The Theological Virtue of Charity – Part 1 of 5

Father Pegues continues his exposition of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Treatise on the Theological Virtues (Summa Theologica II-II, 1-46) by discussing the virtue of charity (love).

Charity is “a special virtue which has precisely the role of making man lead a wholly supernatural life with a view to the possession of God.” Charity “raises us to a life of intimacy with God for His own sake, in so far as He is His own happiness and has deigned to wish to communicate His happiness to us. This life of intimacy with God implies two things in us: first of all a participation of the divine nature which divinizes our nature and elevates us above every natural order (whether human or angelic) to the order which is proper to God; . . . secondly, it implies in us principles of activity proportionate to this divine existence which enable us to act as true children of God even as God Himself acts.” Moreover, “whoever has charity has also sanctifying grace together with the virtues and the gifts.”

“The love of charity reaches to all those who already possess the happiness of God or who hope to possess it one day.” The angels and the elect in heaven already possess it; the souls in purgatory and people on earth hope to possess it one day. Thus, one ought to love all people on earth with the love of charity.

“There are degrees in this love of charity; for first we must above all love ourselves, and then others according as they approach in nearness to God in the supernatural order, or according as they are more or less near to us in the divers relations that bring us into touch with them, such relations, for instance, as ties of blood, friendship, life in common, etc.”

Concerning happiness, Father Pegues writes: “We must wish for ourselves the happiness of God above all things else excepting God, to whom we must wish this happiness first and in preference to all other.”

Concerning acts of the supernatural virtues, he states that, since they are “directly ordained to the happiness of God,” we should desire them for ourselves and for others.

Concerning temporal goods, he writes: “We may and sometimes we ought to desire for ourselves and for others temporal goods.” This we should do “when they are indispensable to our life on earth, and for the practice of virtue.” This we may do “when they are not indispensable but may be useful.” But, he cautions: “if these temporal goods become an obstacle to a life of virtue and are a cause of sin, we cannot desire them neither for ourselves nor for others without prejudicing the virtue of charity.”

Quotations from Thomas Pegues, Catechism of the “Summa Theologica” of Saint Thomas Aquinas, trans. Aelred Whitacre (New York: Benziger, 1922).

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