Love of Neighbor is Salvific

The state of grace includes all three theological virtues: love, faith, hope. And this virtue of love is the true spiritual love of God and neighbor, in cooperation with grace. Everyone in the state of grace has this infused virtue of love, which orders the souls to love God above all else, and to love your neighbor as yourself. The state of grace is the state of loving God and neighbor.

Can an atheist be in the state of grace? Yes, for the true love of neighbor always includes, at least implicitly, the love of God. By loving his neighbor, the unbeliever implicitly loves God, even though he denies or doubts that God exists.

If anyone truly selflessly loves his neighbor, in full cooperation with grace, then he necessarily also loves God, at least implicitly, and he necessarily is in the state of grace.

An unbaptized person can enter the state of grace by an implicit baptism of desire, which can take the form of selfless love of neighbor. By truly loving his neighbor, the unbaptized person receives a baptism of desire. For the love of neighbor is ordered toward the love of God, at least implicitly, and all who desire to love God and neighbor thereby desire that infused virtue of love found only in the state of grace.

A baptized person, who falls out of the state of grace by an actual mortal sin, can return to the state of grace by perfect contrition, which can take the form of selfless love of neighbor. The sinner might have perfect contrition for his sins, motivated by the love of neighbor, for all sin harms our neighbor, directly or indirectly. And since the love of neighbor always includes, at least implicitly, the love of God, sorrow for sin out of love of neighbor is sorrow for sin out of love for God, i.e. perfect contrition.

Now this perfect contrition can be implicit, just as a baptism of desire can be implicit. An atheist, who entered the state of grace by love of neighbor (or by formal baptism as a child), and who fell from the state of grace by actual mortal sin, can return to the state of grace by an act of true selfless love of neighbor, in full cooperation with grace. This love might be expressed as sorrow for the harm done to one’s neighbor by one’s own sins. Or it might be any other expression of a true full love of neighbor. The contrition is implicit, in that the love of neighbor implicitly includes love of God, required for perfect contrition, but the contrition can also be implicit, in that the love of neighbor implicitly includes sorrow for sin.

Suppose that a soldier is in a state of unrepentant actual mortal sin. He is with his comrades in arms, for whom he has some filial affection. An enemy throws a grenade in their midst. If the soldier decides, in full cooperation with grace, to give up his life to save the life of his fellow soldiers, by throwing himself on the grenade, his act of love of neighbor implicitly includes perfect contrition for all his sins — even though he does not call each sin to mind and does not explicitly repent from each one. He therefore dies in the state of grace and is saved.

Similarly, an act of love of neighbor, in full cooperation with grace, can be salvific, returning the sinner to the state of grace, in a wide range of situations in life. Sacrificing one’s life for one’s neighbor is not the only way to cooperate with grace in the love of neighbor. And so there are many opportunities for an individual who is unbaptized, or for an individual who is in a state of actual mortal sin, to enter or return to the state of grace by an act of love of neighbor.

This act of love of neighbor can be a response to a neighbor in need. It can be an interior desire to help those in need at any time, even apart from an immediate situation. The love of neighbor can be motivated by humility, justice, purity of heart, or any of the other beatitudes. For this teaching of Jesus on the path to happiness is truly a teaching on the path to salvation. Thus, the salvific love of neighbor is implied by the beatitudes.

[Matthew 5]
{5:1} Then, seeing the crowds, he ascended the mountain, and when he had sat down, his disciples drew near to him,
{5:2} and opening his mouth, he taught them, saying:
{5:3} “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
{5:4} Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the earth.
{5:5} Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be consoled.
{5:6} Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied.
{5:7} Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
{5:8} Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
{5:9} Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
{5:10} Blessed are those who endure persecution for the sake of justice, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
{5:11} Blessed are you when they have slandered you, and persecuted you, and spoken all kinds of evil against you, falsely, for my sake:
{5:12} be glad and exult, for your reward in heaven is plentiful. For so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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