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Treatise on the Love of God
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CHAPTER IX.

THAT THE VIRTUES HAVE THEIR PERFECTION FROM DIVINE LOVE.

Charity is then the bond of perfection,524524Col. iii. 14. since in it all the perfections of the soul are contained and assembled, and since without it, not only can one not have the whole array of virtues, but one cannot even have the perfection of any virtue. Without the cement and mortar which fasten the stones and walls, the whole edifice goes to rack; were it not for the nerves, muscles and sinews, the whole body would be undone; and without charity the virtues can never sustain one another. Our Saviour ever joins the fulfilling of the commandments to charity. He that hath my commandments, says he, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me; he that loveth me not keepeth not my words; If any one love me, he will keep my word:525525John xiv. 23, 23, 24. which the disciple whom our Saviour loved repeating, says: He that keepeth his word, in him, in very deed, the charity of God is perfected;5265261 John ii. 5. and this is the charity of God, that we keep his commandments.5275271 John v. 3. Now he who should have all virtues, would keep all the commandments: for he that had the virtue of religion would keep the first three commandments; he that had piety would observe the fourth; he that had the virtue of mildness and gentleness would observe the fifth; by the virtue of chastity one would observe the sixth; by liberality one would avoid the breach of the seventh; by truth one would effect the eighth; by frugality and purity one would observe the ninth and tenth. And if without charity we cannot keep the commandments, much less can we without it have all the virtues.

True it is, one may have some virtue, and live some small time without offending God, though wanting in divine love: but even as we sometimes see uprooted trees produce something, but imperfectly, and only for a short time, so a heart separated from charity, may indeed bring forth some acts of virtue but not for long.

All virtues separated from charity are very imperfect, since they are not able without it to arrive at their end, which is to make us happy. Bees in their birth are little grubs and worms, without feet, without wings, and without shape; but in course of time they change, and become little flies; afterwards waxing strong, and being come to their growth, they are said to be formed, finished and perfect bees, because they have all that is wanted for flying and for making honey. The virtues have their beginning, their progress, and their perfection; and I do not deny that without charity they may be born and even grow; but that they should come to their perfection, and bear the name of formed, fashioned, and accomplished virtues, that depends on charity, which gives them the strength to fly in God, and to collect from his mercy the honey of true merit, and of the sanctification of the heart in which they are found.

Charity is amongst the virtues, as the sun amongst the stars; she distributes to all their lustre and beauty. Faith, hope, fear and penitence ordinarily go before her into the soul to prepare her lodging; and, upon her arrival, they with all the train of virtues obey and wait upon her, and she with her presence animates, adorns and quickens them all.

The other virtues can in turn aid and stimulate one another in their works and exercises: for who knows not that chastity requires and excites sobriety, and that obedience moves us to liberality, prayer, and humility? Now by this communication which they have amongst themselves they participate in one another's perfections: for chastity kept by obedience has a double dignity, its own and that of obedience; yea, it has even more of the dignity of obedience than of its own: for, as Aristotle says that he who stole for the sake of sensuality sinned rather against purity than against honesty, because all his affections tended to impurity, and he only used theft as a passage to it; even so he who keeps chastity through obedience is more obedient than chaste, since he makes chastity serve obedience. Nevertheless, from the mixture of chastity and obedience a perfect and accomplished virtue cannot issue, since they both want the last perfection, which is love; so that if it were possible that all the virtues were put in one man, and that he wanted only charity, this union of virtues would indeed be a most perfect and complete body in all its parts, such as Adam's was when God with his omnipotent hand formed it of the slime of the earth: yet would it be a body wanting motion, life and grace, till God should breathe into it the breath of life,528528Gen. ii. 7. that is, holy charity, without which nothing profits us.

For the rest, the perfection of divine love is so sovereign that it perfects all the virtues, and can receive no perfection from them, no not from obedience itself, which is the one most able to give perfection to the rest: for although love be commanded, and although in loving we exercise obedience, yet still love draws not its perfection from obedience, but from the goodness of him whom it loves; love not being excellent because it is obedient, but because it loves an excellent good. Truly in loving we obey, as also in obeying we love; but if this obedience be so excellently loveable, it is because it tends to the excellence of love; nor does its excellence consist in this, that loving we obey, but in this, that obeying we love. So that even as God is as much the last end as the first beginning of all that is good, so love, which is the source of every good affection, is likewise its last end and perfection.

 


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