Three Posts on Love – I

11 06 2009

Charity therefore brought Him to the flesh. Whoever therefore has not charity denies that Christ is come in the flesh. Here then do you now question all heretics. Did Christ come in the flesh? He did come; this I believe, this I confess. Nay, this you deny. How do I deny? You hear that I say it! Nay, I convict you of denying it. You say with the voice, deniest with the heart; sayest in words, deniest in deeds. How, do you say, do I deny in deeds? Because the end for which Christ came in the flesh, was, that He might die for us. He died for us, because therein He taught much charity. Greater charity than this has no man, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You have not charity, seeing you for your own honor dividest unity. Therefore by this understand ye the spirit that is from God. Give the earthen vessels a tap, put them to the proof, whether haply they be cracked and give a dull sound: see whether they ring full and clear, see whether charity be there. You take yourself away from the unity of the whole earth, you divide the Church by schisms, you rend the Body of Christ. He came in the flesh, to gather in one, you make an outcry to scatter abroad. This then is the Spirit of God, which says that Jesus is come in the flesh, which says, not in tongue but in deeds, which says, not by making a noise but by loving. And that spirit is not of God, which denies that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh; denies, here also, not in tongue but in life; not in words but in deeds. It is manifest therefore by what we may know the brethren. Many within are in a sort within [the Church]; but none without except he be indeed without.

-St. Augustine

Reading St. Augustine’s homilies on I John, the thing that strikes me most is the confluence that Augustine makes between true charity and being in the Church. The homilies of course were against the Donatists who would separate themselves from the Church for reasons of personal “integrity” and discipline. The difficult idea for the modern reader is that the implications of the Church Father’s language drive us far from our own “humanitarian” perspective of love. To sin against love is to hate your brother, and the way that St. Augustine approaches the love of brother is primarily from an ecclesial perspective. It would seem, in my own reading, that there is no real charity outside the Church, and those who sin most gravely against the Church are those who would divide it, or rather tear apart the Body of Christ.

I remember a devout Catholic woman during my first turn at university who opened an exhibit in Berkeley of Virgin Mary statues from around the world. She was a little kooky, having paid for much of it out of her own pocket, and she certainly wasn’t rich. She was relatively orthodox as well, and at that time ten years ago now must have been almost sixty. I remember how she once talked about some middle-aged African-American woman who had smiled at her and gave her good service at a supermarket check-out stand.

“She may have not been Catholic,” she said, “but I think she had baptism of desire.”

I left that remark alone, though I certainly disagreed with it. Assuming that that woman was Christian, she would have certainly been baptized. People today, however, are quick to harp on about the “subjective” conditions of a given person when approaching any problem. “They probably didn’t know.” “They weren’t raised that way.” “They had invincible ignorance [though they passed five Catholic churches just to get to work in the morning, knew Catholic people and saw them everyday]”. I don’t mean to belittle such “subjective conditions”, but the danger is that they spiral us downwards into a subjectivist maelstrom where the truth is a lie and the lie the truth, merely because of our perception of it. The Catholic way, the real way, is to say that there is no love without the truth, just as truth without love is useless. If you don’t know the truth of something, you can’t really love it. At best, you are in love with your own delusion, and such a love is always disordered. Maybe less culpable in many circumstances, but still disordered. “Invincible ignorance” barely excuses, but it by no means absolves.

The fact is, there are no noble savages hunched in the forest clamoring to know God. Such assumptions of Lumen Gentium are as delusional as the romanticist dreams of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. And the gravest sins, those of heresy, schism, and indifferentism, belong to the realm of faith, not of sins against “niceness”. We drown this fact in the modern subjectivist vortex at our own peril.



2 responses

4 08 2009
Three posts on love – III « Reditus: A Chronicle of Aesthetic Christianity

[…] In the first, I discussed the relationship between faith, the Church, and true love. […]

12 06 2009

In the past, the claims of a religion were judged in metaphysical terms; will following this system get me to heaven? Is it objectively true? Today, religions are judged on whether it is able to create “nice” people and/or “good citizens.” One of the major reasons many conservatives say that Christianity is preferable to some humanistic creed is because adhering to it creates neat, clean, individuals who will raise well-behaved children and mow their lawns on a regular basis. The secularists respond by saying that religion does not make “better” people and point to various statistics to prove their point. At no point do the metaphysical claims of Christianity enter the discussion. Given that religion is being evaluated in such utilitarian terms, is it any wonder that indiffererntism is so common?

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