Love and Development: On the Fundamental Law of Human Perfection

To continue the theme of the internal belonging-together of love and solidarity, and of liturgy and social justice, I offer a few thoughts on words from the Second Vatican Council found in a section entitled “On human activity brought to perfection in the Paschal Mystery.”

That is, a very late evening made later by springing forward (arghh!) must yet be rounded out by a comment on Saturday’s second matins reading, which comes from Vatican II’s pastoral constitution, Gaudium et spes. Number 38 I think the most crucial passage in the document next to numbers 22 and 24. It contains what could well be the most important statement for decoding Catholic social doctrine: “It is [the Word of God] Who reveals to us that ‘God is love’ and at the same time teaches us that the fundamental law of human perfection, and therefore of the world’s transformation, is the new command of love.”

Love (and its intrinsic aspect of mercy) is the essence of Christianity, because the Trinitarian religion is the religion of the fact that God is love, which is the fact that WHAT IS is the mutuality of Persons Whose personalities are derived simply from Their way of giving and receiving vis-à-vis the Others. From this Trinitarian reality flow the world and history. 

Why is our deepest desire to love and be loved? Because God is Trinity. Why do we yearn for universal fraternity? Because being is Trinitarian. The semantic range of the concept of love does not arise from vagueness: love simply IS what IS, though prismated down through all the analogical levels of being.

The council fathers connect this Trinitarian fact to the ultimate revelation of the Trinitarian mystery, which occurs in the Pachal Mystery of Jesus Christ. And the constitution for the Kingdom that flows from the Paschal Mystery is summed up by the Lord Himself, as the Passion was beginning, in the “new command of love”: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34). Love, of course, is the truth of Jesus’ Judaism also (love God and love neighbor), but the Old Covenant is Trinified, and therefore universalized, in the event of Jesus’ loving us to the end. This limitless, divine love, the love Who is the Holy Spirit of the Father and Son’s constitutive reciprocity, flows ecclesially and sacramentally from the pierced Heart of Jesus. In Christ, we love God and love neighbor with divine love, a love that is preemptive, unilateral, and all in favor of the enemy. 

It is this love that Saint James calls THE Kingdom law (James 2:8). And so it is.

The council fathers apply this Kingdom law to both personal and universal development. Pope Benedict in one of the great social encyclicals, Caritas in veritate, places all of Catholic social doctrine under the most clarifying concept of “integral human development.” And if I may be provocative, it is clearly adumbrated there, as it is here in Gaudium et spes, that the normative society is “an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.” Okay, I’m having fun quoting The Communist Manifesto. Let me be clear, the simultaneously libertarian and statist hocus-pocus of communism is not the answer. The answer is the new command of love lived out intelligently according to the circumstances on the ground in any given society.

That is, the council fathers adroitly and correctly tether the flourishing of any given moral agent to social progress: the perfection of any one of us cannot be abstracted from the communities in which we are embedded (as Aristotle would already have insisted), all the way up to the consubstantial community of humanity as such, synchronic and diachronic. There is no perfection, that is, no salvation, of the human person in isolation. The body politic is essential to human perfection, and therefore ultimate human perfection (revealed to be deification) can only occur in the Body of Christ, that is, in the instrumentality bent on universal salvation.

Without Trinitarian love, each person is stillborn, and the world powerless to be born. 

That’s enough for now. Let me end by quoting the lines that follow in Gaudium et spes: “[The Word of God] gives those who believe in divine love the conviction that the way of love is open to all people and that the attempt to establish worldwide fellowship is not a delusion. At the same time He enjoins that this love is to be pursued not just in great matters but above all in the ordinary circumstances of life. Undergoing death on behalf of all of us sinners, He teaches us by His example the need to carry the Cross which the flesh and the world lay upon those who pursue peace and justice.” 

The universal call to holiness means the little way of Saint Thérèse means vicarious suffering means mercy, mercy, mercy for every single agonized human, no exception. The mission of the Christian: to be Christ’s bleeding instrument in the reconciliation of each person to God and to every other, so that God may be all in all, so that we may each be filled with the fullness of God, so that we may love one another as Jesus has loved us — to the end, into the limitless.