Are these two fundamental kinds of charity equal, or is one superior to the other?

Regarding disinterested benevolence, there is present a certain exaltation of knowledge. Its main application is either a direct exercise of government over a community with an eye toward the greatest good for the greatest number or at least deep knowledge of how best to govern and prudence in doing it. (No specific answer is implied; for example, the best governor may be he who governs least. To realize that and to will oneself to practice laissez-faire and avoid interference may be the greatest achievement of such a person.) There is imitation of divine providence, specifically of the middle knowledge of the Holy Spirit. But the feeling itself has little sophistication; it’s a simple emotion.

Personal love, however, forsakes raw intellectual power and foresight for the sake of the complexity and depth of feeling and intimacy with the beloved.

Regarding the proper order of these, we can take a hint from the traditional Catholic view of the celestial hierarchy and the gradation of theological virtues. The top three angelic orders are: Thrones, Cherubim, and Seraphim. St. Thomas describes them as follows: “The ‘Cherubim’ know the Divine secrets supereminently; and the ‘Seraphim’ excel in what is the supreme excellence of all, in being united to God Himself; and all this in such a manner that the whole of this hierarchy can be called the ‘Thrones’.”

Let’s just associate Thrones with power (of commanding lower angels), Cherubim with intellect, and Seraphim with will. As charity is a virtue superior to faith, so Seraphim are above Cherubim, because “to know lower things is better than to love them; and to love the higher things, God above all, is better than to know them.” (ST, I, 108, 6) If Cherubim then represent disinterested benevolence, then Seraphim would signify personal love. It would seem that personal love is higher in dignity than disinterested benevolence.

On the other hand, in regard to God, there is no such thing as disinterested benevolence, because the “greatest number” is one, and God is already in full possession of the “greatest good.” And in regard to neighbor, other people are neither lower nor higher than me but are equal to me in nature. Hence it appears that knowing neighbor is as good as loving him. We conclude that both types of charity are equally valuable.

I am of course playing a little fast and loose with these associations, but I think these answers are reasonable.

In any case, both kinds of love are needed by society and have a rightful place in the grand scheme of things. The ideal specialization for each person may be determined in part by his Keirseyan temperament. Fully realized disinterested benevolence is probably much more rare than perfect personal love, but that in itself does not affect their equality or hierarchy.

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