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Nature and Grace: Selections from the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas
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Article Eight

Whether it is more Meritorious to Love One’s Neighbour than to Love God

We proceed to the eighth article thus:

1. It seems that it is more meritorious to love one’s neighbour than to love God. For the apostle presumably prefers the more meritorious, and according to Rom. 9:3: he would choose to love his neighbour rather than to love God: “For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren.” It is therefore more meritorious to love one’s neighbour than to love God.

2. Again, it was said in the preceding article that to love a friend is in one sense less meritorious. Now God is very much a friend, since “he first loved us,” as I John 4:19 says. Hence it seems that to love God is less meritorious.

3. Again, what is more difficult would seem to be more virtuous and more meritorious, since “virtue is concerned with the difficult and the good” (2 Ethics 3). Now it is easier to love God than to love one’s neighbour. All things love God naturally. Moreover, there is nothing unlovable in God, which is not the case with one’s neighbour. Love to one’s neighbour is therefore more meritorious than love to God.

On the other hand: “that on account of which anything is of a certain kind is itself more so.” Now love to one’s neighbour is meritorious only on account of love to God, for whose sake he is loved. Hence love to God is more meritorious than love to one’s neighbour.

I answer: this comparison may be understood in two ways. If, in the first place, each love is considered in isolation, love to God is undoubtedly the more meritorious. For love to God merits a reward on its own account, since its ultimate reward is the enjoyment of God, to whom its own movement tends. A reward is therefore promised to such as love God, in John 14:21: “he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I . . . will manifest myself to him.” But the comparison may also be understood to be between love to God alone and love to one’s neighbour for God’s sake. If so, love to one’s neighbour includes love to God, whereas love to God does not include love to one’s neighbour. The comparison is then between perfect love to God which extends to one’s neighbour, and love to God which is insufficient and imperfect. For it is written in I John 4:21: “And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.” In this latter sense, love to one’s neighbour is the better.

On the first point: according to the exposition of one gloss (Lyrani), the apostle did not wish to be separated from Christ when in the state of grace, but had so desired when in the state of unbelief, and consequently is not to be imitated in this regard. Or we may say with Chrysostom (1 De Compunct. 8; Hom. 16 in Epist. ad Rom.) that this does not prove that the apostle loved his neighbour more than he loved God, but that he loved God more than he loved himself. For he was willing to be deprived for a time of the enjoyment of God, which he would have sought out of love for himself, to the end that God should be honoured among his neighbours, which he desired out of love to God.

On the second point: love to a friend is sometimes the less meritorious because the friend is loved for his own sake. Such love lacks the true ground of the friendship of charity, which is God. That God should be loved for his own sake does not therefore diminish merit, but constitutes the whole ground of merit.

On the third point: It is the good rather than the difficult that provides the ground of merit and of virtue. Hence all that is more difficult is not bound to be more meritorious, but only what is more difficult and also better.

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