Cole on Merton on Law and Love

kinnon —  October 6, 2007 — 2 Comments

Ron Cole has written another good post, I Fought the Law…And the Law Won. (The title references a song from Ron’s and my youth. that the Clash and later, Green Day covered…in case you were wondering.) In the post, Ron quotes Thomas Merton on legalism and love,

Legalism in practice makes law and discipline more important than love itself. For the legalist, law is more worthy of love than the persons for whose benefit the law was instituted. Discipline is more important than the good of souls to whom discipline is given, not as an end in itself but as a means to their growth in Christ.

The authoritarian Christian does not love his brother so much as he loves the cause or the policy which he wants his brother to follow. For him, love of the brother consists, not in helping his brother to grow and mature in love as an individual person loved by Christ, but in making him “toe the line” and fulfill exterior obligations, without any regard for the interior need of his soul for love, understanding and communion. All too often, for the legalist, love of his brother means punishing his brother, in order to force him to become “what he ought to be.” Then, when this is achieved, perhaps the brother can be loved. But until then he is not really “worthy of love.”

This is in reality a fatal perversion of the Christian spirit. Such “love” is the enemy of the Cross if Christ because it flatly contradicts the teaching and the mercy of Christ. It treats man as if he were made for the sabbath. It loves concepts and despises persons. It is the kind of love that says corban (see Mark 7:9-13) and makes void the commandment of God “in order to keep the traditions of men”. ( Thomas Merton; Disputed Questions ) [emphasis from Ron]

Please read Ron’s entire post. (I know I said I wouldn’t be posting ’til Monday, but I’m up earlier than anticipated before heading north to the cottage for the final weekend there – this Canadian Thanksgiving weekend.)

UPDATE: Read the iMonk @ BHT on his Mertonian experience(s) – How Tommy Merton Broke My Heart.

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A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

2 responses to Cole on Merton on Law and Love

  1. Bill,

    this is a great quote and need be considered often. I think loving the ideal (or law) happens subtly and always at the expense of loving those made in the image of God. It is perhaps like a slow hardening of the heart and if we fail to consider the greatest of these, love, then I think we entirely miss the point…

    Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. I always thought Merton an insightful soul. Here’s my favorite quote. I think it is relevant.

    “A happiness that is sought for ourselves alone can never be found: for a happiness that is diminished by being shared is not big enough to make us happy.”

    “There is a false and momentary happiness in self-satisfaction, but it always leads to sorrow because it narrows and deadens our spirit. True happiness is found in unselfish love, a love which increases in proportion as it is shared. There is no end to the sharing of love, and, therefore, the potential happiness of such love is without limit. Infinite sharing is the law of God’s inner life. He has made the sharing of ourselves the law of our own being, so that it is in loving others that we best love ourselves. In disinterested activity we best fulfill our own capacities to act and to be.”

    “Yet there can never be happiness in compulsion. It is not enough for love to be shared: it must be shared freely. That is to say it must be given, not merely taken. Unselfish love that is poured out upon a selfish object does not bring perfect happiness: not because love requires a return or a reward for loving, but because it rests in the happiness of the beloved. And if the one loved receives love selfishly, the lover is not satisfied. He sees that his love has failed to make the beloved happy. It has not awakened his capacity for unselfish love.”

    “Hence the paradox that unselfish love cannot rest perfectly except in a love that is perfectly reciprocated: because it knows that the only true peace is found in selfless love. Selfless love consents to be loved selflessly for the sake of the beloved. In so doing, it perfects itself.”

    “The gift of love is the gift of the power and the capacity to love, and, therefore, to give love with full effect is also to receive it. So, love can only be kept by being given away, and it can only be given perfectly when it is also received.”

    From: No Man Is An Island, by Thomas Merton

    This isn’t double talk, but a deeper reality that love isn’t some task or activity that we participate in, but rather an effect that we are seeking to create. For me this means that our relationships to each other are the center of all creation. A rock or a building or a guitar can’t love in this way. Those embody the goodness and the glory of God, but not the love of God. That can only be shared between people.

    So when you speak of the Generous Web, it is this that I hear. Happy Canadian Thanksgiving. Certainly at a better time of year than our American one.


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