The Motive for Fraternal Charity

This meditation is from:



258. PRESENCE OF GOD – O Lord, teach me how to love You in my neighbour and to love my neighbour in You and for You.


1 There are not two virtues of charity, one the love of God and the other the love of neighbour; for the charity by which we love God and the neighbour is one and the same. We love God because He is infinitely loveable, and we love the neighbour because faith teaches us to recognise in him a reflection of the lovableness of God. The motive for fraternal charity is the same as the motive for loving God, as we must always love God either directly in Himself or indirectly in the neighbour. Because fraternal charity has God for its ultimate object and last end, it is identical with the theological virtue by which we love God.

Certainly God holds the first place! To Him, the infinite Good, we owe absolute preference above all other loves. The love of God, however, includes the love of the neighbour so that we love him in and for God, that is, because of his relation to God, and because he belongs to God. ‘God is the motive for loving the neighbour,’ says St Thomas, ‘which proves that the act by which we love God is the same as that by which we love the neighbour. Hence the virtue of charity does not stop at the love of God, but it also includes love of neighbour.’ ,,, When one truly loves God, the neighbour is also loved, just as he is, in spite of his faults and the annoyance and trouble which he may sometimes cause; for instead of regarding these things, one looks much further and tries to see God in the brethren. With one’s glance fixed on Him, and because of Him (propter Deum), all are loved without distinction or restriction.

Such a soul readily understands the profound logic of the Apostle’s words: ‘If any man say I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a lair. For he that loveth not his brother whom he seeth, how can he love God whom he seeth not? And this commandment we have from God, that he who loveth God, love also his brother.’ (1 Jn 4,20.21).

2. If I love my neighbour because he is congenial, render me service or sympathizes with me, or because I enjoy his friendship, if I love him because of his fine qualities and pleasing manners, my love is merely human and is not the love of charity. If I am good to my neighbour and help him because I am sorry for him or feel bound to him by human ties, my love may be called sympathy or philanthropy, but it cannot yet be called charity, because the characteristic of charity is to love one’s neighbour ‘propter Deum’ for God. My love becomes the virtue of charity only to the degree in which the love of God enters into it, only insofar as this love for my brethren is inspired by my love for God. The more my love is based on human motives alone- like congeniality, natural gifts, ties of blood- the more it is simply human love which has nothing of the merit and value of charity. ‘Love of neighbour is not meritorious if the neighbour is not loved because of God’ (St Thomas ). This is what St Paul meant when he said: ‘If I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor…and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.’ (1 Cor 13,3).

It is easy to deceive ourselves, thinking we have great charity because we love those who love us, because we are very thoughtful and full of attention towards those who think as we do, or who are close to us, while in reality, it is a question of purely natural love into which the love of God hardly enters. ‘If you love [only] them that love you,’ Jesus said, ‘what reward shall you have?….Do not also the heathens this?’ (Mt 5,46.47). If I want my love for my neighbour to be charity, I must transcend the natural and contemplate my neighbour in God, loving him in relation to God and because of God. Only in this way will my love for my neighbour be an act of theological virtue of charity, the same act with which I love God; only thus shall I find the precept of fraternal charity.


‘As You, O God, have created man to your image and likeness, so You have commanded us to love men with a love similar to that due to Your divinity. The reason we love men with a love similar to that due to Your divinity. The reason why we love You, O Lord, is Your sovereignly high and infinite goodness, and the reason why we love men is because they have all been created to your image and likeness, so that we love them as holy, living images of your divinity.

‘The same charity with which we love You, O Lord, is the source of the acts with which we love our neighbour; it elevates us to the union of our spirit with You, my God, and it brings us back to loving society with our neighbour, but in such a way that we love him because he is created to Your image and likeness, created to share in Your divine goodness, to particulate in Your grace and enjoy your glory.

‘To love our neighbour with the love of charity is to love You, my God, in man, and man in You; it is to love You alone for the love of Yourself, and to love creatures for love of You.

‘O God of goodness! When we look at our neighbour created to Your image and likeness, should we not say to one another: See how much this person resembles the Creator? Should we not embrace him, caress him and weep with love over him? Should we not give him many blessings? And why? For love of him? No, certainly not, for we do not know whether he, of himself, is worthy of love or of hatred. Then why? For love of You, O Lord, who created him to Your image and likeness, and made him capable of participating in Your goodness, grace and glory. Therefore, O Love Divine, You have not only commanded us many times to love our neighbour, but You, Yourself, instill this love in our hearts’, (St Francis de Sales).”

(1) Father Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen OCD., Baronius Press, MMXIV, The Tenth to Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, at pp. 751-754.

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