At RORATE, Dr. John Lamont, an outstanding Catholic thinker, has claimed that Vatican II, at Gaudium et spes 24, contradicts the Scriptures. GS 24 reads: “The love of God and neighbor is the first and greatest commandment.”
But at MT 22:35ff, our Lord states that the first and greatest commandment is to love God above all things and with one’s entire mind, will, and strength. The second commandment is to love neighbor as one loves oneself.
That this is an apparent contradiction, granted.
That, were GS 24 read so as to make equal the love of God and the love of neighbor, the result would be a heretical thesis, granted.
That, were GS 24 read so as to conflate the two distinct (though related) commandments, the result would be a heretical thesis, granted.
That many people since Vatican II have read the text this way, or now interpret Christianity as though love of neighbor were parallel to and not subordinate to love of God above all things, granted. That therefore many people are in a state of objective heresy, granted. That we have on our hands throughout the Catholic world a heresy of man-centrism, granted. That this is one of the crucial problems in our times, granted.
However, my counsel is always this: Never contradict dogma and/or revelation. Thus, no matter what we find in any text, written by whoever, we must never contradict dogma. We must never, even as a result of reading a Magisterial text, entertain a heretical thesis. To do so is anathema.
Whether GS 24 must be read in antithesis to Mt 22, doubtful. For why not read it as a literary device: Perhaps “the first and greatest” stands for “the first two commandments, of which the first is greatest”. Or something like this.
That the wording is unfortunate, since in Magisterial texts one expects precision to increase over time and ambiguity to decrease. Also, the Magisterium is not tasked with replacing or substituting for but clarifying revelation. The Magisterium is but a servant.
In this way, the Magisterium itself decreases so as to let the light of the Lord shine. It is therefore unfortunate that GS 24 is not unambiguous. Our Lord is quite unambiguous. Is there any value to the lack of ambiguity? Not as such.
However, there is a necessary connection between the two loves and the two commandments. Such that, if we do not love our neighbor, and people can kind of see that!, we demonstrate that we do not love God. Hence, love of neighbor is first in the order of knowledge: That means, we lowly humans can tell that X does not love God if X does not love his neighbor. However, the two loves are, though inseparable, hierarchically ordered.
Thus, in the end, the most important thing is to come away with the truth: The love of God above all things is the first and greatest commandment and act. The love of neighbor, as one loves oneself, is the second commandment, and a necessary result of true love of God. Neither can we love our neighbor if we do not love God, for we love our neighbor rightly only if we love him for God’s sake and in God, nor would we love God should we not love our neighbor, since love of God includes love of all his rational creatures.
We might take opportunity to place love of the physical environment in place. It would be third in place. We love the environment, not for its own sake, but precisely as the home in which we dwell, as the resources we need, as the speech of God through traces, as a vestige of God. We do not love the environment for its own sake. Our ill use of the environment is a sin against ourselves. It may be rooted in individualism, which sees everything as an opportunity for the self. The environment’s use must correspond with the common good of man.