. 2) wherein it is God Who is the cause of our loving God (ST II-II, q. 27, a. 6 sc). “Charity itself is a created habitus ordered to the love of God…a habitus infused.”[ix] Therefore, God Himself, Who is Love and the greatest Good, loves all things out of charity for He orders all things to Himself (De Car., a. 7, ad 2). In the act of charity, not only is God the efficient, final, and formal cause of love, He is the object of that special love of friendship.
Now caritas is not solely about the individual person loving God by concentrating one’s affection only on Him and contemplating His infinite love and goodness. It is also about loving human persons. In particular, charity is about loving other rational beings. The virtue of charity is not a superadded habitual form intended to enable us to love one’s cat better. “Only the personal love of friendship that loves the other for his or her own sake becomes an issue as an insertion point for the theological interpretation of charity.”[x] Charity is about loving all rational beings, first God, then other human persons. “According as anything shares with us in the society of rational natures, so it is lovable out of charity. Therefore, rational nature is the object of charity” (De Car., a. 7, sc).[xi] In this charitable love of rational beings, the focus is once again truly on the beloved. “The mode of love by which we love another for the other’s sake” (De Car., a. 9, ad 18), “is the friendship for a noble person whereby the friend is loved for his own sake” (De Car., a. 11, ad 6). It is in how we define love, as virtuous love, that clearly demarcates and defines charity. “To love one for his own sake…, that we love him for whom we wish some good, as is proper for a noble person; not for pleasure or utility. When we love out of virtue, we wish good for him; this is proper to the friendship of charity” (De Car., a. 8, ad 16). Despite the intentional focus on the beloved rational creature, God is still the ultimate object. “The essential object of charity is God and whatever is loved in charity is loved in terms of that very relationship” (De Car., a. 8). Charity of course includes the love of neighbor for the Scriptural precepts command us to love God and love our neighbor. But as to the object of charity there is an order in that we first love God. However, our love of charity does not stop at God, but extends to our neighbor (ST II-II, q. 25, a. 1). Our love begins with God as the last end and passes on to creatures (ST II-II, q. 27, a. 4, ad 2). As love is set into order by virtue (ST I-II, q. 55, a. 1, ad 4), so charity is set in order by God (ST II-II, q. 26, a. 1). In fact, “it is specifically the same act whereby we love God, and whereby we love of our neighbor” (Ibid., a. 4 ). With this order of love, St. Thomas has the thought of how “one’s neighbors are drawn into our friendship with God.”[xii] God is not only the cause of our loving God, as noted above, but also of loving our neighbor. “Thus it is necessary that the affection of man be so inclined through charity that, first and foremost one loves God; secondly, that he love himself; and thirdly, that he loves his neighbor” (De Car., a. 9). The virtue of charity empowers and properly orders our love.
At the beginning of the Prima Secundae St. Thomas presented harshly on the love of neighbor by first citing in the sed contra of q. 2, a.7 St. Augustine’s view that “man is not to be loved for his own sake, but whatever is in man is to be loved for God’s sake.” But again this is about putting order to our love, even of self, with respect to our last end. In q. 4, a. 8, ad 3 the order is sternly preserved: “Perfection of charity is essential to Happiness, as to the love of God, but not as to the love of neighbor.” We must remember that loving our friend with the friendship of charity gains its merit as it relates to our last end. “Loving our friends for their own sake is not so meritorious” (ST II-II, q. 27, a. 8, ad 2), “but if we love them for God’s sake, the love is meritorious” (ST II-II, q. 27, a. 7, ad 1). Loving our neighbor for God’s sake makes it a holy love (ST II-II, q. 44, a. 7), for “holiness is attributed to whatever is ordered to God” (ST I, q. 36, a. 1). It is St. Thomas’ teaching that the one kind of love should never been seen without the other as “the love of God includes love of our neighbor” (ST II-II, q. 58, a. 1, ad 6). It is in the synthesis of these two loves (the love of God and the love of neighbor) that St. Thomas called the highest grade of charity, to delight in contemplation of God combined with the service to others in order to save our fellowmen (De Car., a. 11, ad 6).
The Element of Non-reciprocity
Although it is true that friendship involves mutuality and reciprocity (ST II-II, q. 23, a. 1), there is a profound non-reciprocal element in caritas whereby there is but one rationale that possesses a continuum from loving one’s neighbor to loving one’s enemy. To describe this rationale, St. Thomas used the principle that when you love a friend for the friend’s sake, you love all that belongs to him (Ibid., a. 1), which invariably would include even his disliked family members. In transposing this analogously to God and all of humanity as God’s children, God is “the friend” we love for His own sake, and our neighbors and enemies are loved for God’s sake, for all of these belong to Him. This explanation will allow the understanding that charity is one virtue wherein God is the ultimate object and the neighbor and/or enemy is the proximate object (ST II-II, q. 23, a. 7). All are loved ex caritate for God’s sake (ST II-II, q. 23, a. 5, ad 2). Now, clearly the love of one’s enemy is a non-reciprocal love. But this is also applied to one less adversarial. St. Thomas used the idea of a benefactor, a worker of good for others .[xiii] He indicated that “the benefactor loves the recipient…through being moved thereto of his own accord, not through being incited by him” (ST II-II, q. 26, a. 12). “A true benefactor is not motivated by repayment or reciprocation.”[xiv] St. Thomas’ teaching on love has an amazingly consistent theme that can weave a continuum from the love of God and neighbor to the love of one’s enemy.
This theme of non-reciprocity promotes a long-standing idea of love both from Aristotle (cf. NE VIII, 8) and Scripture (Acts 20:35 in the form “it is better to give than receive.”), to love surpasses being loved. To love is the principle act of charity, not to be loved (ST II-II, q. 27, a. 1). So, love of friendship is not just a passion. “But to love others for their sake is not from passion because passion, since it belongs to the sensitive appetite, does not go beyond the particular good of the one loving. Consequently, it remains that this is from habit; and so friendship is a habit (ergo amicitia est habitus)” (In Ethic., VIII, lect. 5, 1604). Charity, love ex caritate, as a habitus, is a love that exceeds that of a love of mutuality, of reciprocity. This is in line with Jesus’ thought: “For if you love those that love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5: 46-48 RSV-CE). Thus, amor and caritas, as a habitus, are a dilectio, an intentional act.
Charity as a Metaphysical Fusion
To love ex caritate is to derive a love that flows from one’s love of God. “Charity above all implies a relation to the First Principle” (ST II-II, q. 26, a. 1) and this “love of Him then flows to others” (ST II-II, q. 26, a. 2). “Charity loves God immediately, and other things through God” (ST II-II, q. 27, a. 4). In loving one’s neighbor for God’s sake, the love of neighbor includes the love of God, whereas the love of God in solitude does not necessarily include the love of neighbor. Hence, the perfect love of God is a love extending also to our neighbor (ST II-II, q. 27, a.8). With respect to the two precepts to love God and neighbor, “one of these is included in the other” (ST II-II, q. 44, a. 2). Moreover, in the precept of charity we are lead to love our neighbor for God’s sake, as for the sake of an end (ST II-II, q. 44, a. 3).
Charity then is one virtue (ST II-II, q. 23, a. 5) with two acts as it relates to the two precepts, but it is as one that is directed to the other as to its end (Ibid., a. 2, ad 1). God is loved in our neighbor (Ibid., a. 2, ad 2). Charity is a metaphysical fusion of the love of God and the love of neighbor, one empowering the other. “It must be said that our neighbor is not loved except for the sake of God; whence formally considered, both are one object of love, although materially they are two” (De Car., a. 4, ad 1). The love of neighbor includes love of God as the end is included in the means (ST II-II, q. 23, a. 2, ad 4). Now this does not mean that the love of neighbor is simply a means to an end; that the love of neighbor for God’s sake is either a use of the neighbor for a higher end or an impersonal act requiring little to no attention paid to the details of that neighbor.
In other words, Aquinas does not seem to contend that every time we do something good for another we must be consciously motivated by the desire to love God. Yet, even if we were, charity requires that our love for the neighbor’s care is real. In other words, we must treat our neighbors as human beings, not as mere stepping-stones on the way to union with God.[xv]
Our love of our neighbor must be genuine if it is to be authentic love ex caritate for the sake of God (cf. ST II-II, q. 25, a. 6 and q. 44, aa. 7-8). Our love must be practical. “When a man truly loves another as himself, he will show his love not only by good wishes, but by practical benefits” (De perfectione spiritualis vitae, 8). So, although God is the proper end of charity, the love of neighbor must be genuine for the love of God to be authentic.
Now as concepts go, these are great concepts. The issue is its execution; the power to execute. I submit that in keeping the order of charity, the love of God, which is extended to our neighbor for the sake of God, empowers one to love one’s imperfect neighbor and one’s enemy. “To love an enemy as enemy is difficult, even impossible. But to love an enemy because of some greater love is easy. That is why the love of God makes easy that which seems to be impossible in itself” (De Car., a. 8, ad 13). So, love has different objects, but the love of One is the cause of the love of the other (ST II-II, q. 25, a. 12). St. Thomas described the mechanics of this empowerment by expounding on the power of an efficient cause:
It must be understood that just as in efficient causes the power of the primary cause remains in all the subsequent causes, so also does the intention of the principal end virtually remain in all the secondary ends. Thus, whoever actually intends some secondary end, virtually intends the primary end. In the same way, he who orders himself to God as to an end, in all things which he does for his own sake, the intention of the final end which is God remains virtually (De Car., a. 11, ad 2).
The power, or the virtus, of the intention to the primary end, virtually remains within the very same act upon the secondary end. Although there is a distinction, there is a metaphysical fusion of loves here; “there is an ontological unity between the two.”[xvi] In the order of knowledge, we concretely meet our neighbor. But “in the order of being, the two loves occur simultaneously.”[xvii] It is in this ontological dimension “that love of God functions as the conscious motive for our loving the neighbor.”[xviii] The love of God precedes the love of neighbor in the order of dignity, but not in the order of its execution (cf. ST I-II, q. 68, a. 8, ad 2). For “what comes first is always sustained in what comes after” (ST I, q. 60, a. 1).
St. Thomas Aquinas explains this in another passage:
One need not always be thinking of the last end, whenever one desires or does something: but the virtue of the first intention, which was in respect of the last end, remains in every desire directed to any object whatever, even though one’s thoughts be not actually directed to the last end. Thus while walking along the road one need not be thinking of the end at every step. (St I-II, q. 1, a. 6 ad3)
In the ordo caritatis there is practiced one virtue as an active “ontological participation”[xix] in the love of God for and in the love of neighbor. Therefore, “to order something to God virtually is the act of the agent ordering to God because of the end…to have God as the ultimate end” (De Car., a. 11, ad 3). In loving our neighbor ex caritate there is a concurrence which involves a metaphysical fusion of two ends. “A good can be loved both for its own sake and for the sake of God, as an end in itself and yet as subordinated to a higher end (I-II, q. 70, a. 1, ad 2).”[xx] In this way of loving, the lover sees both the concrete neighbor and the invisible God in such a way that the diversity of ends is architectonically ordered.[xxi] In commenting on the diversity of ends, St. Thomas makes the point that an end can be an activity, not just an object.[xxii] It is in this sense that one gets the impression that the act of loving our neighbor out of charity “affects due ordering to the end” (ST II-II, q. 23, a. 7, ad 2), but in such a way as the act towards the ultimate end passes through the proximate end such that it is the same act whereby we love God and we love our neighbor (ST II-II, q. 25, a. 1). “The final end does not mean a categorical but a transcendental determination…”wherein “the final end is present in everything one does.”[xxiii] Therefore, our love of God for His own sake (caritas diligit Deum ratione sui ipsius, De Car., a. 4) is our ultimate object, but as such it also empowers us to love our neighbor and clarifies and purifies our love so that we love our neighbor truly for his or her own sake (diligeremus proximum ratioine sui ipsius, De Car., a. 4) as an end, but not as our ultimate end. In following St. Thomas’ teaching then, the intention of the Ultimate End remains virtually in the proximate end of our neighbor who is genuinely loved for his or her own sake.
In following St. Thomas’ formulaic axiom that grace perfects or builds on nature, we can conclude that grace presupposes nature just as charity presupposes friendship. The grace of charity elevates our human love such that it empowers us to perfect our love for our imperfect neighbor; to be able to love the beloved for the beloved’s own sake, even our enemy. Charity, friendship with God, is an infused virtue that empowers us to love God primarily and from that superabundance to love our neighbor more authentically as we deeply perceive that this neighbor belongs to God. This empowerment leads to a genuine love of neighbor while maintaining the order of charity: not loving the neighbor as an absolute end, but as a fusion of the love of God and neighbor as intending to love the neighbor as a secondary end in a very real and personal way while virtually maintaining one’s ultimate end in God. Such a fusion is best expressed by Jesus Himself Who instructed the “virtuous” (Jerusalem Bible, Mt 25: 37) to perceive this fusion of loving God and neighbor. “Truly, I say to you, as you did it [feed, give drink, welcome, clothe, visit] to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Mt 25:40 RSV-CE).
[i] Guy Mansini, O.S.B., “Aristotle and Aquinas’s Theology of Charity in the Summa Theologiae,” in Aristotle in Aquinas’s Theology, ed. Gilles Emery, O.P. and Matthew Levering. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 197.
[ii] It must be noted that there are those who do not find this an easy concept especially for those who have not come to some acceptable resolution to the problem of evil.
[iii] This translation is from Pierre Conway, O.P. St. Thomas Aquinas on Aristotle’s Love and Friendship (Providence, RI: The Providence College Press, 1951) 109.
[iv] Cf. Brian Shanley, The Treatise on the Divine Nature (Indianapolis, IN: Hacket Publishing Co., Inc., 2006), 229.
[v] Cf. In Ethic. VIII, 8, 3, lect. 3, 1576.
[vi] Jordan Aumann, “Thomistic Evaluation of Love and Charity,” Angelicum 55 (1978): 542.
[vii] Robert Sokolowski, “Phenomenology of Friendship,” The Review of Metaphysics 55 (March 2002), 470.
[viii] This is consistent with the Biblical concept that “we love because He first loved us” (1 John 4: 19).
[ix] Guy Mansini, O.S.B. “Aristotle and Aquinas’s Theology of Charity,” 195-196.
[x] Eberhard Schockenhoff, “The Theological Virtue of Charity,” in The Ethics of Aquinas, ed. Stephen J. Pope. (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2002), 246.
[xi] I think it can be argued that this quote from St. Thomas can serve as the basis for Karol Wojtyla’s famous axiom, “a person is an entity of a sort to which the only proper and adequate way to relate is love.” See Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, English translation, 1981), 41. This axiom is more popularly phrased: the only appropriate response to another human person is love.
[xii] Stephen A. Calogero, “Caritas and Consciousness: Aristotle and Aquinas on Love of Neighbor,” Philosophy and Theology 25, 2 (2013): 177.
[xiii] This is inspired of course from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, IX, 7, 1167b19.
[xiv] Calogero, “Caritas and Consciousness,” 170.
[xv] Gerald J. Beyer “The Love of God and Neighbor According to Aquinas: An Interpretation” New Blackfriars Vol. 84, No. 985 (March 2003), 131, fn 23.
[xvi] Beyer, “The Love of God and Neighbor,”120.
[xvii] Ibid., 120.
[xviii] Ibid., 117.
[xix] Schockenhoff, “The Theological Virtue of Charity,” 255.
[xx] Bonnie Kent, “Habits and Virtues,” in The Ethics of Aquinas, ed. Stephen J. Pope. (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2002), 125.
[xxi] Ibid., 125. For more on the concept of architectonic ends, see Nicomachean Ethics I, 1,
[xxii] In NE, I, 1, lect. 1, 18.
[xxiii] Schockenhoff, “The Theological Virtue of Charity,” 244.