by Br. Alexis Bugnolo
A Theological Investigation into the Precepts of Charity
Among all the documents of Vatican II, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, is surrounded by the greatest controversy over the introduction of humanism into Catholic Theology. In this short essay, the specific question of the theological status of the notion regarding charity, proposed in the second paragraph of n. 24 of that document will be discussed.
THE PROBLEM of GS, n.24b
While only the Latin Edition of the Conciliar Documents is to be regarded as the authentic and actual text approved by Pope Paul VI in 1965 (which edition is NOT that of the Secretariat of the Council, published shortly afterwards), which edition was published in the 70's, nevertheless after having examined this very Latin text, and having found it not to differ substantially with the English translations readily available, it will suffice for this essay to consider the English translation found on the Vatican II WWW Site [which otherwise is known to contain errors occasionally].
Gaudium et Spes, n. 24
God, Who has fatherly concern for everyone, has willed that all men should constitute one family and treat one another in a spirit of brotherhood. For having been created in the image of God, Who "from one man has created the whole human race and made them live all over the face of the earth" (Acts 17:26), all men are called to one and the same goal, namely God Himself.
For this reason, love for God and neighbor is the first and greatest
commandment. Sacred Scripture, however, teaches us that the love of God cannot
be separated from love of neighbor: "If there is any other commandment, it
is summed up in this saying: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.... Love
therefore is the fulfillment of the Law" (Rom. 13:9-10; cf. 1 John 4:20).
To men growing daily more dependent on one another, and to a world becoming
more unified every day, this truth proves to be of
Indeed, the Lord Jesus, when He prayed to the Father, "that all may be one. . . as we are one" (John 17:21-22) opened up vistas closed to human reason, for He implied a certain likeness between the union of the divine Persons, and the unity of God's sons in truth and charity. This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.(2)*
The chief problem to be addressed here is the second paragraph, where it says: "For this reason, love for God and neighbor is the first and greatest commandment."
This statement explicitly and evidently disagrees
with the teaching of Jesus Christ, where He teaches infallibly that:
"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." (Matthew 22:35-40)
THE MAGISTERIUM OF CHRIST AND THE MAGISTERIUM OF THE CHURCH
At the First Sacrosanct and Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, the Church in the infallible Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith (nn.8-9) taught:
"that in matters of faith and morals, belonging as they do to the establishing of Christian doctrine, that meaning of Holy Scripture must be held to be the true one, which Holy Mother Church held and holds, since it is her right to judge of the true meaning and interpretation of holy scripture.
"In consequence, it is not permissible for anyone to interpret holy scripture in a sense contrary to this, or indeed against the unanimous consent of the fathers."
Hence, there can be no actual disagreement between the
teaching of Christ and that of the Magisterium of His Church. But this only
adds to the problem of GS n. 24b, for as Stephen Hand writes in his short
essay, "The Theological Weight of Vatican II"
"In view of the pastoral nature of the Council, it avoided any extraordinary statements of dogmas endowed with the note of infallibility, but it still provided its teaching with the authority of the Ordinary Magisterium..." (Paul VI, General Audience, Jan 12, 1966)
"The Documents of the Second Vatican Council are at best acts of the Church exercising its Ordinary Magisterium. In this regard it is crucial to a right understanding of Vatican II to remember what His Holiness Pope John XXIII declared in his opening discourse (L'Osservatore Romano 10/12/1962), what was reaffirmed by the Secretariat of the Council (November 16, 1964), by His Holiness Pope Paul VI at the close of the Council (L'Osservatore Romano, 12/7/1965; AAS 1967,57; Audience of 1/12/1966 published in L'Osservatore Romano 1/21/1966) namely that the Council did not intend, nor did it in fact propose any teaching as an infallible, irreformable definition.
His Eminence Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, addressing the Chilean Episcopal Conference (cf. Il Sabato 7/30--8/5/1988), reaffirmed the same when he said, "The truth is that the Council itself did not define any dogma, and that it consciously wanted to express itself on a more modest level, simply as a pastoral Council." Vatican II is then, at most, an exercise of the Ordinary Magisterium which is infallible only inasmuch as it reiterates in the "same sense and meaning" (St. Vincent of Lerins) that "universal and constant" faith---and those propositions/teachings---once and forever handed on to the Apostles by Christ Our Lord. In all other matters, wherein it proposes novel teachings and or novel expressions, the Catholic faithful are not obliged in conscience to accept these as definitive teaching.
It appears then probable and certain that Gaudium et Spes may contain certain expressions not inconformity with Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, or the expressions of the authentic, perennial, and infallible Magisterium prior to Vatican II. This understanding of Vatican II's theological status permits a closer look at the disagreement between GS n. 24b and Matthew 12:35-40.
WHAT KIND OF DISAGREEMENT IS THERE?
In logic, one studies the nature of the similarity and dissimilarity of propositions. There is the universal and the particular propositions; assertions and negations, etc. In GS n.24b, one finds the assertion that the love of God and the love of neighbor is the first and greatest commandment; whereas Our Lord clearly teaches that the first and greatest commandment is the love of God; and the second is the love of neighbor.
Now, if Our Lord had only said that the first and greatest commandment is the love of God; and had likewise said NOTHING about the second commandment; it could be reasonably presumed that the first and greatest commandment may include the love of God and neighbor. But He did not. The only other possible reconciliation of the texts, is the possibility that Our Lord and GS are not speaking of the same thing, or are not using the same terms. But as can be seen from the Latin and Italian texts of this same passage, as well as from the references in the text of GS itself, this is not possible. Both GS and the vulgate edition of Matthew 13. 35-40 use the latin words mandatum, charitas, Deus, and vicinus. Furthermore the context of GS n. 24b does not permit an interpretation of the passage in any other sense that that of a precept of charity which includes the love of God AND neighbor.
Now, is this disagreement a contrariety or a contradiction? In logic there is a comparison of propositions known as the Square of Opposition. A universal assertion is the contradiction of a particular negation and vice versa. A particular assertion is a contradiction of a universal negation. And a particular assertion is a sub-contrary to a particular negation. In GS n. 24b, we have a particular assertion: the first and greatest commandment is the love of God and the love of one's neighbor. In Matthew 12:35-40 the particular assertion that the first and greatest commandment is the love of God and the particular assertion that the second commandment is the love of neighbor.
The logical import of the teaching of Our Lord is that His two particular assertions implicitly include another truth, namely, a particular negation that the first and greatest commandment is identical as the second: a negation based upon a disparity of the matter of the act commanded: the love of God, and the love of neighbor. In fact Our Lord Himself alludes to this logical import, by saying , "which is similar to it". Thus, He indicates explicitly, that whereas the commandments differ in enumeration because of their differing matter, and are therefore not identical, they are however similar.
In what does this similarity consist? The practice of charity. The question arises then, if both precepts regard the theological virtue of charity, can they be said to be the same precept? A complete answer to this question can be found at Summa Theologica II-II, 44, 2: Should there be one or two precepts given about charity?
For brevity, consider what the Angelic Doctor says
in St. Thomas Aquinas, IIa II, Q. 44, a. 2, r. 1:
"Although charity is one
virtue, yet it has two acts, one of which is directed to the other as to its
end. Now precepts are given about acts of virtue, and so there had to be
several precepts of charity."
The Saint points this out after having shown that formally the love of neighbor is the love of God directed through the neighbor, that is, the neighbor is only loved for the sake of God, and therefore the commandment of love of neighbor is a part of the exercise of the love of God. But the Saint, in saying that "and so there have to be several precepts of charity" is saying something more than what he discusses in the body of his Reply, namely, that numerically specific precepts must be given for the sake of those who do not understand that charity implies the love of God even though it formally consists in the love of God for His own sake. What the Angelic Doctor is saying specifically, is that, when speaking of precepts or differing objects, the commandment to the exercise of the one virtue which encompasses them both, must be numerically distinct; even though the virtue formally includes one in the other. Hence the clarity and correctness of the teaching of Jesus Christ, that the first and greatest is the love of God, and the second, which is like to the first, is the love of neighbor.
It follows then, that the first and greatest commandment cannot properly be said to be the love of God and the love of neighbor. Only if one is speaking in a manner different from Christ Himself, could one admit, without deviating from the truth, that the first and greatest commandment is the love of God and the love of neighbor in God.
Furthermore, the matter of this error, of adding another object to the first commandment is most grave. For the very essence of the One, True Religion taught by Christ is that God alone must be loved with all our being and strength, first and foremost and all things only inasmuch as He wills us to. To confound the first commandment and the second, or to reform or interpret the First Commandment in a novel manner, is to attack in the most essential manner the very foundations of the Christian religion, to such an extent as to raise against It another novel religion. For just as the very nature of any religion is to bind believer to the God believed, so every religion takes its nature from the most essential obligation of that religion. The First Commandment, therefore, is the very foundation of the Catholic Religion, and to alter it in any manner is to alter the very religion.
A LEAP OF LOGIC
GS n. 24b also suffers from the leap of logic in GS n. 24a. There is the assertion that God is the destiny of all men [a statement which itself contains a problem of theological expression] and then the leap of logic that this results in the conclusion that "The Love of God and of one's neighbor is the first and greatest commandment." There is needed an entire treatise on the existence, nature, and import of such leaps of logic in Vatican II texts, and this is not the place. Suffice it to say in regard to the problem of GS n. 24b that this leap serves in no way to save it from its actual disagreement with the teaching of Christ.
GS n.24b cannot be reconciled with the teaching of Christ, as it stands. Indeed it remains to be shown how even the context of GS in other areas could save this passage from condemnation. If GS n24b had contradicted Our Lord by saying "the second commandment is not..." or "the first commandment is not" then it would be formally both heretical and blasphemous. Since it did not, it represents in the view of this author, a most grave theological error, correctible if the words in God are inserted at the end of the questionable sentence. As it stands it is a proposition contrary to the implicit proposition contained in Matthew 12:35-40, namely, that the first and second commandments are not the identical but only similar. This teaching of Our Lord, without doubt, both by reason and faith, clarifies the matter of both commandments, the nature of Charity, and the proper ordering of acts. The teaching of GS n. 24b, however, obscures this; and seemingly does so gratuitously and without justification. As such, GS n.24, is in the opinion of this author, not worthy of the assent of mind of a Catholic believer; nor is it a good reflection upon the theological acumen of the men entrusted with the draft of the Dogmatic Constitution. Indeed, the very nature of our Holy Catholic Faith requires us to reject this novel reformulation of the First Commandment as something which is essentially opposed to the very foundation of Christ’s religion: namely the pure love of God above all things, man included.
I do not think the Fathers of the Council were malicious in approving this phrase, for though they approved the document by vote and signature, the method of approbation left few of them with any time to read and study the text with due consideration. They proceeded in just this manner, because as Pope Paul VI said (quoted above) they did not intend to impose a definition or infallible teaching upon the Church; just issue a statement, in this case, on the friendly relationship the Church seeks with the world of the present. But that is another matter all together. Certainly, the Pope, being responsible more than the Bishops, cannot, however be excused if he allows this error to remain un-refuted.
Danger to the Church in this Statement
The error contained in GS n. 24b is gravely dangerous to the faith and to the Catholic Church. It is dangerous because it condones and implicitly promotes the idea that what is only similar can be said to be the same, and applies this erroneous logic to the very greatest commandment of the New Law: the Love of God.
The love of God is the foundation of all virtue and the end and purpose of all the acts of the catholic faithful. If any creature is classed together on a par with God in the act of love, a grave blasphemy and sin of idolatry is committed. If any obscurity as to the correct and proper essence of the first and very greatest commandment be introduced to the faith, then the entire structure of Christianity, the whole supernatural order of our holy religion, would be utterly corrupted and vitiated; and there would begin upon earth no longer the immaculate bride which is Christ's Church, but a new church and a new religion; one wherein Man is worshipped equally with God.
It follows then, that for the sake of the error contained in GS n. 24b alone, all the faithful should and must oppose the implementation of this teaching in the Church, and must likewise in their thoughts, words and deeds denounce this error. No one in right conscience, furthermore, can be presumed to be in good will if, upon recognizing this error, he continues in his unqualified support of the documents of the Second Vatican Council, or continues to hold them as a norm for pastoral action.
And thus, I would conclude that this error is, if not formally a heresy, worst than any heresy: because a heresy denies a particular truth of the Faith, whereas this error leads one astray into an essentially different religion, wherein God and Man are loved first and foremost for themselves, and not Man for the sake of God, as Christ, Our One and Sole, Infallible, Divine, Sovreign Master, has taught.
* The Italian Text of this passage reads:
“24. L'indole comunitaria dell'umana vocazione nel piano di Dio. Iddio, che ha cura paterna di tutti, ha voluto che tutti gli uomini formassero una sola famiglia e si trattassero tra loro come fratelli. Tutti, infatti, creati ad immagine di Dio « che da un solo uomo ha prodotto l'intero genere umano affinché popolasse tutta la terra » (At17,26), sono chiamati al medesimo fine, che è Dio stesso. Perciò l'amor di Dio e del prossimo è il primo e più grande comandamento. La sacra Scrittura, da parte sua, insegna che l'amor di Dio non può essere disgiunto dall'amor del prossimo, «e tutti gli altri precetti sono compendiati in questa frase: amerai il prossimo tuo come te stesso. La pienezza perciò della legge è l'amore » (Rm13,9); (1Gv4,20).
È evidente che ciò è di grande importanza per degli uomini sempre più dipendenti gli uni dagli altri e per un mondo che va sempre più verso l'unificazione.
Anzi, il Signore Gesù, quando prega il Padre perché « tutti siano una cosa sola, come io e tu siamo una cosa sola » (Gv17,21), aprendoci prospettive inaccessibili alla ragione umana, ci ha suggerito una certa similitudine tra l'unione delle Persone divine e l'unione dei figli di Dio nella verità e nell'amore.
Questa similitudine manifesta che l'uomo, il quale in terra è la sola creatura che Iddio abbia voluto per se stesso, non possa ritrovarsi pienamente se non attraverso un dono sincero di sé.