Friday, October 26, 2012

Faith and Works Part II: Love

II. To Speak of these Things We Must Speak about Love

Last time we briefly examined faith, works, and the aim of my work. We saw that faith was both a response to a call and a 'hope for things not yet realized.' My claim, for the sake of clarification, is that faith is something that looks outwards. Without faith we cannot know what to look for or what to trust, and without works that faith is dead. By works we mean actions that seek to bring about that hope. So in a certain sense faith does inspire us to works and works do flow from faith. On the other hand faith allows us to see what we should work towards. Stronger still, faith helps us to see what we must work for. (see part 1 here:Part 1)

But if faith is perceiving what we desire then desire alone will not allow us to receive what we desire. Works are necessary to reach the goal that we desire. This is why James says “I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works” (James 2:18) and that “faith was completed [literally: perfected] by the works [of Abraham]” (2:22). This theme will be expanded on later by viewing in detail the parable of the Sower and the seed in hopes to make this point clearer. For now we shall turn to the argument at hand.

Rather than analyzing faith and works right away we should look at love [caritas]. In order to speak of these two words and ideas we must speak of a third, namely love.

There is hardly a better place to begin either, for “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8) and that of all the virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit “faith, hope, and charity [caritas] remain … but the greatest of these is charity [i.e., love]” (1 Cor 13:13). Faith itself is initiated by love and sustained by love. Faith is a sort of relationship to God and knowledge of God. The blessed Apostle John says, however, that “Whoever is without love does not know God … [for] no one has ever seen God. Yet if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us” (1 Jn 4:8, 12). Love then seems superior to faith in many instances in Scripture. It is not superior such that faith is useless. Rather, Augustine speaks well in his masterpiece On Christian Teaching when he says “faith will be replaced by the sight of visible reality, and hope by the real happiness we shall attain, whereas love will actually increase when [the world] passes away” ( Book I. 90). Faith is meant to get us somewhere and Love is where we must go. Augustine also says rightly that if our faith lapses then our love will also lapse, since we would not know what to love. As it stands, however, “if I have faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Cor 13:2).

Love is also greater than works because love is both a work and the foundation of all works. Every man acts for some purpose and that purpose is love. A man may love wrongly—preferring evil things to good things. But a proper love produces proper works. A problem emerges: someone may give to the poor which is itself a good work, but that person may not love the poor. The foundation of all law and service, however, is not to give goods to others but to love them. Love is not a work like other works but it is the supreme work that must be the source of all others if any of our works are to have life. An analogy, imperfect as it is, may help here: our bodies sometimes twitch. Nerves are excited and our arm or leg jerks because of something that affected us. But when we have a sound disposition we order our arms and bodies to do many different tasks with precision.

Works when they are without love, even though they are good, are like barely-lifeless twitches. Works inspired and guided by love is like the skill of a fine craftsman—intentional, knowledgeable, and purposeful.

Love, it seems, is truly the foundation of all. For our purposes it seems to be the foundation for both faith and works. There is no greater work of love, apart from Christ crucified, than that of creation. Love, therefore, creates. It may be said that faith and works alike proceed from love and are completed by love. All the same, faith and works are the expressions of love as well as the road by which we love.

God's love is perfect but our own love lacks perfection. This is why we have faith and works.

Faith directs our hearts and peers into the shadows of great mysteries. For revelation is God's gift which allows us to know of the world, ourselves, and God Himself. We see all of these things by faith: that creation is good, ordered, and loved. It shows us that God is Three-in-One, transcendent, and yet immanent.

Works temper our bodily passions and sharpen our vision. For without doing good works ourselves how may we see the work of the Holy Spirit in us and others? When our bodies are distracted by idle passions we will fail to see truth clearly and, by our weakened disposition, fail to love readily.

At this point, however, love is still a vague idea. As I have mentioned above we all love something or someone. In like manner we desire certain things, jobs, pleasures, and honors for ourselves. In order to understand love more precisely I would like to focus our attention to the Trinity. In order to understand how faith and works proceed from love it is important, I think, to first look at Love Himself. Though I can only speak weakly I want to speak on the Trinity so we may reflect on perfect Love which produced everything—a love so powerful that it brought forth everything from nothing! From that reflection we shall see a bit more clearly, I think, what that means for us and what it reveals to us about humanity made in His image.

For next time: The Trinity, Love, and Human Beings