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By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

1/15/2012 (3 years ago)

Catholic Online (

Love is the most identifying value of the Church's social doctrine. It is what makes it uniquely Christian.

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."  This task is the modern challenge of our time.  "'Social charity makes us love the common good.'  It makes us effectively see the good of all people, considered not only as individuals or private persons but also in the social dimension that unites them."


By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

Catholic Online (

1/15/2012 (3 years ago)

Published in Living Faith

Keywords: Love, mercy, charity, social justice, caritas, common good, agape, solidarity, compendium, Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - Love is the most identifying value of the Church's social doctrine.  It is what makes it uniquely Christian.  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.  This love 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 (the Latin word for it) or agape (the Greek word for it).

Love as caritas or agape is the font of the other values of social justice in their fullness.  "[F]rom the inner wellspring of love" the "values of truth, freedom, and justice are 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 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.  It is the world of Pharisees, of whitened sepulchers.  "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) 

Nor, one might add, the relationship between God and man.  For if justice alone governed-and mercy and love were nowhere to be found-is there any doubt what that relationship would be like?  It would be nothing less than Hell.

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

The prophet Malachi quoted above ((Malachi 3:3) tells us that God requires more than doing justice.  He requires us to love mercy and to walk humbly with Him.

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 saying was a tacit pagan recognition 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 never succeed in inculcating virtue in people.  This is the great defect of Islam and the great defect of the secular Western positivistic jurisprudential philosophies.  "No legislation, no system of rules or negotiation will ever succeed in persuading men and peoples to live in unity, brotherhood, and peace; no line of reasoning 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."  This task is the modern challenge of our time.  "'Social charity makes us love the common good.'  It makes us effectively see 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 medieval 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 an 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 must 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 found wanting, but difficult and left untried?

Caritas Christi urget nos.  The love of Christ urges us on. (1 Cor. 5:14)


Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas.  He is married with three children.  He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum.  You can contact Andrew at


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