– Corrado Gnerre

In his last encyclical, Caritas in veritate, Benedict XVI insists that charity must always start from the truth and that even charity without truth cannot exist. What do you think about it? I agree, but someone has objected to me that in this way we run the risk of debasing love by subjecting it to an overly intellectual approach. How can I respond?

It’s true. The Pope, in his encyclical, affirms that charity must be judged by truth. Moreover, the same title is very clear. In point no 3 he has said that without truth, charity slips into sentimentality. And again, also on no 3 he has observed that the truth frees charity from the strains of an emotivism that deprives it of relational and social content, and of a fideism that deprives it of human and universal breath.

See, dear reader, it can only be so. Already in the Mystery of the Trinity it is clear how much love must be judged by the truth. If this were not the case, love could also become the most dangerous feeling … as our times amply demonstrate. The Trinity is constituted by the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is not said: by the Holy Spirit, by the Son and by the Father or by the Son, by the Father and by the Holy Spirit; but: by the Father, by the Son and by the Holy Spirit. All in a logical but not chronological succession. What does it mean? It means that, without the Son, there would be no Holy Spirit and, without the Father, there would be no Son. But not that the Father created the Son and the Son created the Holy Spirit. Because if it were so, the Son and the Holy Spirit would be creatures and this is not so. Therefore a logical succession, not a chronological one.

Orthodox Christianity (that of the Russians, the Serbs, the Greeks, for instance) differs from Catholicism not only because it does not recognize the primacy of the Bishop of Rome (the Pope), but also because, regarding the Trinity, they do not recognize the so-called doctrine of the Filioque, that is, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit – the Orthodox say – proceeds only from the Father. And this is a very important question. Didactically the action of creation is attributed to the Father, to the Son that of redemption, to the Holy Spirit that of sanctification. This does not mean that at the moment of creation the Father acted and the Son and the Holy Spirit did not participate, or in the redemption the Son acted and the Father and the Holy Spirit were absent. In creation both the Father and the Son acted as much as the Holy Spirit and so in redemption. But methodologically we say this: the Father creates, the Son redeems, the Holy Spirit sanctifies. We also call the Son the Word to indicate the fact that it is the God who manifests himself. The Son is also the Logos, the Truth, while the Holy Spirit is Love. And here is the key point. The logical truth-love procession is fully respected in God. Love must always be judged by the truth, otherwise it can also become the most terrible thing in this world.

Let’s take an example. A father with children who leaves his family, because he “falls in love” with another woman, does he do well? Today many would say yes; they would say: if he did it out of love. But this is the point. Love, if it is not judged by the truth, can become very dangerous.

Let’s take another example. Why did Hitler and his men decide to persecute the Jews? The answer may seem paradoxical but it is not: for too much love of the Aryan race. Why did Stalin decide to exterminate millions and millions of smallholders? For too much love of the socialist state. Why did Robespierre decide to cut off heads? For too much love for the Revolution he felt threatened. Here is what happens to love when detached from the truth. This is one of the most typical errors of our times. There are those who complain that today there is little love. I would like to say: no, it is not so. Today what is missing is not love, but the awareness of the Truth.

It is good, then, that the Pope reminds us that there is no love without truth.

(From La buona battaglia. Apologetica cattolica in domande e risposte, 2019©Chorabooks. Translated by Aurelio Porfiri. Used with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved)