Chapter Three: Love is Overflowing

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Love Is OverflowingIn Chapter Three we finally get to the heart of Richard of St. Victor’s work and finally start to talk about the Trinity. But instead of launching into a theological treatise on the divine relations, Richard considers another attribute that relates to the unity of the divine substance: charity-love.

Charity-love, which is the translator’s rendition of the Latin caritas, speaks to what Richard considers the perfection of love, the supreme ‘experience’ of love which God possesses in himself. This sort of love is usually the term by which Latin renders the Greek agape, pointing to a love that is self-giving not only in the colloquial sense of ‘charity,’ but in the manner of wanting to give all of oneself to the object of affection. Whatever way in which me might wish to describe it, in Richard’s usage it refers to a love of which none could be greater, the source of any love that could be since it contains it in itself.

It is from the perfection of charity-love in God that Richard deduces not only the possibility of a plurality of persons in the divine substance, but rather the necessity. His argument essentially runs as such:

  1. God is a unity of being in which every perfection coincides
  2. Charity-love is a perfection; thus God is charity-love
  3. Charity-love, by definition, requires another to receive it
  4. Therefore, in God is a multiplicity of persons.

The objection might raised that requiring another to receive charity-love does not necessitate another divine person, since that love could be received by some other being (a created being, for example), but Richard rebuts by pointing back to the unity of the divine substance and how the attributes of God absolutely coincide. If God really does possess the perfection of charity-love, then God just is charity-love. If that charity-love requires another to receive it, then the reception of it actually requires that the one who receives can possess the fullness of charity-love in the same manner. As only God can possess the fullness of charity-love, the other person who receives this love must also be divine.

But the perfection of charity-love is not only found in sharing love and receiving it. Richard locates another movement of love in that the fullness is realized when another desires to be loved by the one who is much loved. Richard coins the term condilectio (co-love) to describe this final facet of charity-love which closes off the circle of mutual self-giving in the divine persons.

Naturally, Richard of St. Victor does not perceive this movement of charity-love to proceed in a chronology; rather, the steps in the sequence are indicative of the limitation of our intellect to grasp the divine mystery in the Trinity’s perfection of charity-love. However, the insistence on the unity of God in the first two chapters brings to light the startling and incomprehensible truth of the plurality of persons: The different ways of loving (one might even say the different ‘experiences’ of divine love) are just the way that the Trinity is. The different aspects of charity-love are not each a type of charity-love (as if each person is different type of God) but are just the way that charity-love is. This gives us the dimmest glimpse into the unity of the divine persons in the fullness of the divine substance.