Who is the Neighbor

It shall first be shown what the neighbour is; for it is the neighbour who is to be loved, and towards whom charity is to be exercised. For unless it be known what the neighbour is charity may be exercised, without distinction, in the same manner towards the evil as towards the good, whereby charity ceases to be charity; for the evil do evil to the neighbour from the benefactions conferred on them, but the good do good.

It is a common opinion at this day that every man is equally the neighbour, and that benefits are to be conferred on every one who needs assistance: but it concerns Christian prudence to look well to the quality of a man’s life, and to exercise charity towards him accordingly. The man of the internal church exercises his charity with discrimination, and therefore with intelligence; but the man of the external church, because he cannot so well discern things, does it indiscriminately.
The distinctions of neighbour, which the man of the church ought well to know, depend upon the good that is in every one. And because every good proceeds from the Lord, therefore the neighbour in the highest sense and in a supereminent degree is the Lord, from whom is the origin [of the relationship]. Hence it follows that in so far as any one is receptive of the Lord in that degree he is our neighbour; and since no one receives the Lord, that is good from Him, in the same manner as another, therefore no one is our neighbour in the same manner as another. For all who are in the heavens and all the good that are on earth differ in good; no two ever receive good that is exactly one and the same. It must be different that each may subsist by itself. But all these varieties, —that is all the distinctions of neighbour which depend on the reception of the Lord, or, on the reception of good from Him,— can never be known by any man; nor indeed by any angel except in general, or as to their genera and species. And the Lord does not require more of the man of the church than to live according to what he knows.

Since the good with every one is different, it follows that the quality of his good determines in what degree and in what respect any one is our neighbour. That this is so is plain from the Lord’s parable concerning him who fell among thieves, whom half dead the priest passed by, and also the Levite; but the Samaritan, after he had bound up his wounds and poured in oil and wine, took him upon his own beast, and led him to an inn, and ordered that care should be taken of him. Because he exercised the good of charity he is called the neighbour (Luke x. 29-37). It may be known from this that they who are in good are our neighbour. The oil and wine moreover which the Samaritan poured into the wounds signify good and its truth.

It is plain from what has now been said that in the universal sense good is the neighbour; inasmuch as a man is neighbour according to the quality of the good that is in him from the Lord. And as good is the neighbour so is love, for all good is of love; therefore every man is our neighbour according to the quality of the love which he possesses from the Lord. (HD n. 84-88)

Good is the neighbour because good is of the will, and the will is the being of a man’s life. The truth of the understanding is also the neighbour, but in so far as it proceeds from the good of the will; for the good of the will forms itself in the understanding, and there makes itself visible in the light of reason. That good is the neighbour is evident from all experience. Who loves a person except for the quality of his will and understanding, that is for what is good and just in him? For example, who loves a king, a prince, a duke, a governor, a consul, or the person of any magistrate, or any judge, but for the discretion from which they act and speak? Who loves a primate, or any minister or canon of the church, but for his learning, uprightness of life, and zeal for the salvation of souls? Who loves the general of an army, or any officer under him, but for his courage, and at the same time prudence? Who loves a  merchant but for his sincerity?. Who loves a workman or a servant but for his fidelity? Nay, who likes a tree but for its fruit? or ground but for its fertility? or a stone but for its preciousness? &c. And what is remarkable, not only does an upright man love what is good and just in another, but a man who is not upright also does; because with him he is in no fear of the loss of fame, honour, or wealth. But with one who is not upright the love of good is not love of the neighbour; for he does not inwardly love the other, except in so far as he is of service to him. But to love the good in another from good in one’s self is genuine love towards the neighbour; for then the goods mutually kiss and are united with each other. (TCR n. 418)

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