2012 - Vol. 63.
Love and Friendship
in Thomas Aquinas, continued
2 Friendship With God
In the second article of question 23, the doctrine of love as friendship
between God and man is once again deepened in a crucial way. The point
of departure is the statement by Peter Lombard (d. 1160), the Master of
the Sentences, that love is not something created but rather the
Holy Spirit himself, who dwells in our soul. In other words, God himself
is the love in us. On account of its greatness and preeminent importance,
love cannot be something created; it must be immediately divine – indeed,
God himself. At first reading, that sounds very pious and sublime. Thomas,
however, makes it clear that this makes love, not greater, but fundamentally
smaller. In what way?
If the Holy Spirit himself were the love in us, then it would not be
an act or an attitude (habitus) of the man. For then loving would
not be up to us; it would not depend on our will. We ourselves would not
love, but God in us would be loving himself. Here we come across the central
point in the anthropology of Saint Thomas, which has implications for all
areas of human life. Love would not be love and could not be friendship
if it were not also, on the part of man, a genuine, human act (that is,
voluntary and rational). If we were moved “passively” to love, like a tool
in the hand of a craftsman, then it would not be love, for, as the first
article demonstrated, when love is friendship, then reciprocity is an essential
feature of it.
But that is precisely what God enables us to do through the communication
of himself, whereby he makes us capable of establishing a friendship with
him. Thomas formulates it in his own language as follows: In order to be
able to love God in friendship, we need a capability that surpasses our
natural abilities and makes us “connatural” with God, so to speak, a capability
that makes it possible for us really to love God and to be united to him
The explanations of Saint Thomas in the second article are also a textbook
example of his method, from which we can learn much. Only in the rarest
cases do we find polemics in Thomas. He always tries to strengthen the
arguments of those whose viewpoint he does not share. Since he is quite
objectively concerned about the truth, he strives to emphasize the portion
of truth found in other positions, however unlike his own. This becomes
evident precisely in this article. As a young professor he wrote a commentary
on the Sentences of Master Peter Lombard, which was then the usual
university textbook. Hence he respectfully presents the Master’s postulate,
too. Just as respectful is the way in which he corrects that position:
“If we consider the matter aright, this (that is, the Master’s position)
would be, on the contrary, detrimental to charity [love].” Now the
Master was part of the Augustinian tradition, and in reference to Augustine
(d. 430), Thomas carefully notes that this manner of speaking (namely,
identifying the love in man with God himself) was customary among the Platonic
philosophers and that Augustine had been steeped (imbutus) in Platonic
teachings. This led to many errors, which Thomas carefully but clearly
We do not show any particular loyalty to Saint Thomas by defending his
opinions as polemically as possible against all other possible viewpoints.
We imitate his thought and his virtues to the extent that our search for
truth motivates us to consult it wherever we find traces of it. Saint Thomas
could never have integrated Aristotle so intensively had he not been supported
by the conviction that Christ, the Eternal Word, is the Truth that enlightens
every man. Wherever a ray of the light of truth can be found, it is important
to inquire, to listen, so as to greet with joy the truth that is manifesting
itself. Part of this, of course, is a constant willingness to expose and
refute errors for the sake of truth. Both of these, however, greeting the
truth and refuting error, require that one be well prepared to converse.
Saint Thomas incomparably conducted a dialogue with all the masters of
the past and the present. There is probably no better or more reliable
guide to a Christian culture of dialogue than Saint Thomas.
Quaestio 23 indicates, so to speak, the anthropological and theological
foundation on which this truly Christian and humanistic attitude of Saint
Thomas is based: his image of God and man. There can be friendship only
when there is genuine reciprocity in freedom: mutuus amor, mutua inhaesio,
a real togetherness with and in each other.
The great thing about Saint Thomas’ image of God is that he sees God,
not only as the First Cause of everything, but also as being so powerful
and great that he has given his creatures the power to be causes themselves,
the ability to work on their own and not just passively to be moved by
the supreme principle, by the First Cause.
Especially today it would be very timely and important to study carefully
Saint Thomas’ discussion with Islamic philosophy, especially that of Averroes.
Thomas fought with all the power of his mind against Averroes’ teaching
that God alone is the cause of all. God is not exalted by diminishing his
creatures. His true greatness is manifested, not in the complete powerlessness
of creatures, but rather in their empowerment to be able to work on their
own as causes.
The consequence of this view is the whole breadth of the Catholic understanding
of secondary causes, of the relative autonomy of secular areas of activity.
In my opinion it could be demonstrated that the scientific culture of countries
with a Christian character has to do with this view of the independent
efficacy of creatures. One would have to show, furthermore, how the Western
understanding of participation and democracy developed out of this view.
The consequences of Christian humanism become particularly evident in the
area of human dignity and human rights.
Of course one would also have to discuss the dangers inherent in this
humanism, which come to light when the dependence of the secondary causes
on the First Cause is denied, when the autonomy of the world and of man
forgets that it is creaturely and arrogates to itself an independence that
it does not in fact possess.
There is probably no better place to study this paradox and to take
it to heart than the treatise of Saint Thomas on love as friendship: the
paradox of the freedom granted to man by God, of the reciprocity between
the Eternal One and us that is made possible by God, of the real friendship
between him, the Infinite One, and us, his mortal creatures.
1: Is Love Friendship? by Christoph Schönborn
God, and Man, by Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, Chapter 2,
© 2011 Ignatius
Press, San Francisco. Used with permission.]
|Christoph Cardinal Schonborn,
the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Vienna, is a highly respected spiritual
teacher and writer, and a former student of Pope Benedict XVI. He has written
numerous books including Jesus, the Divine Physician, Chance
or Purpose?, Behold, God's Son.
Christ, our true friend,
down his life for us
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)
it necessary for the Son of God to suffer for us? It was very necessary
and for two counts: First as a remedy for our sins, and secondly as a model
for us in our behavior.
the passion of Christ we find a remedy for all the evils which come upon
us on account of our sins.
the passion is not less useful to us as an example. Indeed the passion
of Christ is sufficient to instruct us completely in our whole life. For
if any one wants to live a perfect life, he has only to despise the things
that Christ despised on the cross, and to desire what Christ desired. The
cross provides an example of every virtue.
you are looking for an example of charity, ‘Greater love has no man than
this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’ This was what Christ
did on the cross. If he gave up his life for us, it ought not to be a burden
for us to put up with every evil, whatever it be, for his sake.
you are looking for patience, you will find it in its highest form on the
cross. The greatness of patience is measured by two things, either when
someone puts up patiently with grievous things, or when he suffers things
which he could have evaded but did not. Christ suffered greatly and with
patience on the cross: ‘when he suffered he did not threaten; like a lamb
that is led to slaughter, he opened not his mouth.’
is how great was the patience of Christ on the cross: ‘Let us run with
perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer
and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him, endured
the cross, despising the shame.’
you are looking for an example of humility, look at the cross. There, God
willed to be judged by Pontius Pilate and to die.
you are looking for an example of obedience, follow him who was obedient
to the Father, even unto death. ‘For as by one man’s disobedience’, (this
refers to Adam), ‘many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many
will be made righteous.’
from Conferences on the Creed, Chapter 6]