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Love Part 10: Aquinas

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A mother’s love, says Aquinas, is a paragon of perfect love, for they “love…yet seek not to be loved in return” and “to love is more proper to charity than to be loved.” [note: chartity means love, basically]

Aquinas created a large system of thought, based on bringing together Aristotle, the Bible, and Saint Augustine. He calls Aristotle “the Philosopher,” showing his respect, and quotes Augustine extensively as authority. Generally speaking, his views on friendship and science (metaphysics) lean towards Aristotle, while his theological views side with Augustine.

Metaphysically, love has “more reality” than hate. Love can exist without hate, but hate can only exist in relation to love; love is “prior”; hate “must be referred to love as to their first principle.” Although I didn’t mention it in my blog, Augustine thought the same thing when he said that good has more reality than evil; that evil is nothing more than a “privation,” or lack, of good; everything has its root in goodness, but some things are “less good” than others.

Love is “most excellent of the virtues, "every virtue depends on it in a way," and “essentially a virtue directed to act.” Referring to Paul, it is “the way.” It is better than the theological virtue of faith because “faith works by love”; it is better than hope because, while love “implies union with that good,” “hope implies distance from it.” It is better than knowledge because “knowledge falls away” and “love can begin at once where knowledge ends.” Charity “can ever increase more and more” and becomes “perfect when he loves as much as he can.” It is a “fire,” which “can ascend, but cannot descend, that is, decrease.” “joy results from love”; “love is considered a virtue, rather than joy, which is an effect of love” [joy is a passion].

Charity is “in the will,” or the “intellectual appetite,” and the will is also in our Reason. “Yet charity is regulated, not by the reason, as human virtues are, but by God’s wisdom, and transcends the rule of human reason"...“charity itself surpasses our natural powers” it has its origins “by the infusion of the Holy Ghost…the participation of Whom in us is caused charity.” Loving “unites the soul immediately to Him with a chain of spiritual union.”

Love of body?
I’m making a note of this because my blog posts have been mostly depressing on the subject of loving your own body (remember Buddha said to treat it like “a wound”). Aquinas says “Now the nature of our body was created, not by an evil principle, as the Manicheans pretend, but by God…we ought to love our bodies also” and “by the works which we do through the body, we are able to attain to the perfect enjoyment of God.”

Love of enemies
You do not love enemies “as enemies,” he says—“this is perverse…since it implies love of that which is evil in another.” (But, we could question Aquinas here: how do we know that there is anything evil in our enemies? We are their enemies as well—doesn’t that make us enemies of them, and thus something is evil in us as well?) “we ought to love sinners, out of charity, in respect of their nature”; in fact, “hatred of a person’s evil is equivalent to love of his good.” We love them as people, as “our neighbor in general”—“it belongs to the perfection of charity” that we should “actually do so.” Agreeing perfectly with MLK, loving your enemies is not some “sentimental and weak” affection: “charity does not require us to show the signs and effects of love to our enemies.”

Interestingly, Aquinas thinks we should love our self more than our neighbor, arguing that the Golden Rule (love neighbor as you love yourself) uses “man’s love for himself [as] the exemplar of his love for another” and “the exemplar exceeds the copy.” Aquinas has a very interesting philosophical spin on whether the “Greatest Commandment” is one or two commandments. Remember that Paul summed it up by saying “love your neighbor,” Augustine said “love God.” Aquinas suggest the great commandment is just like a “first principle” in science; the principle, “love God”; if you “deduce conclusions” or “virtual content,” one of which is “love others.”

Love and God
“God loves all existing things…since the being of a thing is itself a good” and since “God’s will is the cause of all things.” And “God loves sinners in so far as they are natures; for they both are, and are from Him.” Next he argues that the third person in the Trinity is love: “besides the procession of the Word of God, there exists in Him another procession called the procession of love,” which “proceeds rather as spirit”… “The Holy Ghost Himself is Love.” And “the charity by which formally we love our neighbor is a participation of Divine charity” and “charity is the life of the soul” that “has no limit” and “since charity attains God, it unites us to God”; it’s “a kind of friendship of man for God.” 

Related Posts
Love Part 1: Platonic Love
Love Part 2: Aristotle
Love Part 3: Epictetus and stoic love 
Love Part 4: Marcus Aurelius
Love Part 5: Plotinus 
Love Part 6: the Buddha
Love Part 7: Christian Love
Love Part 8: Augustine
Love Part 9: Martin Luther King, Jr


Aquinas's shorter summa

Posted by Matt Smith at 08/02/2011 08:35:34 AM