Sunday, March 02, 2008

A Thought on the Second Greatest Commandment

"And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Matthew xxii.39).

"And as you would that men should do to you, do you also to them in like manner" (Luke vi.32).

The second greatest commandment, after "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind" (Matthew xxii.37), is the first quote at the beginning of this entry. The second quote is another statement of it, which, in this formulation, is often called the Golden Rule. I have been thinking about this commandment a bit.

Today people often toss his commandment around very haphazardly. You often hear it when you state the importance of passing laws to buttress certain moral principles and outlaw certain grave evils, or when you speak of the justice of a punishment. The implication is that if you were the person who wanted to do the immoral acts or who was going to receive the punishment, you would not want these acts proscribed or this punishment to be administered.

The error in this is the fact that the commandment is not simply subjective. It cannot be, for Jesus Christ is God, Who is the ultimate foundation of the true, the good and the beautiful. He is the way, the truth and the life (John xiv.6). He would not give a commandment that would lead to relativism. Rather, we must apply the commandment in accord with right reason.

This is why those I have previously mentioned argue falsely when they try to argue using this commandment. Because if the person whose acts are being proscribed or the person who is being justly punished were to view their situation with right reason, they would want the the help the law offered in overcoming their vice, they would want to be justly punished so as to expiate the evil their actions have caused.

If we want to be subjective about it, I can only look at my own life. There were a number of times those with authority over me placed restraints upon my actions or punished me for things I had done. At the time, of course, I would have said that I did not want these things to happen to me. But looking back now, when I am a little less of a fool--not much less certainly, but a little--I can see that these restraints and punishments helped in some way to discourage me of vice and form me, little by little, in the path of virtue. As such, if I ever have others under my authority in such circumstances, then I will do my best to prudently and justly restrain and punish those who need it. Because that is what I, insofar as I am thinking in accord with right reason, want others to do for me.

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