Relationship between love of God and love of our neighbour

Do we have to love God above everything, before men? Is it possible to love men without loving God? Is the love of God true, if one doesn’t love his brothers?

In Matthew 22, 35-38, we can read: “And one of them, a doctor of the Law, putting him to the test, asked him, “Master, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus said to him, “Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God, with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment”.

That to love God is first and foremost is also clear in Acts 5, 29: “But Peter and the apostles answered and said, “We must obey God rather than men””.

Yet, one loves more when one obeys more (deeds, no words) and if the obedience to God is above the obedience to men, it is evident that, as everyone with a good sense can guess, love of God is above love of men.

Yet, once established that love of God is the first thing, we have to ask us if it is possible to love God, hating or not loving men, because“not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven, shall enter the kingdom of heaven”(Mt 7, 21). And Saint John (I, Saint John 4, 20) answers us as he speaks to men about the Holy Spirit:

“If anyone says, “Yes, I love God”, and hates his brother, he is a liar. For how can he who does not love his brother, whom he sees, love God, whom  he does not see?”So, the love of God, in order to be true, must translate into love to men, to our neighbor: “And this commandment we have from Him, that he who loves God should love his brother also”(I John 4, 21).

Sometimes it is difficult to love a neighbor who has offended us; that’s why we have to begin with the love of God, who is good, so that we become capable of loving our brothers and, in this way, really love God: So it is explained in a beautiful way in the inspired book of Maria Valtorta (she explains why the three first commandments refer to God, to the love of God and the commandments relating to the love of brothers come afterwards).

“Apart from the just norm of priority referring to worship of the Supreme Being, the Ten Commandments are regulated in order, following a perfect thinking of paternal love  to men who God wishes to see happy in the eternal kingdom”… “I already said it: “If you don’t know how to love God, how can you love your brother? If you don’t love the Most Good, the Benefactor and the Friend, how can you know how to love your fellow-creature, so exceptionally good, benefactor and friend?”

In a human way, .i. e. from animal-man to animal-man, you cannot. Nevertheless, if you don’t love your neighbor, you don’t love God either; and if you don’t love God, you will not enter his Kingdom”.

“We see that our Holy Father teaches you at first to love Him. As a wise Master, he encourages you and makes you strong in love, giving Himself to you in order that

You love Him, the eternal Good One. Once love has united you to Him and He has dwelt in you, He  induces you to love your brothers, your neighbors and in order to make you stronger in the sweet but also difficult love to your neighbor, he proposes your father and mother as the first neighbors you have to love. The man who learns to love perfectly, after God, his father and mother, will not have any trouble, later on, to refrain from being violent with his neighbor, from being a thief and a fornicator, from lying and from coveting his neighbor’s wife or somebody else’s goods”[51].

Thus, the primacy of the love of God is clear in the double commandment to love God and your neighbor. As well, it is clear that if we don’t love our neighbor, we cannot say that we love God.

We have to run counter to the erroneous opinion which is diffused nowadays by some theologians, that we should leave aside the love of God and replace it for the love to our neighbor.

We can quote an article about this subject[52]: “Although directly professed atheism has no connection with such statements, they pretend to translate every relation with God into a relation with men. With such purpose, by forcing Saint John’s text : “For how can he who does not love his brother, whom he sees, love God, whom he does not see?”, they preach love of God and love of our neighbor as if the latter were not but the performing of the first one”…

“If the second commandment is seen as the adult translation of the first one; if to love God is to love our neighbor, if the fact of God is left aside, how can man love himself? Not only with a total but with an absolute love, for then is man, Humanity who becomes absolute. The denial of God never results in a greater love for our neighbor, but in loving him to the extent he coincides with ourselves or is useful to us. In the end, it results in a reciprocal hate which is the environment of hell”.

All in all, the two commandments about love of God and love of our neighbor are inseparable, one of them cannot be accomplished without the other, for he who loves God, loves men, His children. And one cannot love his neighbors, the children, who are seldom perfect, if one does not love the infinite Good, the Creator and Father of men, if one does not love God.

And the love of God is the most important and substantial root of any love: because God is infinitely good and entitled to be loved, while the creatures, men, are limited and can only love each other in God, through the love of God, who wanted to die for their salvation, and with the love which God instills in us. Although, after this is said, it is also true that we would be excluded from the love of God if we did not love Him in his children, our brothers and sisters. 

[51]María Valtorta, “Cuadernos de 1945 a 1950”, Pg. 381 (Translation Simón Orta)

[52]“Sobre el doble precepto de la caridad (I)” in  Cuestiones y Respuestas I, Pg. 74, Madrid, 1977 (esquemas de Documentación Doctrinal)