Superview, a distinguished contributor to Second Sight, has left me thinking. In a comment he tells us of the contrast between the 614 laws of Judaism and the one law of Christianity — which is love. I found it useful to take this thought on a little further.
We are still left with law. The ten commandments have not become the ten commendments and, while I haven’t counted, I daresay the number of do’s and don’t’s listed in the Catechism is considerable.
Reconciling the two requires us to remember that love does not take place in the abstract, but always in terms of a relationship. And the meaning which love takes will vary according to the relationship. There is a considerable difference (at least I hope there is) between the love I properly have for my wife, and the love I have for the clerk in a building society who answers my telephone call. My siblings, my children, my grandchildren, my friends, my colleagues, my fellow citizens — all have a call on my love. But the expression and the demands of the law will vary according to the terms of the relationship.
I suspect that the difference lies in the nature of Old Testament law which, as St Paul emphasises, can condemn but cannot save, and the nature of New Testament law which has an intrinsic value in so far as its rationale and inspiration is the proper use of love in the context. It is not that Christ repealed the law but that he transformed it.
There are dangers in appealing simply to the disposition of love, or even in asking the question: what would Jesus do? It is only too easy to follow our subjective judgments, and to let the heart drag reason in its train. And that is where good moral education comes in. The Church, through — for example — the Catechism bears witness to the rules of love in different situations. The coverage is comprehensive but not complete, and based on a deep understanding of experience and revelation but not, as such, infallible. There is room for us to disagree but no room for the Catholic who does not strive to understand not only what the Church teaches, but why.
The opposite danger is legalism. That is, law for its own sake, and not for love’s sake. And, while it potentially leads to perfect behaviour, history tells us that it tends to be twisted so as to permit unloving acts either of pharisaic rigorousness or lax casuistry. When it is no longer tethered to love its meaning is quickly denatured to human pride, selfishness and hate. And it is all the worse for the camouflage of righteousness.
Bernard Haering , the great moral theologian, wrote in his Lex Christi that Jesus is the harbour light and the laws are the buoys which mark the entrance to the channel. “The ten commandments protect the outer periphery of the realm in which Christ will be formed in us.” So the law as it stands is the boundary between love and unlove. Far from cramping us, it gives us the freedom to love.