Lesson 7a: Love: The Unity of Christian Life

The Old Testament speaks of love of God and neighbor, but the word "love" is not prominent. Rather the key word is "justice"; the keeping of the Law and respect for the rights of God and neighbor dominate. What the Old Testament looks forward to is not so much a union with God as the coming of God's Kingdom as a world order of peace and justice over which God is the glorious King of his restored Creation. The individual looks forward to being an accepted citizen of that well-ordered Kingdom. Obviously there can be no real love of our neighbor if we do not respect the neighbor's rights and thus show the neighbor true justice. Hence for the Bible Love and Justice are closely related although Love is the greater virtue since it goes beyond respecting what the neighbor deserves to seeking for the neighbor perfect happiness, even when that is not deserved. This is why we say that God's mercy is greater than his justice. This does not mean, however, that God is not just, since if He permitted injustice without punishment of the injustice he would not really love those whom the injustice injures. Justice, therefore, is in the service of love.

Yet in the Old Testament the relation of the human individual to God is also highly personal. For example, many of the Psalms are outcries of praise, of fear, of frustration, of passionate love, of despair addressed to God as if He were a parent or friend or even felt as an enemy, and the same is true of Job. This is indeed an "I-Thou" relation, often symbolized in the Prophets and The Song of Songs as a relation of child to father or mother, or of lovers, as in the marriage covenant of God and Israel. The Old Testament God is an awesome Presence of which no image is possible, yet He is truly present. What each person does is important to God, and He is ever watchful and concerned for our welfare.

Jesus interpreted the Old Law in the light of the Great Command of Love of God and neighbor which he said summed up "the law and the prophets." It is equivalently stated in the Sermon on the Mount as the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do to you" (Mt 6:12) which is also said to sum up the law and the prophets. In this way Jesus united the whole of moral life and established the Eucharist, the sacrament of love that unites us all in the community of the Trinity. In God, the Father and the Son are united in the Holy Spirit. Each Divine person gives his life totally to the others. The Father gives Divinity to the Son, so that they are absolutely equal, and so does the Father give his Divinity totally to the Holy Spirit through the Son. No created person can give their very being and existence to another as the divine persons do, but they can love and give according to their capacity.

It is essential to note that the "love" we are talking about here is in Greek agape not eros. That is why Latin authors translate it not as amor, sexual love, but as caritas, in English "charity." In current usage, however, "charity" has taken on the connotation simply of doing good to someone. Aquinas notes that genuine love while it is indeed seeking the good of another (benefaction) is also a desire for union with the one to whom we wish good, while we can do good to someone without wanting to be with them. Thus true love is a friendship where persons share a common good that is the good of both persons as persons and unites them in a community of life. Christian agape is that kind of sharing each other's life. Even more it is sharing each other's life in Christ, in God. The good we seek for our neighbor is that we should live together for all eternity in the Trinity. Because people often use "love" to mean romantic sexual love, attraction, or desire, or just a kind of benevolent sentimentality, the truly Christian message of love often gets lost. The virtue of agape, as Jesus taught, enables us to love our enemies in that we seek their salvation and hope to be their friends forever.

Thus Christian love unifies Christians in the community of the Church here on earth in preparation for their eternal unity in the community of the Trinity. Thus St. John says,

What we have seen and heard [the Incarnate Word) we proclaim to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; for our fellowship is with the Father and with his son, Jesus Christ (1 Jn 3).

But the virtue of Love also unifies and integrates each individual Christian in her or his own personhood because it is the principle that unites the other virtues and their acts. Because we love God and neighbor as we rightly love ourselves. So we are temperate or moderate in our worldly pleasure to be free to think and act for our own higher good and for that of others. Because we love, we have fortitude or courage so as to be able to defend those we love and endure suffering so as not to fail them. Because we love, we seek a just society in which all can flourish. Because we love God, we believe in him by Faith, and Hope to be united to him. Finally Love is its own reward because it is union with God and those we love. No one is excluded from that love, even our enemies, because we know that God can convert them and make them lovable once more and able to love us. Love is supported by the Gift of the Holy Spirit called Wisdom which flourishes in mystics and Doctors of the Church like Saints Augustine, Gregory the Great, Thomas Aquinas, Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, and Therese of Liseux.


  • Ashley, Living the Truth in Love, Chapter 9 (note we have left 7 and 8 to the next lesson).


  1. List different meanings of the word "love." Is hate always contrary to love?

  2. Why does the love of friendship require friends to live together or meet or correspond frequently?

  3. What does it mean to say that Jesus loves you and that you love Jesus?

  4. Why is God closer to us in the New than in the Old Testament?

  5. How does Christian love unify the whole of the Way of Life?


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