Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Caritas Christi Urget Nos

LOVE IS THE FINAL AND PERHAPS MOST identifying value of the Church's social doctrine. When Jesus gave us the new command "Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another" (John 13:34), he injected a radical new law into the world and an almost impossible standard. It is, in fact, unachievable without grace, but the grace is freely supplied to the willing, which even itself is a grace. This is a law whose perfect achievement requires a total receptivity to grace, a heroic amount of self-abnegation, and an openness to the other. It is "grace upon grace," gratia pro gratia. (cf. John 1:16)

In the Church's view, love as a value is "the highest and universal criterion of the whole of social ethics." (Compendium, No. 204) But in saying this, we need to define terms. The love we are speaking of here is not the sop love of every day talk, of "relationships of physical closeness," as the Compendium delicately puts it and which we see touted on movies and TV. Nor is the love the Church has in mind limited to namby pamby feeling, to "merely subjective aspects of action on behalf of others." This is not love as the Church understands it, love as caritas or agape.

Love as caritas or agape is the font of the other values in their fullness. "[F]rom the inner wellspring of love" the "values of truth, freedom, and justice born and grow." Love is what makes us able to see the other as a friend, as another self, so that "the needs and requirements of others seem as one's own." (Compendium, 205)

What love does to justice when they embrace is perhaps the most remarkable of all. "Love presupposes and transcends justice." This means that love builds upon justice just like grace builds upon nature. For what happens when love meets justice, look to the Cross of Christ, the Cross of Christ which is our law. Lex Christianorum crux est sancta Christi, filii Dei vivi.

Without justice, there is no love. Without justice, love does not survive. Justice is fulfilled by love, which, of course, means that justice, for all its rock-like beauty, is incomplete. In his book Doctrine of Right, which is the first part of his Metaphysics on Morals, Kant insisted that, in justice, the law of punishment was a categorical imperative which admitted of no exception. "For if justice goes, there is no longer any value in human beings living on the earth."*

Kant is entirely correct. A world without justice is, to be sure, too horrible to behold. However, a world with justice but without love is equally as bad or worse. "Human relationships," the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church tells us, "cannot be governed solely by the measure of justice." (Compendium, No. 206)

What doth the Lord require
But to do justly,
Love mercy,
Walk humbly with thy God.

(Malachi 3:3)

The prophet Malachi requires more that doing justice. He requires us to love mercy and to walk humbly with God.

Justice goes awry without love's mercy, and so justice must, "so to speak, be 'corrected' to a considerable extent by that love which, as St. Paul proclaims, 'is patient and kind' or, in other words, possesses the characteristics of that merciful love which is so much of the essence of the Gospel and Christianity." (Compendium, No. 206) (quoting JP II, Dives et misericordia, 14)

Summum ius, summa iniuria was a Roman aphorism or maxim mentioned by Cicero (De officiis, I.10.33). It is a brilliant, ambiguous saying which can be translated, "extreme justice is the greatest injustice," or an extreme justice is an extreme wrong. For John Paul II, this was a recognition by the pagans that justice requires a tempering spirit, one that is fulfilled somewhat in the human quality of mercy, but most especially in the Christian virtue of love. "The experience of the past and of our own time," John Paul II states in a section of his encyclical Dives et misericordia which is quoted by the Compendium, "demonstrates that justice alone is not enough, that it can even lead to the negation and destruction of itself." (Compendium, No. 206)

Similarly, law alone--whether it is human law or divine law, supposed or real--will ever succeed in inculcating virtue in peoples. This is the great defect of Islam and the great defect of the secular Western positivistic jurisprudential philosophy. "No legislation, no system of rules or negotiation will ever succeed inpersuading men and peoples to live in unity, brotherhood, and peace; no line of reasoning will ever will ever be able to surpass the appeal of love." (Compendium, No. 207)

Here is a truly radical challenge. To take love, which, as St. Thomas teaches in his Summa Theologiae, is the "form of the virtues,"*** and to socialize it or institutionalize it into what the Compendium calls "social and political charity," is the modern challenge of our time. "'Social charity makes us love the common good.' It makes us effectively seem the good of all people, considered not only as individuals or private persons but also in the social dimension that unites them." (Compendium, No. 207)

The early Cistercian monk, Stephen Harding (1059-1134), an abbot of the monastery of Cîteaux, struggled with the governance of a monastic order that was just developing. It was his genius that brought forth a constitution that would guide the developing order and the relationship among the mother abbey and its daughter abbeys. This constitution was called the Charter of Charity or Carta Caritatis.

We need a new Carta Caritatis, a "Charter of Charity," a new world order that is founded not upon secular values, but upon Christian love, upon "social and political charity," a caritas socialis, which is nothing other than identical with solidarity, solidarietas, and which is a "direct demand of human and Christian brotherhood."†

Social and political charity is not exhausted in relationships between individuals, but spreads into the network formed by these relationships, which is precisely the social and political community; it intervenes in this context seeking the greatest good for the community in its entirety. In so many aspects the neighbor to be loved is found 'in society,' such that to love him concretely, assist him in his needs or in his indigence may mean something different than it means on the mere level of relationships between individuals. To love him on the social level means, depending upon the situation, to make use of social mediations to improve his life or to remove social factors that cause his indigence. It is undoubtedly and act of love, the work of mercy, by which one responds here and now to a real and impelling need of one's neighbor, but it is equally indispensable act of love to strive to organize and structure society so that one's neighbor will not find himself in poverty, above all when this becomes a situation within which an immense number of people and entire populations mus struggle, and when it takes on the proportion of a true worldwide social issue.

(Compendium, No. 208)

What an ideal! It is the Christian ideal. And as G. K. Chesterton reminds us in his book What's Wrong With the World, "[t]he christian ideal has not been found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried."

What on heaven or on earth compels the Church to suggest this love as our ideal? What compels the Church to suggest this difficult ideal which has not been founding wanting, but difficult and left untried?

Caritas Christi urget nos. For the love of Christ urges us on. (1 Cor. 5:14)
*AA 6:331 f. (Wenn die Gerechtigkeit untergeht, so hat es keinen Werth mehr, daß Menschen auf Erden leben.)
**Other translations could be extreme legalism is extreme injustice, or the greater the justice, the greater the harm. Therefore, it can be interpreted as John Paul II interprets it in his encyclical letter
Dives et misericordia as meaning that extreme justice corrupts itself to injustice. It can also be interpreted to mean that excessive legalism leads to injustice. Finally, it can have a more positive construction that the greater the right (that is infringed), the greater the injustice that occurs. One might compare here the saying of Terence in his comedy Heautontimorumenos : "ius summum saepe summast [summa est] malitia" (the greatest law is often the same as the greatest evil).
***S. T. IIª-IIae q. 23 a. 8 co. (forma virtutum)
†Catechism of the Catholic Church, § 1939

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