The First and Greatest Commandment:

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.

22 thoughts on “The First and Greatest Commandment:

  1. Yes, thank you, Amen. This reverent and reconciliatory approach to ambiguous or seemingly contradictory magisterial texts reminds of something St. Thomas says in several places (e.g., Ia q31 a4 and Ia q39 a5 ad1): exponenda non extendenda sunt. I.e., show how the text doesn’t contradict dogma, but don’t spread the use of ambiguous phraseology among the people lest they fall into error. The Faith is to be elucidated not obscured.

  2. Also, note how in Mt 22 that Christ says that the second commandment is LIKE the first. St. Thomas (in his commentary) has this to say:

    “But why does He say that it is like the first? Because WHEN MAN IS LOVED, GOD IS LOVED IN HIM since man is [made] according to the image of God; therefore [the second command] is similar to the first command which is of the love of God. ” (my translation of: “Sed quare dicit quod est simile primo? Quia quando diligitur homo, cum homo sit ad similitudinem Dei, diligitur Deus in illo; ideo simile est primo mandato, quod est de dilectione Dei.”)

    Thus, according to St. Thomas not only is the second command like the first, but the first command is fulfilled in the second, and so it seems obvious that the two commands can be thought of as one as Gaudium et Spes does.

    Further, look at the reference to Romans 13:9-10 which is quoted IMMEDIATELY AFTER the supposedly erroneous (according to Lamont) text in Gaudium et Spes: “… si quod est aliud mandatum, in hoc verbo instauratur: Diliges proximum tuum sicut teipsum… Plenitudo ergo legis est dilectio.” = “If there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself…. Love therefore is the fulfillment of the Law.”

    St. Paul thus says that every commandment (presumably including the FIRST) is summed up in the second.

    Personally I find it outrageous to use this example of Gaudium et Spes to argue “that the teachings of the Second Vatican Council are not without error, and that fidelity to Christ’s teaching requires that parts of it be rejected” (Dr. Lamont’s words on Rorate).

    1. Wow, you find it “outrageous” that someone would use this particular phrase to point out the teachings of VII are not without error, etc.. I find it outrageous that once again there is another ambiguous phrase in a VII document. With all the periti there at the council you’d think there would be no ambiguity in any of the documents. However, as time goes on, and as already pointed out, all we seem to find is more ambiguity. I guess they felt it necessary to combine two sentences into one to save length of document.

  3. Amen to both your comments, John. Rom 13 is indeed what they have in mind. Lamont did such a good job of showing how Dignititatis humanae can be read in accordance with the Tradition. It was unfortunate, the statement he made today posted at Rorate.

    1. It is sad that you have to keep trying to make silk out of a pig’s ear. You can’t do it. How easy is it to NOT misquote Jesus? No matter how many bibles I check, I can’t find ONE that says the greatest commandment is as indicated in GS 24. Is it a big deal? Not really. At least to me it is not. But, it is WRONG. And for you and all like you who have to turn the document upside down, sideways, backwards and then READ THE MINDS of the authors to figure out how to reconcile it with the correct quote is baffling to me.

      1. You’re not the only one, Woody. What kind of Council needs a “hermeneutic” in the first place let alone a litany of professional thinkers to distill what it really, just maybe if we’re lucky, means?

      2. Actually, we don’t need to worry about the minds. We simply know that at the end of the day, we need to have the truth. What is the truth? That the first commandment is simply and only love of God. Would it be desirable, for clarity’s sake, that it be stated point blank. AGREED.

        There is a certain dictum of holiness: Cover your father’s nakedness.

  4. Love of one’s neighbor, and the particular duty of charity we owe to our superiors, requires that we charitably interpret their formal writings–a strong presumption of non-heresy (and non-stupidity). That said, of all the Council declarations, Gaudium et Spes requires the most charity, I think.

  5. “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.”

    But you’re assuming that the problem is in the interpretation of GS, as if the contradiction is there. But the objection is that the contradiction between GS and the Gospel. To focus on the interpretation really gets us no further towards addressing Lamont’s charge, does it?

    And if we are forever consigned to this project of showing how this or that *can* be read in accordance with the Tradition, then of what use was the Council in the first place?

    1. Well, the Council consists not merely in ambiguous statements. If it did, certainly we would be no better off. However, it contains numerous helpful things and beautiful syntheses. These are obscured by heretics who read it to their ends.

      I’m suggesting my ‘rule’ as a ‘recipe whereby to avoid heresy when reading ambiguous statements’. I agree it is not necessarily a hermeneutic. However, we do have the rule of pious interpretation. It is a good guide.

      1. What? To avoid heresy you need to twist the ambiguous statement until you can’t see the heresy any longer? What if they are heretics? Do you think you might be falling into their trap? Holy cow, Chris, you can only go so far with the “hermeneutic of continuity” before it becomes, sad to say, a joke.

      2. But again, you imply that the heresy is in the interpretation. The argument is that the heresy is in the documents itself. That’s the question. If the heresy is there, in the documents, it cannot be “avoided”.

  6. “There is a certain dictum of holiness: Cover your father’s nakedness.”

    Really? Would this apply to the cover up of sexual abuse by bishops over the years? I’m serious.

    Are we not to expose the darkness (Eph 5:11)?

    1. That is a serious point. And there, yes, clearly that is to be exposed. But when it comes to a Magisterial text – and I take it we are agreed it is a Magisterial text, issued by the order of the Supreme Pontiff and confirmed by his successors… When it comes to a Magisterial text, one does one’s best to see its compatibility with the Tradition.

      Midway through Ps 51: I delight not in the blood of bulls, etc.
      A little later: THEN we can offer right offerings in Jerusalem.

      Is this a contradiction? I argue, no. But one must read the text carefully.

      Rom 5: “So that sin spread to all”. But Mary did not have sin. Contradiction? No, but we must read the text carefully.

      Noah: All men are sinners // I will make an end of all flesh. but Noah was righteous and God did not destroy Noah. Contradiction? No, but we must read the text carefully.

      3rd century Magisterial condemnation of Sabellius: Whoever says the Son is of the same substance as the Father, let him by anathema. 4th century Nicaea: The Son is of the same substance as the Father. Contradiction? No, but we must read the texts carefully.

      1. These are not all analogous. We are talking here about something that was already clear (or should be), both in Scripture and in the Magisterium.

        There was no question in Matthew that: there are two commandments; that one is first and the other is second; that one is the greatest and, by implication, the other, though like it, is not the greatest. There is no seeming conflict intrinsic to the text unlike, say, with Noah or with the sin of all vs. the sinlessness of Mary. The text itself is unambiguous.

        And from the Catechism of the Council of Trent, we are warned precisely about this unraveling of the right order:

        “Moreover, no honor, no piety, no devotion can be rendered to God sufficiently worthy of Him, since love of Him admits of infinite increase. Hence our charity should become every day more fervent towards Him, who commands us to love Him with our whole heart, our whole soul, and with all our strength. The love of our neighbor, on the contrary, has its limits, for the Lord commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves. To outstep these limits by loving our neighbor as we love God would be an enormous crime.”

        That prior clarity was blurred. And according to Cardinal Kasper, such is not a matter of faulty interpretation, but rather of ambiguity in the text itself:

        “In many places, [the Council Fathers] had to find compromise formulas, in which, often, the positions of the majority are located immediately next to those of the minority, designed to delimit them. Thus, the conciliar texts themselves have a huge potential for conflict, open the door to a selective reception in either direction.” (Cardinal Walter Kasper, L’Osservatore Romano, April 12, 2013)

        If, then, a text is not only seemingly ambiguous but purposely so, in order to allow whichever interpretation one wishes it to have so as to achieve a “compromise”, the text is perhaps even more worthless than originally suspected. Does it contain heresy? Does it contain orthodoxy? It contains both, it seems. But if it does contain both, then we never know what it ‘really’ contains so as to assume compatibility with the past because there was never a single fixed point intended from the start. The entire project is fluid and open-ended.

      2. If Kasper is correct regarding this, conceded.

        Perhaps a number of us can agree on this: At some point when the time is ripe (not now, for sure), a clearly stated Council or Magisterial text must clear up all confusion that has existed for 50 plus years.

  7. I agree with Chris’ last response. Personally, I have few doubts in my mind that the CVII will be declared null and void as well as all the teachings that came from it. Until that glorious day arrives, we won’t see the end of the eclipse the Church has been since the 60’s. In my opinion, the path to follow is to learn the Faith according to Tradition and to make the most of everyday to implement the Social Kingship of Christ the King.

    1. “In my opinion, the path to follow is to learn the Faith according to Tradition and to make the most of everyday to implement the Social Kingship of Christ the King.” – Exactly.

      Implicit in your response is our calling, to become saints. Not to become a saint – the only real tragedy!

  8. I find it exhausting that critics of this council go to such lengths to deface her. Does Christ tell his disciples on the night of his passion to love one another as he has loved them…are we not told again and again to love our neighbor…? GS 24 is NOT quoting Matthew, she is speaking the truth, the faith….GAs 24 isn’t saying “as Christ said in Matthew…” And then contorting his words, she explains herself there in 24: Sacred Scripture, however, teaches us that the love of God cannot be separated from love of neighbor: “If there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself…. Love therefore is the fulfillment of the Law” (Rom. 13:9-10; cf. 1 John 4:20).
    If the critics of vatican ii sat with her, prayed through her documents before the Blessed Sacrament, and placed their faith in the fidelity of Christ to His Bride and the guidance of the Holy Spirit instead of trying to criticize her, how much more fruit she would bear!!!…how many more John Paul the Greats would be called forth!

    1. I was out of town until today. Sorry it took so long to approve. Your comment has a wisdom of charity about it. Criticism for criticism’s sake is out of order.

      Nonetheless, there are good people who study the council and Evangelii Gaudium and observe infelicitous and ambiguous expressions. I think there is little argument that these have occasioned confusion and error in the Church.

      There were many good things about John Paul. That he was a “Great” I would dispute. His appointments of Bishops were rather disappointing, and in a number of key places disastrous. Bernardine and Clark and Mahoney, e.g. His Assisi Prayer Meeting was atrocious. His own statements had many confusing elements. He defended women but really dropped the ball on men. One could go on at length.

      All that said, I return to the good spirit in your remark. What is needed is charity. The devil is scoring many victories in part because he has divided and conquered. Those who seek charity often become weak kneed; they fail to confront and to have holy indignation; they just want “peace peace,” but, as the prophet said, “there is no peace.” On the other hand, there are lucid minds that see all the nonsense, that witness our faith being turned into the banal, bishops saying “Bravo” about those committing wicked sins that cry out to heaven, scandalizing millions. The Church is in a disastrous shape. To fail to see that is to be blind.

      And so, the devil has blinded the “loving” and soured the seeing. The only way forward is the union of faith, hope, and charity. Extremism in each virtue and all. That is the way out.

Comments are closed.