Seventeenth Sunday – C

Every people have heroes who have given their lives for the freedom and peace of their community. Their sacrifices, although in the past, live on as an inspiration for us to value freedom and to live generously.
The memory of such heroes helps us appreciate what Jesus has done. Jesus gave His life to bring us interior freedom and peace from the inner tyranny, which is more subtle and pervasive than the exterior tyranny.
We call this inner tyranny “sin.” We can think of sin as this thought, this action, this word, this failure to act, as though “sins” might be glitches in an otherwise well-running machine. In fact, our some of our sins are so deeply rooted that they seem to have a hold on us.
The individual instances of sin are symptoms of our underlying turning away from God. St. Catherine of Siena calls this underlying sin, “selfish self-love.” Even in our prayers, we might want God to serve our agenda rather than to serve God’s agenda.
Jesus’ passion and death was Jesus gift of Himself to the Father. Because He was the Son of God, His self-offering to the Father more than repaid our human resistance to love and obey God. The Father’s raising of Jesus from the dead was His acceptance of His Son’s gift.
The memory of Jesus’ sacrifice continues to inspire us but even more importantly, Jesus continues to liberate us.
The second reading for today, from the Letter to the Colossians (Col 2:12-14) describes our union with Christ through Baptism: “You were buried with Christ in baptism, in which you were raised with Him through faith in the working of God who raised Him from the dead” (Col 2:12).
We are buried with Christ; we are raised with Christ. For the early Christians, baptism was almost always by immersion into a pool of water. The literal going down into the water and rising again dramatically demonstrated the believer’s entering into the death and burial of Christ as well as rising with Him.
Before being baptized, we are asked if we reject sin. In Baptism, we are not only rejecting sin we are surrendering ourselves to the saving power of Jesus’ death and Resurrection, which destroys sin.
The Letter to the Colossians describes us as having been “dead in transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh” (Col 2:13). Jesus breaks the power over sin over us through His death.
St. Thomas Aquinas, in his commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, explains: “Your baptism was like the death of Christ, for as His death destroyed sin, so also does your baptism.”
We had been, as Thomas explains, “chained with a debt of evil actions and of mortal sin.” Thomas affirms that in baptism: “God made you alive.” Theidea is brought out by the Letter to the Ephesians: “Even when we were dead in our transgressions, God brought us to life with Christ…” (Eph 2:5).
Thomas comments: “Just as Christ rose from the tomb, so we rise from our sins in the present, and from the corruption of the flesh in hope. This is accomplished through faith in the working of God, because it was by the power of God that Christ was raised.” The Father raised Christ from the tomb and also raises us from sin.
The water of Baptism is only effective when it is joined with our faith in God’s power, “faith in the working of God.” We believe in the “power of God” by which God not only raised Christ from the dead but also takes away our sin.
We believe that God raises us from sin because the Father raised the Son from the dead. Thomas states, “We rise from our sins in the present” but our faith also offers us hope in our own resurrection from death, “from the corruption of the flesh in hope”:
Christ’s Resurrection gives us hope that we also will rise, as Thomas affirms: “By believing in this resurrection we come to share in it.” St Paul writes: ‘He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies’” (Rom 8:11).
Colossians spoke of the “uncircumcision of your flesh.” According to Thomas, Paul is not so much speaking of a physical circumcision but an “inward circumcision, which is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal” (Rom 2:28-29).
Thomas compares Baptism with circumcision in that “baptism removes the death of sin and circumcises us by cutting off original sin.” Thomas explains, “He made you alive by removing every sin from you, forgiving and remitting all your faults.”
As powerful as Baptism is in our lives, we continue to experience God’s mercy in numerous occasions throughout our lives. The Gospel for today, Luke 11:1-13, contains the “Our Father,” in which we are taught to pray “forgive us our trespasses.”
Colossians instructs us that God’s forgiveness blots out our sin: “And you… God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, having cancelled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this He set aside, nailing it to the Cross” (Col 2:14).
Thomas notes that a bond is torn up when the obligation has been fulfilled: “…at the moment of Christ’s death this bond was canceled and destroyed. And so he says, this he set aside, nailing it to the cross, by which He took away our sin by making satisfaction to God.”
Many of us continue to be disturbed by sins of the past, even though these have been forgiven. We judge ourselves as though the sins had never been forgiven.
Thomas asserts “a person incurs two things by sinning, that is, a debt of guilt, and slavery to the devil.” The Letter to the Colossians affirms that Christ has obliterated “the bond against us” (Col 2:14). A “bond” is a warranty that is used in contracts. If the bond has been cancelled, why do we keep thinking of it?
Thomas asserts that violations against God’s law can be “retained in the person’s memory, which it disturbs and stains.” Our sins are remembered by the devil in order to discourage us, “to torment them.”
If we don’t seek God’s forgiveness, we can be slaves by letting our bad habits grow. Furthermore, according to Thomas, the devil accuses us. The result is that we feel trapped.
As we receive forgiveness, we have to also believe that the bond of our sins is destroyed. Of course, God does not have amnesia but our sins are “not remembered by God as something to be punished.” Nor can the devils recall our sins “as something to accuse us of.” And Thomas affirms: “We do not remember our sins as reasons for sorrow: ‘Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered’” (Ps 32:1).
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
The quotations from St. Thomas’ Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians are taken from the website: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/

Sixteenth Sunday – C

In addition to the physical pain that suffering brings, suffering is a nuisance that blocks us from what we really want to do for ourselves, our families and friends and keeps us from our own work. Suffering wastes our time. Rather than helping others, we need care ourselves. It is hard to see anything positive in suffering.
The second reading for this Sunday, from the Letter to the Colossians 1:24-28, takes a different view of suffering: “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake” (Col 1:24). What possible benefit could one person’s sufferings be for anyone else?
Christ’s sufferings were for His body but a new idea arises in this passage: we are so closely united with other believers that our sufferings also affect others through grace. Paul asserts: “In my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of His body which is the Church” (Col 1:24).
Paul understood the Christian community as a body, of which Christ was the head. Thomas describes this relationship: “We should understand that Christ and the Church are one mystical person, whose head is Christ, and whose body is all the just, for every just person is a member of this head: ‘individually members’” (1 Cor. 12:27).
This passage seems to indicate that something is missing from Christ’s salvific self-offering. St. Thomas Aquinas assures us: “The blood of Christ is sufficient to redeem many worlds.” The First Letter of John states: “He is the expiation for our sins and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 Jn 2:2). If Christ has already made full expiation, how can we “make up what is lacking”?
According to Thomas, believers are so joined to Christ that, spiritually, we are one person. Through this union with Christ, our sufferings are given salvific value for others.
However, we might object, Christ’s sufferings were His gift to His Father as His Son, from whom grace has been poured forth upon us. We often bear our sufferings, in a begrudged way. Jesus is the holy one from whose actions grace flows. But this is certainly not true of us.
It is true that our actions don’t cause grace for ourselves or others as our actions alone. However, when our actions are united with Christ, those actions are the effect of grace. Thomas explains in his Summa Theologiae: “This movement is not the cause of grace, but the effect; hence the whole operation pertains to grace” (1a.2ae. 111, 2, ad 2). This is similar to the way that we pray for others not because we deserve to be heard in ourselves but through our union with Jesus.
Our sufferings have value not principally because of us but because we are joined with Christ. Through our union with Christ, our stories are the continuation of His story. He lives with us in our story and our sufferings are joined with His. Thomas explains: “… for what was lacking was that, just as Christ had suffered in His own body, so He should also suffer in Paul, His member, and in similar ways in others.”
Just as Christ’s sufferings were for our sake, our sufferings are, as Thomas explains, “for the sake of His body, which is the Church that was to be redeemed by Christ.”
In one way, the sufferings of good people help others through their example, as Thomas grants: “All the saints suffer for the Church, which receives strength from their example.” In another sense, the holy ones even “merit” for us by the grace of God: “For while the merits of Christ, the head, are infinite, each saint displays some merits in a limited degree.”
Paul often brought sufferings upon himself through his ministry: “For this I toil, striving with all the energy which He mightily inspires in me” (Col 1:29). The Second Letter to Timothy declares: “Take your share of suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 2:3); and “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4.7).
Paul was convinced that his ministry had been given to him by God: “I am a minister in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me to bring to completion for you the word of God, the mystery hidden from ages past and generations past” (Col 1:25).
According to Paul, this “mystery” was previously “hidden” but now God desired that it be announced. The Letter to the Ephesians also speaks of “the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God” (Eph 3:9).
The “mystery” was not so much an idea as a presence. The Son of God taking our flesh opened up the “mystery,” the plan originally “hidden.” Paul announces, “But now it has been manifested to His holy ones, to whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; it is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:26-27).
Thomas proposes that Paul could say: “I am to show that the word of God has been fulfilled, that is, God’s dispensation and plan and promise concerning the Incarnation of the Word of God.”
Why does Thomas single out the Incarnation when the death and Resurrection of Jesus are essential elements in God’s plan? The Incarnation is the breakthrough that changes God’s way of relating to us: in His Son’s taking our own flesh, God is with us.
The idea that the divine would be manifested in our flesh was entirely unheard of by the prophets and was entirely contrary to prevailing philosophy. Thomas recalls St. Augustine’s observation, that although the works of Plato indicate some things about the Word, “yet none could know that the Word was made flesh.” For the philosophers, the “Logos” or “Word,” was entirely spiritual and unrelated to human material existence.
Thomas describes this revelation as “this time of grace,” noting Paul’s words: “Behold now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). By analogy, every time the Word is proclaimed is a “time of grace.”
Why did God manifest the mystery to some as a “grace” or gift? All of God’s interventions in our lives are gifts: The Gospel of John declares: ““All that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you” (Jn 15:15).
Every insight that draws us to God is a gift from God. We do not deserve God’s gift more than others. Every time our hearts are moved by God, it is a gift. God give His grace because He is generous. God continues “to make known … the riches of this mystery.”
Thomas declares: “This mystery, which is Christ, i.e., which we obtain through Christ, is the hope of glory.” Paul declared, “Him, we proclaim…” (Col 1:28). Jesus charged His disciples: ““Teach all nations” (Mt 28:19). The author of the First Letter of John states: “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you” (1 Jn 1:1).
Thomas remarks that Paul’s method was “to teach the truth and to refute what is false… that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Col 1:28). Jesus declared, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). Thomas recognizes that all are not ‘perfect,” however, “it should be the goal of the preacher.”
Thomas considers two stages of perfection. The first is that “one not allow into his heart anything opposed to God”: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Mt 22:37). The second stage is “to give up even those things that are lawful; and this kind of perfection goes beyond what is required.”
Thomas reflects: “Paul does this with all the energy, ‘the grace of God is with me’ (1 Cor. 15:10), which he inspires within me, because God does this in me mightily, i.e., that is, by giving me the might or power.” Jesus promised His disciples that they would be “clothed with power from on high” (Lk 24:49).
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

The quotations from St. Thomas’ Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians are taken from the website: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/

Fifteenth Sunday – C

The Letter to the Colossians declares that Christ is the “image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). St. Thomas Aquinas explains that an image is something which comes from a source. An image imitates its source and remains related to its source. Thomas points out that while an egg comes from a chicken it does not have a real likeness. Jesus is called the Son because He has comes forth from the Father, He has the likeness of the Father, He imitates the Father, and He has the same nature as the Father.
Thomas states: “The nature of God is His existence and His act of understanding.” God’s existence is His nature: He is and He knows! Thomas offers us a way to imagine how the Son comes forth from the Father by using an example, which he admits only “faintly” throws light on the Son’s coming forth from the Father:
We have a mental word when we actually conceive[in the mind] the form of the thing of which we have knowledge; and then we signify this mental word by an external word. And this mental word we have conceived is a certain likeness, in our mind, of the thing, and it is like it in species. And so the Word of God is called the image of God.
When we have a word or an idea in our mind, we might say that we conceive that word or idea. In fact, we use the word “conception” for both the conception of a child and an idea in our minds. When we speak our word or idea, the word or idea comes forth from us but it is still with us. Our words and ideas reflect us.
Thomas suggests that this gives us some way to imagine the eternal generation of the Word of the Father, who remains one with the Father. The Word of the Father comes forth from the Father yet is still one with the Father. He repeats that this is only a “faint” way to understand the eternal generation of the Word.
When Colossians declares that Jesus is the “image of the invisible God,” we might get the impression that the Father is invisible and the Son is some sort of a visible expression of God but distinct from God Himself, as when Jesus took a human nature in the Incarnation.
However, Thomas explains: “The Son is not only the image of the invisible God, but He Himself is invisible like the Father: He is the image of the invisible God.”
When Colossians declares that Jesus is the “firstborn of all creation” (Col 1:15), it might suggest that Jesus Himself was created. However, as Thomas notes the Son’s coming forth from the Father is described by a different expression, “generation” or “being begotten.” While all other things are “created,” the Son comes forth from the very being of the Father, as children come forth from their parents.
Colossians affirms “in Him [the Son], all things were created” (Col 1:16). Thomas points out that God’s knowing Himself is not separate from His knowing us: “He knows all things in His own essence, as in the first efficient cause.” In other words, in knowing Himself, God knows that He is the cause of all things. But God knows through His Word:
The Son, however, is the intellectual concept or representation of God insofar as He knows Himself, and as a consequence, every creature. Therefore, inasmuch as the Son is begotten, He is seen as a word representing every creature, and He is the principle of every creature. For if He were not begotten in that way, the Word of the Father would be the first-born of the Father only, and not of creatures: “I came forth from the mouth of the Most High, the first-born before every creature” (Sir 24:3).
All things were created in the Son, because, as Thomas remarks, “The Son is the first-born because He was generated as the principle of creatures.” “Principle” indicates that the Son is the source of other things.
Thomas identifies three ways that Colossians sees the Son. The Son is the principle of created things, in their creation, as well as their distinction one from another. All things are preserved in existence in Him because “in Him all things hold together” (Col 1:17).
According to Plato, there were distinct forms or ideas pre-existed, which were the different models of all things in existence. Thomas disagrees: “Instead of all these [models] we have one, that is, the Son, the Word of God.” Thomas comments that an artist or an architect starts with an idea within him or her according to which he or she creates:
This is the way God is said to make all things in His wisdom, because the wisdom of God is related to His created works just as the art of the builder is to the house he has made. Now this form and wisdom is the Word; and thus in Him all things were created, as in an exemplar: “He spoke and they were made” (Gen 1), because He created all things to come into existence in His eternal Word.
St. Thomas takes the occasion to point out the erroneous beliefs of the Manichaeans who thought that our earthly bodies were created by an evil god because they were corruptible, unlike heavenly bodies. Thomas asserts: “This was an error, because both types of bodies were created in the same [Word]. And so he says, ‘in heaven and on earth. ‘… In the beginning,’ that is, in the Son, ‘God created the heavens and the earth’ (Gen 1:1).”
Thomas finds two reasons why Colossians compares the Church to a body. The first is that “it has distinct members.” Ephesians says, “And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers” (Eph 4:11). However, the distinct gifts are aimed towards mutual service, as Thomas adds, “the members of the Church serve each other in ways that are different.” The First Letter to the Corinthians states, ““The members may have the same care for one another” (1 Cor. 12:25) and the Letter to the Galatians also affirms “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2).
Secondly, as a body has a soul so does the Church:
Again, just as a body is one because its soul is one, so the Church is one because the Spirit is one: “There is one body and one Spirit” (Eph 4:4); “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor. 10:17).
How is Christ the “Head” of the Body, which is the Church? Thomas points out that the Church exists in two states: “the state of grace in the present time, and the state of glory in the future.” Christ is the head in both states: “He is the first in grace and the first in glory.”
Christ is first in grace: “He is not only first in grace insofar as He is a man, but all men are justified by faith in Christ: ‘By one man’s obedience many will be made righteous’ (Rom 5:19). So he says, He is the beginning, that is, the beginning or source of justification and grace in the entire Church.”
Christ is also the first in glory: “Christ is the first of all; and thus He is the first-born from the dead, that is, the first-born of those who are born by the resurrection.” Christ had the fullness of grace: “For some saints had particular graces, but Christ had all graces; and so he says, that in Him all the fullness was pleased to dwell.”
Thomas tries to draw out the ramifications of this passage of Colossians for us. We came into being through the Son. In other words, our existence is not by chance. We are created through the Son. Our creation is “through Him and for Him.” We come into being through Christ and we exist for Christ. In Christ is the idea of each of us by which God brings us into existence.
In addition to our individual existence through Christ, we are united with all others who live in Christ, as one body, in which we serve each other. Christ is the head of this body. From Him come all the graces that we need that come to us through the humanity of Christ. Eventually the glory of eternal life comes to us through Him.
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
The quotations from St. Thomas’ Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians are taken from the website: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/

Fourteenth Sunday – C

Being nailed to a cross was not only a torturous form of execution but a slow and humiliating one, during which the onlookers watched dying person’s gasps for breathe. Usually this painful and shameful form of execution was reserved for slaves and revolutionaries, as a warning to others.

A good number of St. Paul’s Gentile listeners considered death on a cross as a shame and an indignity. Nevertheless, Paul is straightforward in affirming that he glories in the Cross (Gal 6:14).

St. Thomas comments that a person glories in what he or she considers great. For instance, Thomas notes that some people glory in wealth, some people glory in friendship with great people. Thomas explains that Paul found in the Cross the very things that others seek:

… this friendship the Apostle found most of all in the Cross, because there an obvious sign of divine friendship is shown: ‘God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us’ (Rom 5:8). For nothing shows His mercy to us as much as the death of Christ. Hence Gregory writes, ‘O inestimable love of charity! To redeem the servant, He delivered His Son.’

Thomas adds that some glory in knowledge. Paul did not claim to know anything but the Cross: “For I judged not myself to know anything among you but Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). In fact, the Cross contains the most important truths, as Thomas points out: “For in the Cross is the perfection of all law and the whole art of living well.”

Thomas recognizes that some people glory in having power but Paul, on the contrary, glories in the Cross because ultimately it is investing in God’s own power: “The message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor 1:18).”

Some glory in their freedom but Thomas points to Paul’s assertion that lasting freedom comes through the Cross: “Our old man is crucified with Him that the body of sin may be destroyed, to the end that we may serve sin no longer” (Rom 6:6).

Some find camaraderie by acceptance into special groups but, as Thomas affirms, Paul realized that we find acceptance with heavenly beings through the Cross: “Through Him to reconcile all things for Him, making peace by the blood of His Cross, whether those on earth or those in heaven” (Col 1:20).

Some rejoice in conquests but Paul saw our real triumphs coming from the Cross: “And despoiling the principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, leading them away in triumph by it” (Col 2:15).

Paul chose to glory in what was essential rather than in the superficial values of society: “… by the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14); “I consider everything as a loss for the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them to be so much rubbish…” (Phil 3:8).

Thomas affirms:

For a person who glories in something treasures it and desires to make nothing known except what pertains to the Cross of Christ; therefore he glories in it alone… As if to say: I carry the marks of the Cross and I am considered dead. Therefore, as the world abhors the Cross of Christ, so it abhors me; ‘For you are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God’ (Col 3:3).

According to Thomas, Paul set his energies on what is important: “He glories mainly in that which avails and helps in joining him to Christ; for it is this, the Apostle desires, namely, to be with Christ.”

Paul states: “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love” (Gal 5:6). Thomas draws out the implications of this statement:

Therefore, faith informed by charity is the new creature. For we have been created and made to exist in our nature through Adam, but that creature is already old. Therefore the Lord in producing us and establishing us in the existence of grace has made a new creature… And it is called ‘new’ because by it we are reborn into the new life by the Holy Spirit: ‘When You send forth Your Spirit, they are created and You renew the face of the earth’ (Ps 104:30) and by the Cross of Christ: ‘So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away, new things have come.’ In this way, then, by a new creature, i.e. by the faith of Christ and the charity of God which has been poured into hearts, we are made new and are joined to Christ.

Paul wrote: “I bear the marks of the Lord Jesus in my body” (Gal 6:17). Thomas reflects that slaves were branded with certain marks by means of a hot iron, so that no one else could claim them. Thomas concludes: “… the Apostle says he bears the marks of the Lord, branded, as it were, as a slave of Christ; and this, because he bore the marks of Christ’s passion, suffering many tribulations in his body for Him, according to the saying: ‘Christ suffered for us, leaving you an example, that you should follow his steps’ (1 Pt 2:21); ‘Always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our body’ (2 Cor 4:10).

The quotations from Thomas Aquinas are from Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, translated by F. R. Larcher, O.P., (Albany, NY: Magi Books Inc., 1965), pp. 202-206.

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

Thirteenth Sunday – C

Is Paul consistent when he tells us that we have been “called for freedom,” but then he instructs us to “serve one another through love” (Gal 5:13)? In what sense are we free if we serve others?

St. Thomas Aquinas notes that “the state of faith in Christ… pertains to liberty and is liberty itself…” Paul insisted: “You have been called by God into the liberty of grace: ‘You have not received the spirit of bondage again in fear, but you have received the spirit of adoption of sons’ (Rom 8:15).

Does “freedom” mean that anything that we would like to do is permissible? Paul told the Galatians that freedom from the Mosaic Law is not a license to sin. St. Thomas explains: “Now the Galatians were free of the Law; but lest they suppose this to be a license to commit sins forbidden by the Law, the Apostle touches on abuse of liberty, saying ‘Only make not liberty an occasion to the flesh.’ As if to say: You are free, but not so as to misuse your liberty by supposing that you may sin with impunity…”

St. Thomas points out:

… the mode of standing is through charity; hence he says, ‘serve one another by love.’ In fact, the whole state consists in charity, without which a man is nothing (1 Cor 13:1ff.)… The state of grace does not exist in virtue of a desire of the flesh but by charity of the spirit, i.e., a charity which proceeds from the Holy Spirit through Whom we should be subject to and serve one another: ‘Bear one another’s burdens’ (Gal 6:2); ‘anticipate one another in showing honor’ (Rom 12:10).

St. Thomas recognizes the serving one another appears to clash with being free. Aristotle said that a free person does things for his or her own sake while a slave is not self-moved but acts for the benefit of someone else. On the contrary, charity is free: “Charity has liberty as to its moving cause because it works of itself: ‘The love of Christ impels us’ spontaneously to work (2 Cor 5:14). But it is a servant when, putting one’s own interests aside, it devotes itself to things beneficial to the neighbor.”

St. Thomas affirms that we ourselves benefit by charity to others:

Now the benefit we obtain in fulfilling charity is of the highest order, because in it we fulfill the whole law; hence Paul says ‘For all the law is fulfilled in one word.’ Charity must be maintained, because the whole law is fulfilled in one word, namely, in the one precept of charity: ‘He who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law’ (Rom 13:8) and ‘Love is the fulfillment of the law’ (Rom 13:10) … ‘the aim of this instruction is love’ (1 Tim 1:5).

Can we really say that loving our neighbors fulfills the whole law? Isn’t this setting aside love of God? Thomas responds: “In the love of God is included love of neighbor: ‘This commandment we have from God, that he, who loves God, loves also his brother’ (1 Jn 4:21). Consequently, the whole law is fulfilled in one precept of charity. For the precepts of the law are reduced to that one precept.” Thomas attests that the first three commandments of the Decalogue concern love of God, and the other seven relate to love of neighbor.

According to Thomas, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lv 19:18) means: “… just as we will a good for our own sake, we will good for our neighbors as well: ‘I love my neighbor as myself in the same way that I love myself, when I will him a good for his sake, and not because it is useful or pleasant to me.’”

Thomas explains that each of us wants understanding and reason for ourselves and each of us desires to attain God: “You love your neighbor as yourself when you will him the good of understanding and reason… Just as you love yourself for the sake of God, so you love your neighbor for the sake of God, namely that he may attain to God.”

St. Paul cautions the Galatians that, if they go on biting and devouring each other, they will be consumed by each other (Gal 5:15). For Thomas, “biting one another” means giving partial hurt by slandering another’s good name whereas devouring the other is destroying another’s good name entirely.

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

The quotations from Thomas Aquinas are from Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, translated by F. R. Larcher, O.P., (Albany, NY: Magi Books Inc., 1965), pp. 162-166.