“Mt 25:31-46, Augustine on Love of Neighbor and of the Trinity”
Fr. Ignatius John Schweitzer, OP
St Augustine says, “Let him love his brother, and love that love…you do see the Trinity if you see charity” (De Trinitate, Bk VIII.5.12). Profound words! Love your neighbor and when you see that love, you see the Trinity. What do we make of this? Elsewhere, St Augustine says, “Love your neighbor, then look within yourself at the source of this love. There you will see, as far as you are able, God” (On John’s Gospel 17, 8). What do we make of this? We’ll say more but let’s begin with the simple fact: Love of God and love of neighbor are intimately intertwined. St Augustine makes this point as he studies the Blessed Trinity. And our Mass readings today make the same point.
So it’s very fitting that we begin our week of reflecting on the Trinity together with these Mass readings. How can we study the God who is Love if we do not love the neighbor we can see? Maybe we can study the words, but we can’t ponder the depths of meaning, we can’t have true access to the God who is Love, if we ourselves do not love. Love of neighbor marks the beginning of our reflections on the Trinity and let it remain with us throughout this week of conferences.
Love of neighbor and love of God are intimately intertwined. Our access to the Trinity very much depends on our love of neighbor. Our communio with one another, your communio within this monastic community, very much effects our communio with the Blessed Trinity. For the Trinity is precisely a communio of persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—the God who is Love.
Even our first reading from Leviticus points us in this direction. All the precepts mentioned in our reading have to do with interpersonal relationships with other human beings. Yet each one ends with the same words from God, “I am the Lord.” Our relationship with other human beings is very much connected to our relationship with the Lord.
The Lord says, “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” By treating our neighbors rightly, we enter into the Lord’s presence. If we are holy in our dealings with others, we are with the Lord of all Holiness. “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” If we treat our neighbors rightly, with are with the Lord. We are with the Lord in his intentions for them. We are with the Lord in his very being, as He is Love.
The Gospel continues in this direction but now the stakes are even higher since God himself has come to dwell among us in Jesus. Jesus says, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” In becoming man, Jesus has identified himself with every human being. And within a Christian community, like this monastery, it’s all the more pronounced. The life of the Sacraments, the life of prayer, the life of grace, the life of Christ in the souls of those around us.
St. Augustine says, “Let him love his brother, and love that love…you do see the Trinity if you see charity.” How is this so? Well do it, and you will find out. That’s probably the best answer. The poorest and simplest of devout Catholics discovered the Trinity in simply loving. That’s the best answer. Do it, and you will find out.
But we are allowed to reflect on it as well. And this too can help. How is it that loving our neighbor helps us see the Trinity, helps us to contemplate the Trinity in faith, hope, and love? As you may know, in the Church’s reflection on the Trinity the concept of person is crucial. Boethius’s definition of person has been important, “an individual substance of a rational nature.” Thinking of the person as one who is in a web of relationships has also been important.
But you can rattle off the best definition in the world and yet not really know the depths of personhood. How is it then that we come to know the depths of personhood? A lot depends on loving the person next to us, loving the person we can see and relate with day after day. That’s how we encounter the depths of personhood. And that carries over to our relating deeply to the divine Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our communio with those around us helps our communio with the communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The words of St Augustine I quoted come from Book 8 of his classic work on the Trinity, De Trinitate. Book 8 is precisely the center point of the work, having 15 Books. This kind of ordering was very significant for the ancients. Right in the very center of Augustine’s reflections on the Trinity, we have Book 8 which focuses on love of neighbor. May it remain central in our reflections on the Trinity this week as well. I’ll close now with another quotation from this Book 8 of St Augustine: “Embrace love which is God, and embrace God with love. This is the love which unites all the good angels and all the servants of God in a bond of holiness, conjoins us and them together, and subjoins us to [love] itself. And the more we are cured of the tumor of pride, the fuller we are of love. And if a man is full of love, what is he full of but God?” (VII.5.12)