Two Kinds of Self-Love
by Father Paul A. Duffner, O.P.
Whenever we hear the expression "self-love", it usually conveys the concept of
Selfishness. If one would make the remark: "He certainly
loves himself", that is usually not meant as a compliment; but rather refers to one who has an Exaggerated
Idea of his own excellence, or one who is solely concerned about his own welfare with little concern for others, etc.
Yet, Love of Self, if rightly understood, is something that is not only
Good, but Commanded by God:
"You shall Love the Lord your God with your whole Heart, with your whole Soul, with all your Mind.
This is the greatest and first Commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself"
When our First Parents were created by God, they had the kind of
Perfect Love described above by Our Savior. That is, they had the
Capacity for that Perfect Love of God, Self and Neighbor; and
there was nothing inherent in their Human Nature that interfered with the exercise of that Perfect
Love. But among the Gifts that
God had given them was a Free Will. They had to Freely Choose
God's Will, God's Plan for their life. And
before admitting them to the Eternal Beatitude for which
He had created them, God put them to the
Test. Theirs was not an 'Absolute Freedom', for God placed a Limitation
to their Dominion over all that He had Created. In their
Failure to pass that Test, they
Rebelled against the Limitation God had placed on their Freedom, and they
not only Lost Divine Grace and the
Capacity to Love with a Supernatural Love,
but their Intellect was Obscured,
their Will Weakened, and they were left with
an Inclination to Selfishness, a tendency to seek their own
Will rather than God's; that is, an Inclination to
So we have the Rightly Ordered Love of Self which
God Commanded, and the Inordinate Love of Self to which we are all
Inclined by Reason of our Wounded Human Nature. The whole of the Christian Life is a
Struggle to overcome the Latter in order to attain the Former.
True Self Love
|Love of God and Neighbor
Sanctification of All
Salvation of All
|Satisfy Sensory Appetites
Satisfy Bodily Emotions
Satisfy Worldly Desires
The "Rightly Ordered Love of Self" that Christ
Commanded is a Love of Self whereby Man Wills and
Seeks his own True Good, both Spiritual and
Temporal. It is a Love guided by
Right Reason and the Truths of Divine Faith. It is the
Love of Charity. The Good that the Christian
Wills for himself is Primarily
God Himself (Whom he possesses when in the
State of Grace), and the Eternal Beatitude with
Him in the Life-to-come. And, Secondarily, True
Self-Love has for its Object the Sanctification and
Salvation of his own Soul and that of his Neighbor. From this it is clear that Man
Loves himself in the True Christian Sense in the Measure that he Avoids
Sin and Exercises the Christian Virtues, making good use of the
Sacraments that God provided for our Spiritual Needs.
It is obvious, then, that True Love of Self demands
Discipline and Self-Denial in regard to our
Unruly Self-Seeking Tendencies. Father Alfonso d'Amato, O.P. brings this out in speaking of the
Commandment of Love:
"In practice, to love ourselves means above all to combat our natural Egoism which tends to impoverish
our nature, to shrink it, to hinder its expansion towards our brothers and its fulfillment in God. True Love of Self should push us to
work indefatigably to be fully ourselves, to realize the perfection which is the fullness of our being, as God views it from eternity.
Now the chief obstacle to this true Love of Self is a false love, Egoism, which makes us lose sight of the model, the ideal to
be attained, lowers our aspirations and makes our existence miserable"
(The One Commandment, Cross & Crown, Dec. 1952).
(A Unity (1) of Body
Heart includes the Rational Thought
Process (Intellect/Will) of the Soul and the
Bodily Emotions that influence the Will.
True Christian Love of Self also causes Men to seek such Temporal Goods as are required for
the Well-Being of the Body: suitable Food and Clothing, Shelter, Lawful Pleasures, etc. But
these are sought not as an end in themselves, but insofar as needed for the attainment of the
Soul's Sanctification and Salvation.
But there is an Order that must be observed in our Love of Self.
God created us as Humans made of Body and
Soul. Of the Two (2), the Soul
is the more important, for our Eternal Destiny depends on the condition of our
Soul at the End of Earthly Life, not of the Body.
It is the Soul that Loves or
Hates, that Chooses God or
Rejects Him. Where a Conflict
between what the Soul sees as Good and what the
Body seeks, True Love of Self will Choose the Former.
True Christian Love of the Body is marked by the
desire to use its Members in the Service of God, in direct opposition to the
Worldly Worship of the Body so common today.
True Love of Self and Love of Neighbor Inseparable
Since Christian Love of Self is the Love of Charity
(which must include Love of God, of Self and of Neighbor, we cannot
Love ourselves Truly without Loving God and our Neighbor for
His sake. We Love ourselves when we
Love our Neighbor, not only because it is our Duty (and fulfilling our Duty is a requisite for
True Love of Self), but also because it redounds to our
Good, since we are Members of the same Body.
"Vanity" - by Piola, Domenico - from a private collection . .
. . True Love (small angel) is being crushed, as a Rose is being accepted from the Dark Angel representing Inordinate Self-Love.
As Saint Paul explains, "If one Member suffers anything, all Members suffer with it;
and if one Member glories, all Members rejoice with it" (1Corinthians 12:26). Too, we
Truly Love our self when we Love our Neighbor, for in doing so we
Merit an increase in Grace. Finally,
Loving our Neighbor is the best way of Loving
our self, for by directing our focus away-from ourselves it Enriches our Personality, as Father d'Amato points out:
"If we think of ourselves too much, our Personality is impoverished, impeded; the extent of our horizons is
diminished. The Human Spirit is a powerful force for expansion and man fulfills himself only if he leaves the narrow circle of his 'I'. Not
only does our Personality not suffer, but it is strengthened when it gives itself to others. The best way to affirm our own Personality and
enrich it is to work and sacrifice ourselves for others, to profit from every occasion (even to seek occasions) to make ourselves useful to
others. It is only in giving ourselves to others that we attain Perfection of Self. The more one gives, the more one has. It is only in leaving
our Egoism, in giving ourselves generously to God, and to our brothers for His sake, that we are truly ourselves and that our personality
develops to the fullest. This is the meaning of the Commandment, 'Love thyself'".
False Self Love
In contrast with True Christian Love of Self, there is Inordinate
Self Love, in which one is guided by one's own Likes and Dislikes, instead of by Right
Reason and the Will of God. Such Self-Love
often causes one to seek the Gratification of one's Sense Appetites and the Pleasures of the
Body in a way Contrary to the Good of the Soul and to the
Law of God. Inordinate Self-Love will at times
manifest itself in a Spirit of Rebellion against Lawful Authority, or in
Extreme Pride in one's Good Qualities, Achievements or Possessions, as if one were the sole-source of those Goods or Good Deeds.
Such a one is Oblivious of the Warning of Saint Paul:
"What have you that you have not received, and if you have received it, why do you boast as if you had not
received it?" (1Corinthians 4:7)
It may also cause an Excessive Desire for Honors and for the Praise and Esteem of others, as well as an Excessive
Sensitivity to Criticism of any kind. From all this we can see that
Inordinate Self-Love is not concerned about one's own True Good, nor
that of one's Neighbor; but rather is Destructive of that
Good, and that of the Neighbor. In fact, Saint Thomas Aquinas explains that
Inordinate Self-Love is the Root Cause of every Sin:
"Every Sinful Act proceeds from Inordinate Desire for some Temporal Good. Now the fact that anyone
desires a Temporal Good inordinately, is due to the fact that he loves himself inordinately; for to wish some good to someone is to
love him. Therefore it is evident that Inordinate Self Love is the cause of every sin"
(I II, 77, a.4).
The Egoism of which the Angelic Doctor speaks is the basic
source of every form of turning-away-from God. From Inordinate
Self-Love proceeds what Saint John calls the Three (3)
Concupiscences of the Flesh, the
Eyes and the Pride of Life
(1John 2:16); and from these Three (3)
Concupiscences are derived the Seven (7) Capital Sins,
the source of all other Sins. In other words, every
Sin whatever, is a form of Inordinate Self-Love.
Love or Hate
As we have seen, to Love someone (self or others) is to wish him True
Good, both Spiritual and Temporal.
In contrast with this, to Hate someone is to wish him Evil,
whether Spiritual or Temporal. In the light of this
the Sinner can be said to Hate himself, as the
Scriptures testify: "He who loves iniquity hates his own soul"
(Psalm 10:6). "Those who do evil are enemies of their own soul"
(Tobias 12:10). It is in this sense that we understand the Words of Our Blessed
Savior: "He that loves (inordinately) his own life in this world shall lose it; and he that
hates his life in this world (i.e. Hates his Unruly Tendencies and
Disciplines them) keeps it safe unto Eternal Life"
The Two (2) Self-Loves of which we have been speaking are Diametrically-Opposed to each
other. One is Self-Giving, Self-Sacrificing, the Other
is Self-Seeking. One Builds-up, the
Other is Self-Destructive in the
Light of Eternity. One turns-to
God, the Other turns-away-from
God. Saint Augustine expresses this Paradox in his usual terse way:
"The one loves God to the point of disregarding self; the other loves self to the point of disregarding
Our Blessed Lord was referring to these Conflicting
Loves when He said: "No man can serve two
masters: for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will stand by the one and despise the other. You cannot serve
both God and Money" (Matthew 6:24).
Today's Confused World
Heavenly Love (An Angel wearing the Armor of Chastity) conquering Earthly Love (a boy Cupid) -
by BAGLIONE, Giovanni - from Staatliche Museen, Berlin
Because of the Secular Culture of today's Society, so many are growing up with their Mind
and Heart turned-away-from God. The Education
System of our Country and the Media, champion a Concept of Freedom that is biased-against the Principles of Christian Morality. Even among
many who call themselves Christian, their Guiding Light is Reason alone, not Reason Enlightened by
Faith. And as we saw in the beginning, our Reason has been Obscured, our
Will Weakened and left with an Inclination to
The concept of Love we see portrayed day-in and day-out in the Movies, on Television and in
the Media portrays as Normal and Acceptable Pre-marital Sex, the use of
Divorce, etc. It is concerned only about the Goods and Pleasures of the Body
with complete disregard of the Soul. They are clearly against any particular Religion
imposing its views, while in reality they are championing the Religion of Secular Humanism.
Let us take the case of a young unmarried man who seeks the affection of a young lady. He aggressively by his words and actions expresses
how much he Loves her, all of which ends in Fornication.
What he calls Love is in reality Lust. If he Truly
Loved his friend, he would be concerned about her True
Good (Spiritual and Temporal), and
would be Willing to Sacrifice in order to attain
it. But the fact is that he not only was not Concerned about her True Good,
but rather Robbed her of her most Precious Possession - the
State of Grace. In a word, in the Language of the Scriptures, he Hates
her. His Intense Love was not for her, but for himself. He seeks her company
not for her own Good, but for the 'Pleasure' he derives from that
Relationship. That kind of Love (Lust) will
never stand the test of the Trials of Married Life. It is because so many Relationships are based
on that kind of 'Love', that many of them end in Divorce.
Or take the case of a young couple who engage in Pre-marital Sex, and do so with Mutual
Agreement. They are Mutually Self-Seeking, Mutually unwilling to make the
Sacrifices that God demands to call down His
Blessings on their Relationship. Those who without qualms of Conscience
engage in Pre-marital Sex, will very likely have little-qualms of
Conscience about Adulterous Relationships during Married Life.
Love Your Neighbor as Yourself
How are we to understand those words, "as yourself"? Theologians make the distinction
between the Love of Esteem, which proceeds from our Judgment as to the Objective Good or Value of the
Object Loved, and the Love of Intensity, which
is a Subjective Experience or Feeling with regard to the Object
Loved. We should have the same Love of Esteem for our neighbor as for our self,
in the sense that we desire his Spiritual Good and Eternal
Salvation as we desire our own; but we will not, as a rule, have the same Subjective
Feelings as to his Gains or Losses
as we have for our own.
"Charity" by El Greco
Some may feel Disturbed that they do not Feel a
greater Love for God. The
Virtue of Charity enables one to Love God above all things with the
Love of Esteem, but not necessarily with the Love of Intensity.
God has Commanded us to have Love for
Him above all things, not to Feel that
Love (Love is not necessarily a
warm, fuzzy feeling). And the Test as to whether or not we have it, is whether we would prefer
Him above everything else, whether we would be
Willing to give up whatever might come between us and our Love of
Every individual should think of his own Salvation, his own pursuit of the
Truly Good, as his First Responsibility; for if he does not have Right
Love of Self, a Love that flows from a Grateful
Love of God, he is unable to Love his
Neighbor Rightly. So in this sense, we must Love God above all-things, and after
Love of God comes Love of Self, not a
Self-Centered Love, but a God-Centered Love
. . . a Love like that of Christ . . .
Self-Sacrificing . . . Self-Giving, that is more
concerned with Serving than Being Served. In the measure that we have that kind of Love of Self,
we will Love others as Christ Loves us. And as
our Blessed Lord has told us, what we do to them, we do to
Him. In that roundabout way we return His Love.
Consequently, in the Commandment to Love our Neighbor as our self,
the "as" does not signify Equality, but Likeness, that is, to
Love others as ourselves inasmuch as we have the same end. Just as we should
Love ourselves in God, so we should
Love them in God. As we Will Good for
ourselves, so we Will Good for them, for we are both
God's children sharing His Divine Life.
Christian Love of Self, then, is a concern about what contributes to one's
Spiritual Growth, and a Zeal to Discipline
those Self-Seeking Tendencies that stand in the way.
Self-Centered Love, on the other hand, is but another name for Egoism,
which inclines one to Self-Seeking and Self-Exaltation
in countless ways, leaving one an Easy Prey to the Dragons of
Pride and Sensuality.
We would do well to entrust ourselves to the Mother of Jesus,
who, in her Fullness of
Grace had the most Perfect Love of Self, because
hers was the most Perfect Surrender to the Will of God.
She knew so well that God Wills only
what is Best for us, and she sought only the fulfillment of His
Will, Cost what it may.
Mother of God, teach us that Perfect Love of Self, which makes us aware of our Self-Seeking Tendencies, and of our
need of God's Grace to support our efforts in countering them.
Help us to see that we cannot Love Ourselves as we should in Isolation, but must (at least through Prayer) be
concerned about the welfare of those around us in need. They too are your children.
Pray for us now, and at the Hour of our Death.
Links to other Pages on Virtues
Three (3) Theological Virtues
Four (4) Main Moral Virtues
No Species exist for the
Three (3) Theological Virtues