And of course, there is now a discussion of Evangelium gaudium 161 in connection with the issue being treated. The Supreme Pontiff of the One and Only Universal Church of Christ, His Holiness Pope Francis, writes,
161. It would not be right to see this call to growth exclusively or primarily in terms of doctrinal formation. It has to do with “observing” all that the Lord has shown us as the way of responding to his love. Along with the virtues, this means above all the new commandment, the first and the greatest of the commandments, and the one that best identifies us as Christ’s disciples: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12). Clearly, whenever the New Testament authors want to present the heart of the Christian moral message, they present the essential requirement of love for one’s neighbour: “The one who loves his neighbour has fulfilled the whole law… therefore love of neighbour is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom 13:8, 10). These are the words of Saint Paul, for whom the commandment of love not only sums up the law but constitutes its very heart and purpose: “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’” (Gal 5:14). To his communities Paul presents the Christian life as a journey of growth in love: “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all” (1 Th 3:12). Saint James likewise exhorts Christians to fulfil “the royal law according to the Scripture: You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (2:8), in order not to fall short of any commandment.
The key statement is “The new commandment, the first and the greatest of the commandments, … ‘that you love one another as I have loved you’.”
What should we think upon reading this? What doxa, what belief, ought our minds hold? We must hold the One and Only Catholic Faith – come what may!
Now, if we were to take Gaudium et Spes 24 in the proper literal sense, that is, as stating precisely in so many words that the greatest commandment is love of God and neighbor, we would contradict the Divine Word of God! Hence, we seek another meaning. We suggest that there is some kind of figurative literary device that is being employed, or else it is simply false. A possible device would be synecdoche, where part stands for whole or whole for part. In this case, the subject would be read by synecdoche: The First and Greatest commandment = The first and greatest plus the second commandment “is love of God and neighbor”.
It is the great beauty of Scripture that it is abounding in literary devices such as this. One must read the Scriptures in accordance with Tradition. This practice and its content is the Rule of Faith.
Pope Francis’s dictum that the First and Greatest Commandment is love of neighbor would be simply if it were to be interpreted in the proper literal sense. For such love is the second and derivative commandment. (Of course, that such is the new commandment is true in the proper literal sense.) Now, since a proper literal reading yields something even more contradictory to the Divine and Catholic Faith than would a proper literal reading of GS 24, we seek another reading.
Now, there is also a literary device called metonymy, whereby one item, X, is designated by another item, Y, with which it is associated in reality. For example, “Finish your plate”. Only the literalist though obedient child would eat the plate. Rather, we mean the contents (food), which we signify by the container (plate).
Since what is First is associated with what is Second, one might signify the First by the Second. It might be odd to do, but if the First and Second were associated in the following way, perhaps there might be some reason to do so. If the Second is the visible sign of the Fulfillment of the First. If the Second must exist when the First exists. If the Second is, by and large, the very vehicle / embodiment / theatre of the fulfillment of the First. If these and other conditions are met, then perhaps we can signify the first by the second. Thus, when Pope Francis say “First” he really means “Second”. Or, when he says “love of neighbor” he really means “love of God”.
Now, someone will complain that this is gymnastics. Well, yes, it certainly can seem that way. There is no question that Scripture demands such gymnastics. For example, “Cut off your hand if it causes you to sin.” But this is from the same Lord who, by his natural law, enshrined also in ecclesiastical interpretation, forbids the amputation of a limb except for the physical preservation of the whole. Hence, a man too lusty does sinful violence to himself who seeks castration. But, legend has it, Old Origen, the master of the spiritual senses, the master (if we may extend the sense) of figurative interpretation, went and had himself “fixed”. Poor Origen, if that is what he did.
But when our Lord says, “cut off your hand,” he is to be taken according to metonymy: Cut off the thoughts and deeds, wrought through your hand, that are sinful (the instrumental cause standing for the primary efficient cause).
I have granted, and I will grant, that in a Magisterial text, we expect elucidation of the unclear, disambiguation of the ambiguous, etc. We expect progress. This is part of what we mean by a “living Magisterium”.
It is therefore not helpful if a Magisterial text of the year X plus Y is more ambiguous than a Magisterial text of the year X, or than a Scriptural text. Especially is this the case if a cult of man arises and the ambiguity pertains to the proper order of love. Now, we are in the midst of a cult of man: We are anthropo-centric. We have lost our sense of God. We fail to remember that to love the neighbor properly is chiefly to love him in God. We fail to remember that the spiritual works of mercy precede the corporal. We fail to remember that to love is to will the good, and that the Good, the One Good, is God, and that the One Thing Necessary is union with God. Thus, in our context, a clear statement is desirable.