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.
When Christ was asked what the greatest commandment was, He responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37–39). Implicit in these two commandments is that we also love ourselves. There are several reasons we should love ourselves. First, we are commanded to love God with all of our being. We are made in God’s image, so at very least, what we love in God is also reflected in ourselves. To love God properly, then, means that we also love His image in ourselves. Second, we are commanded to love our neighbor, again, because our neighbor is also made in the image of God. So what we love in God and ourselves is also present in our neighbor and merits this love. As St. Thomas put it, “As the object known is in the knower to the extent that it is known, so the beloved must be in the lover, as loved.” Proper love desires the highest good for the beloved, so if we love our neighbor and wish them the highest good, God, it is natural to wish this highest good for ourselves as well. In this love, we find the motivation to seek what is best in life.
Ashley notes that we are made so that we seek our own happiness.[i] Proper self-love does so without placing the self above God. Citing St. Thomas, he notes that God is always to be loved above all else and that we must love the bodily good of our neighbor more than our own external goods:[ii] “Now you love yourself suitably when you love God better than yourself. What then, you aim at in yourself you must aim at in your neighbor, namely that he may love God with a perfect affection.”[iii] So self-love is both proper and necessary, but always in the proper order and to the proper degree.
i. Thomas Aquinas, Aquinas’s Shorter Summa, (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2002) 41.
ii. Benedict Ashley, “Moral Theology: Lecture 5B—Lesson Ten,” International Catholic University, 18 March 2010, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00310.htm.
iii. Benedict Ashley, Living the Truth in Love: A Biblical Introduction to Moral Theology, (Staten Island: St. Pauls, 1996), 443.
iv. Ibid., 444.