The Theological Virtue of Charity

By Engr. Carlos Cornejo

In Genesis Chapter 22 of the Old Testament, God put Abraham to test by asking Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a human sacrifice only to be held on when Abraham was about to kill Isaac.  Many atheists would point out to this Scripture story as another proof of the absurdity of a God who asked a father to kill his son but stops him when His creature was almost done obeying Him.  Atheists would claim that this Christian God is playing games with His creatures.  Therefore, according to them, it’s another proof that He does not really exist.

What the atheists don’t understand was the purpose of the test. It was all about fulfilling the virtue of Charity.  God wanted to see if Abraham loves God above all, even more than his son.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the Theological Virtue of Charity as the virtue by which “We love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.”  (CCC 1822) Theologians would say that it was also a test on the faith of Abraham, that’s why after passing the test, Abraham was given the title the Father of Faith.

The definition of love or charity is to will the good of the other for the other’s sake.  Love means we want what is good for another being whether that being is God or our neighbor for their own sake without expecting anything in return or regardless of their behavior.  That’s what true love means.  When a parent truly loves a child, that parent wants what is only good for that child even if that child misbehaves and displeases often the parent.  That’s how God loves us.  A parent who disciplines a child for playing with fire for example, truly loves a child because the parent seeks the greater good of that child over the temporary joy of the child enjoying his play, because it could eventually harm him.  Love sacrifices things for the greater good of the beloved.

In principle, only God can truly love because God is absolute and perfect, and He does not need anything or anyone to make Himself happier or to make Himself more perfect.   We humans when we love, somehow, we expect to be loved in return because that’s what makes us happy.  In fact, when a human being practices true love or unconditional love by willing the good of another person without expecting anything in return, it is because of God’s grace.  Without God’s help it’s hard to practice unconditional love.  Perhaps, you can practice loving others for their own sake for some time but without God’s grace it would not last.

The concept of love cannot be arrived at by our intelligence or reason alone, God had to reveal it to us through the Holy Bible.  Philosophers like Aristotle who lived before Christ never came up with the idea of love.  The same with Plato, Aristotle’s teacher, who authored the cardinal virtues of courage, justice, prudence and temperance but never came up with the virtue of love.  It was Christ who introduced us to this highest virtue of Charity by giving us the summary of the Ten Commandments, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)

When we love God above all things, our life is put into order.   When we love something else or someone else above God, our life disintegrates.  And life falls apart to the degree of how far we have separated ourselves from the love of God.