IX. THE LOVE OF ONE’S SELF
Among all classes of men each one is his own nearest neighbor. Consequently every man ought to love himself.
We ought to love ourselves because God wills it; further more because we are made after God’s image, redeemed by the blood of Christ, and called to eternal felicity in heaven.
It is God’s will that we should love ourselves, for Our Lord says: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” In these words He declares the love of ourselves to be the rule and measure of our love of our neighbor. “Learn first to love God,” says St. Augustine, “then to love thyself; then thy neighbor as thyself.” God has not given us a special command to love ourselves, because every man does this in virtue of the natural law, and it is contained in the commandment to love one’s neighbor. We ought besides to love ourselves because we are made after God’s image. If we are to respect God’s image in our neighbor, nay more, in our enemy, we must respect it in ourselves. Since, then, we love ourselves for the sake of God, it stands to reason that the right love of one’s self increases in the same proportion as we advance in the love of God. We must also remember that we are bought with a great price. “You were not redeemed with corruptible things as gold or silver, but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Pet. i. 18). We also have a high calling, we are destined for eternal felicity. St. Gregory the Great thus beautifully expresses it: “Recognize thy dignity, O Christian! Thou art made a participator in the divine nature, a member of Christ’s body! Remember that thou hast been wrested from the powers of darkness, and destined to share in the glory of the kingdom of heaven!” Consider also that the Son of God was made man for us and became our Brother, that thus we have been made the children of God (1 John iii. 1); that the Holy Ghost dwells in us (1 Cor. vi. 19); that the angels minister to us (Heb. i. 14). These are all motives impelling us to love ourselves. Wherefore as the love of one’s self is in reality only the love of one’s neighbor applied to one’s self personally, to love one’s self is equivalent to esteeming one’s self at one’s true value (a matter of reason) desiring one’s own good (a matter of the affections) not injuring, but doing good to one’s self (in will and in action). This is the right self-love, in contradistinction to the false love which manifests itself in arrogance, conceit, discourtesy, license, etc.
The true love of one’s self shows itself herein, that we strive to attain that which will procure our real happiness; first and foremost our eternal felicity, and then such earthly things as are conducive to the attainment of eternal felicity.
The true lover of himself acts according to Christ’s admonition: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. vi. 33). He will provide for his health, his clothing, etc., but without undue solicitude.
He is wanting in love of himself who only strives after earthly possessions and heeds not his eternal happiness; likewise he who despises the things that are helpful to the attainment of eternal happiness.
A great number of mankind regard self, not God, as their final end; and earthly riches not as means towards attaining eternal happiness, but as means for the gratification of the senses. Therefore they take delight in earthly things: honors, riches, dignities, etc., and are not willing to give them up for God’s sake. Such love of one’s self is a spurious love; it is selfishness, self-seeking. He who prefers what is temporal to what is eternal is his own enemy; for he will only enjoy a certain measure of happiness for a short period, then he will be unhappy forevermore. “They that commit sin and iniquity, are enemies to their own soul” (Tob. xii. 10). How many resemble the miser in the Gospel, who said to himself: “Thou hast much goods laid up for many years, take thy rest, eat, drink, make good cheer”; to whom God said: “Thou fool, this night do they require thy soul of thee, and whose shall those things be which thou hast provided?” (Luke xii. 19, 20.) “What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?” (Matt. xvi. 26.) “Learn,” says St. Augustine, “to love thyself by not loving thyself.” On the other hand those do wrong who despise those earthly things which promote their spiritual good, for by so doing they show contempt for their eternal salvation. What must one think of a man who does not provide for his own maintenance, who rashly endangers his life or even puts an end to it by his own act?
This article, IX. THE LOVE OF ONE’S SELF is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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