Today we will talk to St. Thomas Aquinas about how to love and forgive our enemies.
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Love of one’s enemies may be understood in three ways. First, as though we were to love our enemies as such: this is perverse, and contrary to charity, since it implies love of that which is evil in another.
Secondly love of one’s enemies may mean that we love them as to their nature, but in general: and in this sense charity requires that we should love our enemies, namely, that in lovingGod and our neighbor, we should not exclude our enemies from the love given to our neighbor in general.
Thirdly, love of one’s enemies may be considered as specially directed to them, namely, that we should have a special movement of love towards our enemies. Charity does not require this absolutely, because it does not require that we should have a special movement of love to every individual man, since this would be impossible. Nevertheless charity does require this, in respect of our being prepared in mind, namely, that we should be ready to love our enemies individually, if the necessity were to occur. That man should actually do so, and love his enemy for God’s sake, without it being necessary for him to do so, belongs to the perfection of charity. For since man loves his neighbor, out of charity, for God’s sake, the more he loves God, the more does he put enmities aside and show love towards his neighbor: thus if we loved a certain man very much, we would love his children though they were unfriendly towards us. This is the sense in which Augustine speaks in the passage quoted in the First Objection, the Reply to which is therefore evident.
Reply to Objection 2. Everything naturally hates its contrary as such. Now our enemies are contrary to us, as enemies, wherefore this itself should be hateful to us, for their enmity should displease us. They are not, however, contrary to us, as men and capable of happiness: and it is as such that we are bound to love them.
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Thanks for this episode. Your points about how love and forgiveness jive with justice were especially helpful.
I’d like to add something that seems obvious, but isn’t always. To forgive means that there is something to be forgiven.
On the one hand, sometimes our feeling are hurt, but if we reflect on the incident, we realize that whatever it was wasn’t a true wrong suffered. We were oversensitive and we’re just need to get over it. Or worse yet, actually we were in the wrong, not the other fellow.
But then there is the opposite problem. Sometimes people think forgiveness means saying “it was nothing,” (similar to the forgetting which you mentioned) when that is not true. In reality you were wronged; it isn’t “nothing” and is not be be ignored or denied. To be able to say “he done me wrong,” and it’s true and I don’t have to forget that or deny that is quite liberating to people with a false idea of what forgiveness really is. It may be the first step forward to real forgiveness.