The second form of false love Thomas Merton identifies in his book Disputed Questions, he calls, an “authoritarian and legalist corruption of love.”

What matters for this corruption of love is the law and the state. To these the person must always be sacrificed.

It seeks the perfect society, the perfect enforcement of its own law, in expectation of that perfect situation which will permit objects to turn into persons. Until the, love is a matter of enforcing the law, or stepping up production, and the kindest thing to all concerned is to exterminate everyone who stands in the way of the policy of the moment. 108

Legalism… is another weak form of love which in the end produces dissension, destroys communion, and for all its talk about unity, tends by its narrowness and rigidity to create divisions among men. For legalism, refusing to see truth in anybody else’s viewpoint, and rejecting human values a priori in favor of the abstract letter of the law, is utterly incapable of ‘rising above’ its own limitations and meeting another on a superior level. … The temptation to legalism arises precisely when the apparent holiness of a cause and even its manifest rightness blinds us to the holiness of individuals and persons. We tend to forget that charity comes first and is the only Christian ‘cause’ that has the right to precedence over every other.

Legalism in practice makes law and discipline more important than love itself. For the legalist, law is more worthy of love than the persons for whose benefit the law was instituted.   Discipline is more important than the good of souls to whom discipline is given, not as an end into itself but as a means to their growth in Christ. 115

A living organism cannot be held together by merely mechanical and exterior means. It must be unified by its own interior life-principle. The life of the Church is divine Love itself, the Holy Spirit. Obedience and discipline are necessary to prevent us from separating ourselves, unconsciously, from the guidance of the Invisible Spirit. But merely bringing people to submit to authority by external compulsion is not sufficient to unite them in a vital union of love with Christ in His Church. Obedience without love produces only dead works, external conformity, not interior communion. 116, 117

 

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