The Truth of Mercy
“And His mercy is from generation unto generations to them that fear Him.”
In a dire warning to his beloved Corinthians concerning the advent of false apostles within the Church of God, St. Paul writes the following:
“But I fear lest, as the serpent seduced Eve by his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted, and fall from the simplicity that is in Christ…For such false apostles are deceitful workmen, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no wonder: for Satan himself transformeth himself into an angel of light.” (2 Cor 11:3, 13-14).
If Satan is able to transform himself into the appearance of an angel of light in order to corrupt the human mind, this entails that he is able to corrupt language itself in order to pervert fundamental concepts and truths of the Catholic Faith. This is especially true of the virtues of faith, charity, and mercy. And it is pre-eminently true of the concept of love, which as we shall see is related to, but not strictly to be identified with, any of these virtues.
The “simplicity of Christ” of which Paul speaks requires that these virtues, in order to be lived truly by his faithful disciples, possess precise meanings and relationships to one another. It is by relativising and dissolving these precise meanings, and confusing their proper relationships, that the Devil is now enabled not only to promote a false mercy within the Church, but also to undermine all of Catholic moral doctrine. We need to have recourse to the teachings of St. Thomas if we are to unmask all of the deceits involved in this campaign.
The nature of these concepts and virtues requires that we consider them in a determined order and sequence. We therefore first consider the foundation of the entire Christian life:
But without faith it is impossible to please God. (Heb 11:6)
We are now being assaulted with the notion that the “New Evangelization” requires that mercy must supersede particular truths of our faith (and thus the intellectual virtue of faith itself) in order for us to truly live and reflect the love of Christ. Scripture is very effectively used to promote this idea. In one of the most famous passages in all of Holy Scripture, we read:
“We see now through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known. And now there remain faith, hope, and charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity.” (1 Cor 13: 12-13).
This scripture (and others) is used to promote the notion that Doctrines of our Faith, and pastoral practices which reflect these doctrines by preventing certain persons from receiving Holy Communion, are “intellectualizations“ which must be torn down, or at least de-emphasized, in order to promote a “new evangelization devoted to a charity and mercy which is superior to and supersedes such legalism. This view is succinctly expressed by Pope Francis in the following statement from his interview with Anthony Spadaro “The saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives.” This is tantamount to making the absurd claim that the saving love of God comes before God’s Will and Truth. As we shall see, such a view falsifies not only faith, but also the virtues of charity and mercy which it falsely claims to champion.
St. Thomas, in answering the question “Whether Faith is the First of the Virtues”, writes:
“The Apostle says (Heb. Xi. 1) that faith is the substance of things to be hoped for. Now the substance of a thing is that which comes first. Therefore faith is first among the virtues.” (II-II, Q.4,A.7).
Thomas goes on to say that “Faith, by its very nature, precedes all other virtues.” This is so because “the last end must of necessity be present to the intellect [through faith] before it is present to the will, since the will has no inclination for anything except in so far as it is apprehended by the intellect.” (Ibid.).
The “last end” of which Thomas speaks is union with God in the Beatific Vision. St. Thomas writes, “Final and perfect happiness can consist in nothing else than the vision of the Divine Essence.” (I-II, Q.3, A.8). And just as faith precedes all other virtues in this life, so the fulfillment of the intellect in seeing the Essence of God in the Beatific Vision is the source of that rectitude of will (and therefore of love and charity) which of necessity will last for all eternity. In the words of Thomas, “Now it is impossible for anyone seeing the Divine Essence, to wish not to see It.” (I-II, Q.5, A.4). So while it is certainly true that faith will cease in Heaven because it is fulfilled in the Beatific Vision, the primacy of the intellect and the Absolute Truths of God to which it is united in this Vision remains. In image of the life of the Holy Trinity, love and charity (both of which are functions of the will) must always proceed from Truth, just as the Holy Spirit of Love must proceed from the Truth Who is Christ.
It is obvious, therefore, that the primacy of faith necessarily corresponds to the primacy of the intellect in relation to the constitution of man’s soul. There has existed a long tradition of theology within the Church which opposes this truth, and which would seek to place such primacy in the will. Recently, I was sent the following passages from the writings of Duns Scotus, which typify this erroneous tradition. I quote it here in order to expose the seriousness of this error, and to serve as means of contrasting it with the clarity of St. Thomas’ teaching:
“Within the human soul, the intellect and the will, truly separate but the relationship between them is such that chronologically the act of knowing precedes the act of willing. According to the famous saying that by now you all know well nothing can be willed unless it is first known. On the other hand, though it cannot be denied that nothing has as much power over the will than the will itself. Now, by which doctor has this authority been attested to? Augustine? Yes.
“Now since we have established that the will does take precedence tell me which is more righteous: wanting what is good or knowing what is good? (Student response). Well I believe knowing what is good does not necessarily make us good. But wanting the good and acting on it does.
“Then ultimately the will is far more perfect than knowledge because the corruption of the will is even worse when compared to the corruption of knowledge. Is it not worse to hate God than to not know Him and think of Him?
“In the power to choose we have a great responsibility for our actions. Which is the more noble strength. Our own will or the intellect? (Student response) The will.” [passages rendered in bold print to facilitate further referencing].
First of all, we need to expose the superficiality involved in Dun Scotus’ claim that the intellect and will are “truly separate”. St. Thomas rightly designates the will as the intellectual appetency. Intellect and will are distinct, but not “separate”. It is therefore a real deception to reduce the precedence of the intellect to a “chronological” precedence. One truly cannot will what one does not know. The intellect and its knowledge are therefore causative to the will. The will could not exist or function without being rooted in the intellect, and in some sort of knowledge.
At the same time, the will is causative towards the intellect. Thomas is careful to point out that faith itself, while being an intellectual virtue, is dependent on the will, moved by God’s grace, itself moving the intellect to assent. This is integral to the act of faith itself since it is by its very definition an assent to things which are “seen not” or are only seen “darkly”. But even this movement of the will in “causing” the act of faith is dependent on knowledge – knowledge of God’s Revelation, and of course all the lesser forms of knowledge of God’s existence, goodness, truth, beauty, etc, as naturally experienced in encountering His creation. In other words, the relationship between intellect and will mirrors the interior life of the Trinity. Just as the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Word, so the human will must proceed from the intellect’s knowledge of Truth if it is to be a “true” love.
It is certainly true that “knowing what is good does not necessarily make us good”. Innumerable reasons account for this. One may lack the fortitude to do what is good, concupiscence may override our knowledge, we may choose a lesser good over a greater good, etc. But the fact remains that “wanting and willing what is good” requires knowledge as a causative precedence. The will always remains the intellectual appetency.
It is also true that it is “worse to hate God than to not know Him and think of Him”. But to conclude from this that “ultimately the will is far more perfect than knowledge” (the intellect and its proper object) is an absurdity. As we have seen, the fulfillment of human life is the direct vision of God which we call the Beatific Vision. This is an act of the intellect (having received what theologians refer to as the Grace of Glory). It is this intellectual Vision (we shall see and know Him “face to face”) which also perfects the will by making it impossible that it ever turn away from God. St. John rightly says that “perfect charity casteth out fear…” (1 John 4:18), but charity is itself perfected, in total security and without fear, in the Beatific Vision.
In other words, in this life in which our intellects see God only in a “dark manner” through faith, which is an anticipation of the Beatific Vision, there can be no charity without this faith. And, most significant for our understanding of the relationship between faith and charity, “Just as mortal sin is contrary to charity, so is disbelief in one article of faith contrary to faith. Now charity does not remain in a man after one mortal sin. Therefore neither does faith, after a man disbelieves one article.” (II-II, Q.5, A.3). For someone to culpably doubt or disbelieve in even one article of our Faith therefore necessitates that charity totally ceases to exist in such a person. Any notion, therefore, that the demands of charity can supersede faith, or contradict faith, is a profound delusion of Satan.
Finally, it must also be said that in this life there can be a certain nobility of love over intellect, because a person can love God with a perfection which cannot be paralleled by a corresponding perfection of intellectual vision in this life. But this is a condition of this present life in which faith rules, and not vision. It still remains that faith must possess a precedence over love. To elevate the will to any kind of ontological superiority over the intellect, and consequently grant a determining precedence of love over faith, always entails entering upon a path of corruption of both faith and love. Ultimately, the supreme perfection of man lies in the intellect and its vision of God, and this must be reflected in this life as the primacy of faith.
If the will is given precedence over the intellect (Volutarism), then this gives rise to a whole host of “spiritualities” subject to irrationality and false mysticisms. It inevitably postulates an “Energy” (often falsely identified with the work of the Holy Spirit), or “Force of Love” to be worshipped (and obeyed) above, and independent from, Objective Truth. This of course ends in the most profound subjectivism. It is this triumph of “subjectivism” which is really both the beginning and end of this whole process. One leaves St. Thomas because of this occult hunger for subjective originality, and one ends up by having turned everything – from the Cross to human psychology – upside down. The interior of man becomes the ruler of God. And, oftentimes, this is done with such “subtlety” as to be able to successfully masquerade this perversion as the deepest and most profound spirituality.
Having established the primacy of faith, we are now in position to examine the concepts of love, charity, and mercy .It is a very common error to equate charity and love, and this is the source of a great deal of confusion and error. Before examining the supernatural virtue of charity itself (a necessary prelude to examining mercy), we therefore need to examine the nature of love.
According to Thomas, love can simply be defined as an “appetency for the good” (or what is perceived as good). It exists on three levels.
First, there is a natural appetite, implanted in all living creatures by God, and by which they tend to possess a natural love for themselves and maintain their own existence. This involves no knowledge or self-awareness on their part, but arises from an apprehension which is in the Author of their being (in other words, God knows what they need and orders their nature to what is good for them). We rightly speak on this level, for instance, when we say that the plants in our garden “love” the sunshine or spring rain. This is classically referred to as the “vegetative” appetite. Such “love” is also one part of man’s nature.
Secondly,there is sense appetite which arises from sense apprehension within the subject of the appetite, but from necessity and not free will. This we associate with irrational animals, or with the lower, “animal” part of man’s nature. Thus, we can speak of a dog “loving” to chase a stick, or even “loving” his master. Or we can speak of a man “loving” his whiskey.
Third, there is intellectual appetite (which is called the will) which arises from the free choice of a spiritual being possessing intellect and free will. This sort of appetite belongs only to spiritual beings.
All of this, as we can see, makes love a very complicated thing. Man possesses love on all three levels, and they interact with one another. It is astonishing to seriously consider the extent and ramifications of our use of the word love. I love God, I love my wife and children, I love to fish, I love pizza, I love my new hat. The lesbian loves her partner, the sadist loves to see people suffer, the ISIS soldier loves to kill Christians.
All of these are real acts of love on one level or another, with tremendously varying degrees of truth, or perversion of the truth, determining what is pursued as “good”. But the fact is that all of these indeed do involve love. What makes love immeasurably complicated is that it runs the gamut from the most unconscious and insensitive part of human nature, through all the passions, and finally to the highest act of charity. When we combine this with the fact that even the worst evil can be perceived by some people as good, and thus loved, there would seem to be no limit to the number of “loves” possible to the human heart. Love is undoubtedly the most “universal” of words, and therefore the most easily misunderstood, misused, and manipulated of all the words in our English language. Our Lord asked his disciples whether they thought that there would be any faith left when He returns. In light of recent history, this can indeed be seen as a legitimate question. We may be assured, however, that at His coming there will be many loves.
Any good Catholic will probably feel repelled by the above analysis of love. It is rightly natural for us as Christians to wish to protect the word “love” from anything “low”. After all, we read in Scripture that God is Love, that God so loved the world that He sent His Son to die for us, and that husbands and wives are to love one another as Christ loves His Church.
Part of the problem, of course, is that in English we have only one word for love (unlike some languages – Greek, for instance). And although this word does have a legitimate, common use in terms of human psychology as analyzed above, Satan has become a master at destroying our language, concepts, and faith through false mixing of all these various “loves”. We therefore find ourselves in dire need of a crystal-clear concept and word which will extract us from this quick-sand of confusion. That word, and concept, is charity. There is only one kind of love which can and should, in terms of Catholic understanding, be called “charity”.
St. Thomas defines charity as “the friendship of man for God”. (ST, II-II, Q.1, A.1). At first, this might seem to us a rather dull definition. We tend to think of friendship as something less than love. This is not true of the friendship between God and man. St. Thomas writes:
“It is written (John 15:15): I will not now call you servants…but My friends. Now this was said to them by reason of nothing else than charity. Therefore charity is friendship.” (Ibid).
To read carefully the entirety of John 15 is to see the nature of this friendship revealed in depth. It entails the elevation of man to the state of fully abiding in the love and truth of God. To raise man to this friendship is the reason why Christ sacrificed Himself on the Cross: “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13). In the light of this teaching to be found in this chapter of John, the concept of friendship takes on a whole new depth of meaning. It reaches to the greatest depths of God’s love for man. When man responds through conversion, it establishes that state which we term “living in the state of sanctifying grace”. In Thomas’ words, “Charity is the life of the soul, even as the soul is the life of the body.” (Ibid, A.2). Correspondingly, the soul that does not possess charity does not possess sanctifying grace, is not in the state of friendship with God, and is spiritually dead.
As we have seen, love can be defined as an “appetency for the good”. Charity can therefore be identified with the supreme love which seeks God in all things. Thus, in proving that charity is not something which stops at God, but also extends to our neighbor, Thomas writes,
“Now the aspect under which our neighbor is to be loved, is God, since what we ought to love in our neighbor is that he may be in God. Hence it is clear that it is specifically the same act whereby we love God, and whereby we love our neighbor. Consequently the habit of charity extends not only to the love of God, but also to the love of our neighbor.” (II-II, Q.25, A.1).
Charity is therefore a supernatural virtue which cannot abide with the darkness of either serious error or mortal sin. Moreover, we cannot speak of exercising charity towards our neighbors unless our primary love is expressed in the effort “that he may be in God.” Towards all those living in the darkness of unbelief or serious error this necessitate our working to convert them to the Catholic Faith. To those living in serious sin it requires our working for their moral conversion. We are friends with neither God nor our neighbor if we ignore, or are silent, in regard to this mandate from Christ.
It is at this point that charity and love can be seen as identical. Charity is constituted as loving God above and in all things, and all things in God. It is also here, therefore, that our language concerning Christian love of our neighbor becomes fully clarified. If, for instance, we examine a Greek-English concordance of the New Testament, we will find that the Greek word that is used for this love of our neighbor is the same as the word for charity. Agapao is employed for the verb form, to love. Agape is used for the noun charity. And agape is defined as that specific form of love which is friendship. All true love of our neighbor therefore becomes identified with that virtue of charity which seeks his friendship in God. And since “it is impossible to please God without faith”, it is impossible to please God without seeking the conversion to the Catholic faith of those who are in mortal sin, or those who do not possess that faith.
There is therefore no charity, or true love of our neighbor in a silence or complicity which lies down in friendship with error and sin. Moreover, we cannot claim to retain our own friendship with Christ if we become advocates of such a silence in pursuit of a false mercy: “Adulterers, know you not that the friendship of this world is the enemy of God?” (James 4:4).
Posing the question as to “Whether Mercy Is the Greatest of Virtues” (II-II, Q.30, A.4), Thomas offers the following conclusion: “The Apostle after saying (Col. Iii, 12): Put ye on…as the elect of God…the bowels of mercy, etc., adds (verse 14): Above all things have charity. Therefore mercy is not the greatest of virtues.”
In accord with the teaching of St. Thomas, we must carefully distinguish mercy as it is proper to God, from that which is proper to man. Mercy can only be considered the greatest of virtues as it is applied to God Who is “greater than all others, surpassed by none and excelling all”. God’s mercy in creating angels and men from nothingness, and his further act of calling them to share in the inner life of the Godhead, can therefore be seen in a light which views mercy as His supreme attribute. This, according to Thomas, is not true for man, “since for him that has anyone above him it is better to be united to that which is above than to supply the defect of that which is beneath. Hence, as regards man who has God above him, charity which unites him to God, is greater than mercy…”
And, Thomas concludes:
“The sum total of the Christian religion consists in mercy, as regards external works: but the inward love of charity whereby we are united to God preponderates over both love and mercy for our neighbor.”
As we have seen, the exercise of mercy “as regards external works” is subject to the rule of charity, while the existence of charity within the human soul is subject to the demands of faith. We therefore have a hierarchy in regard to the virtues we have been examining, and which can be enumerated as follows:
1). Mercy, as practiced by man, must be subjected to the demands of charity (the theological virtue of love). And since charity can only be defined as living in friendship with God in the state of sanctifying grace, any action on our part towards our neighbor which compromises or denies the demands of this friendship represents a false mercy. Such, for instance, would include any agenda to admit the divorced and remarried, homosexuals, or those practicing contraception to sacramental communion. This would constitute sacrilege, and sacrilege is the supreme act by which charity is defiled.
2). Charity itself must be subjected to the demands of faith. As Thomas writes, “charity is the form of faith”, because it is to be identified with that love of God which submits fully to God as He has revealed Himself. There can be no charity where faith is denied., compromised, or hidden behind a wall of silence.
3) In all of this, faith is the “first of the virtues”, because only a mind united to the Revealed Truths of God can be the source of that rectitude of will which expresses itself in charity and friendship with God, and in true love and mercy towards our neighbor.
It may be truly concluded, therefore, that recent efforts in pursuit of a false mercy which seek to de-emphasize the intellectual and doctrinal content of the Faith mask a Satanically-inspired hatred of the soul of man. This does not mean that the bishops, priests, religious, or laity who promote such an agenda personally possess this hatred themselves. In order to be effective tools for the accomplishment of this agenda, it is only necessary that they be moved away from certain foundational principles of all Catholic thinking and faith. St. Paul writes: “Yet now he hath reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unspotted, and blameless before him: If so ye continue in the faith, grounded and settled, and immoveable from the hope of the gospel which you have heard…’ (Col 1:22-23).