NOTE: This is one in a series of posts from my moral theology assignments. They are intended to be brief responses. In many cases, the topics could be extensively explored, but that was not the intent of the assignment.
Jesus says, in all three of the synoptic gospels, that the two greatest commandments are to love God and to love our neighbor (Matt. 22:37–38; Mark 12:30–31; Luke 10:27). In Matthew 22:40, He adds, “On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets,” a statement very similar to what he makes in 7:12: “So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.” Love, then, is not simply an emotion or fine feeling one has toward others. It is in our actions, or as the once popular song by D.C. Talk says, “Love is a verb.” It is what one does, not merely what one feels. In addition, Christ equates these commandments to love with the whole of the Law and the Prophets, which as a whole, elucidated the commandments in terms of just behavior. The two greatest commandments reflect the two broad divisions of the Decalogue: those commandments pertaining to love and justice toward God and those pertaining to our neighbor, including those who gave us life.
True love demands that we desire what is best for the beloved, desiring their perfect happiness.[i] Their happiness, in part, depends on the respect we give to their rights. A right is something that is due to a person based on either their basic human needs (primary rights) or on their role in society (secondary rights).[ii] Ashley notes that the “formal object of justice is to render what is due to a person.”[iii] Each one of the Ten Commandments addresses something that is due to another, whether it is due to God, to our parents, or to our neighbor. When they are deprived of their rights unjustly, we deny them in part what they need for happiness. Unjust action, then, is directly contrary to the law of love. Justice is, itself, “in the service of love.”[iv]
Some Christians presume upon God’s mercy, neglecting the moral law out of a misunderstanding of the interrelation between mercy and justice. Without justice, there can be no mercy, which follows only from God’s love for us. However, likewise, without justice, there can be no true love. God’s love for us demands that we are allowed what we need for our perfect happiness. Justice requires that we give to each other what their rights demand.[v] Love goes beyond this basic requirement to give them even that to which “they have no just claims.”[vi] Justice, then, is a constituent of love.
i. Benedict Ashley, “Moral Theology: Lecture 7b—Lesson Fourteen,” International Catholic University, 17 April 2010, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00314.htm.
ii. Bendict Ashley, Living the Truth in Love: A Biblical Introduction to Moral Theology, (Staten Island: St. Pauls, 1996), 281.
iii. Ibid., 274.
iv. Ashley, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00314.htm.
v. Ashley, 272.
vi. Ibid., 274.