The Will and Holy Love of God

Now that we have spoken of God's intellect and wisdom, a right conception of providence requires further that we consider the nature of His holy will and the love He has both for Himself and for us. Providence in God, like prudence in us, presupposes the love of the supreme good, to which it directs all things.

No word is so much profaned as love. There is a carnal wisdom which St. Paul calls stupidity and foolishness, and there is also a baser sort of love which is simply the grossest egoism and which often through jealousy is instantly transformed into a raging hatred. But however Iowa soul may sink, it can never quite forget that in true love we have a perfection so exalted and so pure that we should look in vain for any trace of imperfection in it.

If we were asked whether God can be sad, we at once see that this cannot be. If we were asked whether He can be angry, we promptly understand that the term can be attributed to Him only by way of metaphor to express His justice. If we were asked whether love is to be found formally in Him, without the least hesitation we say that He loves us in the strict and fullest sense of the term.

Let us see, then, (1) in what way love is in God, in what way He loves. Himself, and (2) the nature of His love for us.

We will follow St. Thomas throughout (Ia, q. 19, 20), and while we are speaking of God's love for us we shall see with him what is meant by the will of expression in God and the will of His good pleasure. This distinction is of the first importance for a right understanding of what self-abandonment to Providence must be.
The love of God for Himself

Love as it is in God cannot consist in a sensible passion or emotion, however well regulated. There can be no sensibility in God, because He is pure spirit.

But there can be no Divine intellect, with its knowledge of the good, unless there is a Divine will to will --- that good. This will cannot be a simple faculty of willing. It would be imperfect, were it not of itself always in act. The first act of the will is love for the good, a love entirely spiritual as, is the intellect which directs it. The other acts of the will (desiring, willing, consenting, choosing, utilizing, and even hating) all proceed from love, that is the very awakening of the will in its contact with the good which is its object (Ia, q. 20, a. 1).

In God, then, a wholly spiritual and eternal act of love for the good necessarily exists, and this good loved from all eternity is God Himself, His infinite perfection, which is the fulness of being. God loves Himself as, much as He is capable of being loved, that is, infinitely. This necessary act is not inferior to liberty but transcends it. Indeed this love is identified with the sovereign good, the supreme object of love. From its ardor it is rightly termed a zealous love; it is like an eternally subsisting burning flame, ignis ardens. As the Scripture says, "God is a consuming fire" (Deut. 4:24).

We do well to contemplate this burning love for the good which exists from all eternity in God, especially when we consider the amount of injustice and jealousy that is in the world and feel in our hearts how feeble at times is our own love for the good, how lacking in constancy and perseverance.

We read in the Gospel: "Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill" (Matt. 5:6). This is that burning love for the good which is mightier than all contradictions, than all weariness and temptations to discouragement we may meet with, a love mighty as death, even mightier than death, as seen in our Lord and the Martyrs. Yet this mighty, ardent love for the good, which must eventually dominate everything in our hearts, is but a spark springing from that spiritual furnace in God, the uncreated love for the sovereign good.

The characteristics of this love

In the first place, it is supremely holy, or rather it is holiness itself; that is to say, it is absolutely pure, and in its purity unchangeable. Absolutely pure, for obviously it cannot in any way be sullied or debased by sin or imperfection, since sin consists in turning one's back on God and His commands, and imperfection is a refusal to follow His counsels.

And in its purity it is unchangeable. God can never cease to be the sovereign good. He can never cease to know and hence to love Himself. He necessarily loves Himself, and His love not only cleaves unalterably to the sovereign good, but is identified with it, loving it above all things. (Cf. St. Thomas, Ia, q. 19, a. 3, 7.)

Certain philosophers, such as Kant, have gone so far astray as to see in this love of God preferring Himself to all else, not the absolute holiness it is, but the very height of egoism. They have also maintained that God cannot love Himself above all things, that He could not have created us for His Own glory, but for ourselves alone, and that consequently it is not He but our own personal dignity that should hold the supreme place in our love.

On the plea of absolving God of egoism, this novel aberration places egoism before us as the ideal we should aim at. It confounds the two extremes, holiness and egoism, because it neglects to define what egoism is.

Egoism is an inordinate self-love in which self is preferred to God the sovereign good, or to one's family or country. But how can God prefer Himself to the sovereign good, since He is identified with it?

Hence God in preferring Himself to all things is preferring the sovereign good. For Him to do otherwise would be an intolerable disorder; He would be like the miser who prefers his gold to his own personal dignity. For God to prefer any creature to Himself would amount to a mortal sin in Him, and that is the final absurdity.

When God creates, therefore, it is not out of egoism at all; on the contrary, it is to manifest His goodness externally. In subordinating everything to Himself He is subordinating us to the sovereign good, and this He does for our greater happiness. Our beatitude is incomparably greater in the possession and love of God through praise than if it were a mere complacency in our own personal dignity. The more we give glory to God, the greater will be our own glory. "Not to us, O Lord, not to us: but to Thy name give glory" (Ps. 113:1). Our greatest glory, O Lord, is to give glory to Thee.

God's love for Himself has no taint of egoism; rather it is holiness itself. And not only is it absolutely pure and incapable of sin, but it has as its inevitable sequel a holy hatred of everything that is evil. In fact, no true love of the good can exist without a detestation of evil; we cannot love the sovereign good above all things without a sovereign detestation of sin. God cannot have that holy zeal for His Own glory, which is the manifestation of His goodness, without an equally ardent detestation of sin. This is quite evident. With Him there can be no bargaining or compromising with evil. This, in the Divine light and shade, stands out in clear relief. Nevertheless --- and here is the shadow --- sin does occur.

Where sin is willfully persisted in, the love of God, which is gentleness itself, becomes a thing of terror. "Love is as strong as death, jealousy as hard as Hell" (Cant. 8:6). God detests sin with a burning hatred, which is simply the obverse of His ardent love for the good.

God's love for Himself is at once an alluring holiness and a thing of dread, gentle yet terrible, like the house of God which Jacob speaks of (Gen. 28: 17).

This holiness implies all perfections, even those so apparently opposed as infinite justice and infinite mercy, the two great virtues of Divine love.

In this holy love of God for Himself is contained a two-fold lesson. In the first place, since God is infinitely better than we are, we must love Him more than ourselves, at least in preference to ourselves with a love based on a right estimation of values, with a love, too, that is efficacious and orients our whole life to Him. Secondly, as God loves Himself with a holy love, so ought we to love with a holy love our own soul and its destiny, for it has been created to give glory to God eternally. Let us love ourselves with this holy love, in God and for His sake; this is the way to overcome that inordinate love of self in which egoism consists. With the egoist, self-love is in one sense excessive, since he devotes too much love to the lower element in him; but in another sense it falls short of what it should be: he does not love sufficiently the spiritual element in his soul, that element which was created to hymn the glories of God. (Cf. St. Thomas, Ia IIae, q. 29, a. 4; IIa IIae, q. 25, a. 7.)
God's love for us

Such being the love God has for Himself, how can it be directed to anything else besides? Some unbelievers, as also the deists, hold that God cannot possibly love us in the true sense of the term: the use of the word "love" in this connection is purely metaphorical. To love some other being, they say, is to be attracted by it. But God, the plenitude of all good, can find nothing in us to attract Him; He cannot be passive to an attraction exerted by so paltry a good as we are.

The answer to this deist objection is that in the love God has for us there is no passivity whatever; it is essentially active, creative, life-giving: it is sheer generosity and is supremely free. It is true love in the strictest and highest sense of the word.

No passivity is possible in the love God has for us. Obviously He cannot be attracted by a created good, or be passive under the attraction of a good so paltry, or be captivated by it. He loves us, not because He found us worthy of love; on the contrary, in His sight we are made worthy of His love because He has first loved us. "What hast thou that thou hast not received?" says St. Paul (1 Cor. 4:7); and St. Thomas says: "The love of God is the cause infusing and creating goodness in things" (Ia, q. 20, a. 2).

Any good in us, whether natural or supernatural, can come only from God, the source of all good, can come only from His creative, life-giving love. This love of His does not presuppose anything worthy of love in us, but is the very source of that worthiness, creating, conserving, increasing it in us, yet without violence to our liberty.

For what reason, then, has God loved us with this creative love? Why has He given us existence, life, intellect, and will? Out of sheer generosity. Is it not characteristic of goodness to be diffusive of itself and to give itself in generous abundance? Since goodness tends naturally to communicate itself, it is essentially diffusive of itself. In the physical order the sun gives out light and genial heat; plants and animals, upon reaching maturity, tend to reproduce themselves. In the moral and spiritual order a person who, like the Saints, has a passion for goodness will know no rest until he has aroused in others the same aspirations, the same love. Since God is the sovereign good and the fullness of all being, the eternal love of the good having all the zeal and ardor of love, it is most fitting that He should give of the riches that are in Him, even as a singer delights in re-echoing abroad the rich melodies of his song. It is in the highest degree fitting, therefore, that God should love us with this creative love by giving us existence and life.

But does it follow that creation is not a free act; that, unless He created, God would be neither good nor wise? By no means. Scripture tells us that "God worketh all things according to the counsel of His will" (Ephes. 1:11), and the Church proclaims the absolute liberty of creative love. It is indeed highly appropriate that God should create, but also that He should be altogether free in creating, so that there would have been nothing derogatory to Him in not creating: in His Own intimate life God would have none the less been infinitely good and infinitely wise. As Bossuet says, God is no greater for having created the universe. The fact of His conferring existence on us cannot bring the smallest increase to His infinite perfection. Creation is an absolutely free act of love. In this sense even the natural gifts we have received are gratuitous.

But in God there is a still greater and freer act of love, by which He has bestowed on us the even more gratuitous gift of grace, that participation in His intimate life, a gift to which our nature has no claim whatever. By this life:. giving love He has made us worthy to be loved in His sight, and that not merely as creatures but as His children, thus fitting us to behold Him and love Him for eternity.

We are loved by God far more than we think. To realize the extent of His love for us, we should have to know fully the value of grace when it has reached its final development in the glory of Heaven; we would have to see God, if only for an instant.

In the incarnation, the redemption, and the Eucharist, God's love for us reaches its consummation. To realize how intense is this love, we should have to appreciate to the full the infinite value of the redemptive part of the incarnation and the merits our Lord gained for us, and hence the value of all the spiritual graces that flow from them. In giving birth to Mary, St. Anne was far more loved by God than she knew, for she could not have foreseen that the child God had given her would be the mother of the Savior and of all mankind. So, too, is it with us, though with due reserves: God loves us far more than we think, especially in times of trial when He appears to desert us; for it is then He bestows upon us His most precious, most profound, most life-giving graces. At such times as these, let us say with St. Teresa: "Lord, Thou knowest all things, canst do all things, and Thou dost love me."

Such in essence is the love God has for us, a creative and life-giving love; supremely generous and supremely free.

The characteristics of this love

They are principally four: It is universal; yet it has its free preferences; and these are wholly actuated by wisdom; and it is invincible.

It is universal, extending to the very least of creatures. God loves them as a farm owner loves his fields, his house, and the animals that serve his needs. But first and foremost this love is directed to the souls of human beings: to the soul of a sinner that it may be converted, to the soul of a just man that it may persevere, to the soul tried by temptation that it may not faint, and to the soul in its last hour on earth before it comes before God's judgment seat (Ia, q. 20, a. 2, 3).

Nevertheless, for all its universality, this love has its free preferences. If to every soul it gives the graces sufficient and necessary for salvation, upon some --- St. Joseph, for instance, St. Peter, St. John, St. Paul, the founders of religious orders --- it confers graces of predilection. And everyone of these Saints will confess with St. Paul (1 Cor. 4:7), "What hast thou that thou hast not received?" and again, "It is God Who worketh in us both to will and to accomplish, according to His good will" (Phil. 2:13). As the singer imparts at will a greater resonance to certain notes, so also God in the bestowal of His graces shows His predilection for some over others. The divine seed that God casts into souls depends for its degree of beauty entirely upon His good pleasure.

Yet this supreme liberty in His preferences preserves always that admirable order which wisdom and charity demand. "It is always the best that God prefers," says St. Thomas, "for, since He is the source of all goodness, one thing would not be better than another, did He not love it with a greater love" (Ia, q. 20, a. 3).

God prefers spiritual to corporeal beings, the latter being created for the former. The Mother of the incarnate Word is preferred before every other created being; and God's only Son is preferred before His Virgin Mother. Christ was delivered up on our behalf, not because He was loved less by God than we are, but that by saving us He might emerge gloriously triumphant over the devil, sin, and death (Ia, q. 20, a. 4 ad 1um).

In the love of God everything is subordinated to the manifestation of His goodness. This is the constant refrain of the psalm: "Praise the Lord for He is good; for His mercy endureth forever" (Ps. 135).

One last perfection of Divine love: in its strength it is invincible in the sense that without its Divine permission nothing can resist it and that by its power everything is made to conspire to the eventual fulfillment of the good. In this sense the love of God is mightier than death: mightier than physical death, since it raised up Christ Jesus and will raise us up at the last day; mightier than spiritual death, for it is able to convert the most hardened sinner, raising to life again the soul that is dead, and that not once, but many times, in the course of its earthly existence.

The will of expression and the will of good pleasure in God

That our will should be made to conform to the Divine will and its holy love is of course obvious; for, as St. Thomas says, [l] any goodness in our voluntary acts and in the will itself depends on the end to which they are directed. Now the ultimate end of the human will is the sovereign good, which is also the primary object of the Divine will, that object in view of which all other things are willed by it.

Here, however, we must distinguish with the whole of tradition between the Divine will of good pleasure and the Divine will of expression. [2] By the Divine will of expression we mean all those external signs that reveal God's will commands, prohibitions, the spirit underlying the counsels, and everything that happens by His will or permission. The Divine will thus expressed, especially in commands, comes within the domain of obedience, and, as St. Thomas remarks, [3] is what we refer to when we say in the Our Father, "Thy will be done."

The Divine will of good pleasure is the interior act of God's will, which often is not yet revealed or expressed externally. Upon it depends our still uncertain future --- future events, future joys and trials, whether of long or short duration, the hour and circumstances of our death, and so on. As St. Francis of Sales remarks [4] and Bossuet after him, [5] whereas the expressed will of God is the domain of obedience, the will of His good pleasure is the domain of trusting surrender. As we will explain at some length later on, in making our will conform daily to the Divine will as expressed, we must for the rest abandon ourselves in all confidence to the Divine will of good pleasure, for we are certain beforehand that it wills nothing, permits nothing, unless for the spiritual and eternal welfare of those who love God and persevere in that love.

Such is God's holy will and His love for us. It is this love that has been revealed to us in our Lord, whose heart is a glowing furnace of charity.

Christ's love for us, like that of His heavenly Father, is absolutely holy and inspired by sheer generosity: He has not been drawn to us, but we to Him: "You have not chosen me," He says, "but I have chosen you" (John 15:16). Again, the love of Jesus for His Father and for us has ever been invincible: it constrained Him to submit to death, and by His death he raises up souls to a new life, once again directing upon them the stream of the Divine mercies.

As a practical conclusion, we must allow ourselves to be loved by this exceedingly holy, purifying, life-giving love, and submit to its purifications, however painful they may be at times. And it should be met with a generous response, according to these words of St. John: "Let us love God: because He hath first loved us" (1 John 4:10). We must love the Lord for His own sake, with a purity of intention rising above the promptings of vainglory and pride and that self-seeking which is induced by jealousy and the desire for the esteem of men.

The beginning in us of a pure love for God will then be some participation in that love which God has for Himself, a spark from that Divine furnace of His own self-love. And as our love grows purer daily, it will increase in holiness, generosity, and strength. Indeed it will make us invincible, according to the phrase of St. Paul (Rom. 8:1), "If God be with us, who is against us?" And finally, our love thus gradually purified will enable us to triumph over death itself and will open the gates of paradise to us. When we enter into glory, we shall be established forever in a supernatural love for God that can nevermore be lost or lessened. 

1. Cf. St. Thomas, Ia IIae, q. 19, a. 9. 
2. Cf. St. Thomas, Ia, q. 19, a. 11, 12.
3. Cf. St. Thomas, Ia, q. 19, a. 11.
4. Treatise on the Love of God, Bk. VIll, chap. 3; Bk. IX, chap. 6.
5. Etats d'oraison, Bk. VIll, 9.