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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV:
Writings in Connection with the Manichæan Controversy.: Chapter 26

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 26.—Love of Ourselves and of Our Neighbor.

48.  To proceed to what remains.  It may be thought that there is nothing here about man himself, the lover.  But to think this, shows a want of clear perception.  For it is impossible for one who loves God not to love himself.  For he alone has a proper love for himself who aims diligently at the attainment of the chief and true good; and if this is nothing else but God, as has been shown, what is to prevent one who loves God from loving himself?  And then, among men should there be no bond of mutual love?  Yea, verily; so that we can think of no surer step towards the love of God than the love of man to man.

49.  Let the Lord then supply us with the other precept in answer to the question about the precepts of life; for He was not satisfied with one as knowing that God is one thing and man another, and that the difference is nothing less than that between the Creator and the thing created in the likeness of its Creator.  He says then that the second precept is, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." 128   Now you love yourself suitably when you love God better than yourself.  What, then, you aim at in yourself you must aim at in your neighbor, namely, that he may love God with a perfect affection.  For you do not love him as yourself, unless you try to draw him to that good which you are yourself pursuing.  For this is the one good which has room for all to pursue it along with thee.  From this precept proceed the duties of human society, in which it is hard to keep from error.  But the first thing to aim at is, that we should be benevolent, that is, that we cherish no malice and no evil design against another.  For man is the nearest neighbor of man.

50.  Hear also what Paul says:  "The love of our neighbor," he says, "worketh no ill." 129   The testimonies here made use of are very short, but, if I mistake not, they are to the point, and sufficient for the purpose.  And every one knows how many and how weighty are the words to be found everywhere in these books on the love of our neighbor.  But as a man may sin against another in two ways, either by injuring him or by not helping him when it is in his power, and as it is for these things which no loving man would do that men are called wicked, all that is required is, I think, proved by these words, "The love of our neighbor worketh no ill."  And if we cannot attain to good unless we first desist from working evil, our love of our neighbor is a sort of cradle of our love to God, so that, as it is said, "the love of our neighbor worketh no ill," we may rise from this to these other words, "We know that all things issue in good to them that love God." 130

51.  But there is a sense in which these either rise together to fullness and perfection, or, while the love of God is first in beginning, the love of our neighbor is first in coming to perfection.  For perhaps divine love takes hold on us more rapidly at the outset, but we reach perfection more easily in lower things.  However that may be, the main point is this, that no one should think that while he despises his neighbor he will come to happiness and to the God whom he loves.  And would that it were as easy to seek the good of our neighbor, or to avoid hurting him, as it is for one well trained and kind-hearted to love his neighbor!  These things require more than mere good-will, and can be done only by a high degree of thoughtfulness and prudence, which belongs only to those to whom it is given by God, the source of all good.  On this topic—which is one, I think, of great difficulty—I will try to say a few words such as my plan admits of, resting all my hope in Him whose gifts these are.


Footnotes

55:128

Matt. xxii. 39.

55:129

Rom. xiii. 10.

55:130

Rom. viii. 28.


Next: Chapter 27

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