- The Metaphysical Foundations of Love: Aquinas on Participation, Unity, and Union by Anthony Flood
In this book Flood explores the ramifications of a basic insight of St. Thomas, namely, that proper self-love is the basis for loving others because—and to the degree that—unity is prior to union. Love as a unitive force thus mirrors the ontological relation between unity (the principium) and union (the principiatum). At the same time, he is eager to explore a key conclusion that follows from this insight: that "the kinds of union in question determine the direction and key characteristics of love itself." The argument adheres to this basic pattern throughout, first presenting the relation of dependence, then evaluating the characteristics, orders, and disorders of love that one can infer from it.
His first chapter sets forth the basic argument for the priority of proper self-love based on the substantial unity of the person. The second turns to the kinds of human personal love dependent on the possible kinds of union, with particular attention to marriage as the most intense and indissolubly permanent form of unitive friendship. The third explores and answers a difficulty: how love of God can have priority over (even proper) self-love. Flood argues that such priority is rooted in the ontological priority of the creature's participation in God to his or her own personal substantial unity. God, in short, is closer to us than we are to ourselves. Strangely, Flood nowhere adverts to this classic dictum of Augustine (Conf. 3.6.11), though it clearly speaks to the heart of his argument. Flood contends that "a [human] person does not and cannot exist as an isolated unity, but as a unity deriving its very act of being from an ongoing participation in God himself. . . . [T]his fact accounts for the possibility of the greater love of God over self." Chapters 4 and 5 treat the reasons why the disorders (chapter 4) and proper orders (chapter 5) of love for God respectively fail to promote or truly promote love for others. They pursue this by exploring the tendency of love, whether ordered or not, to cause conformity to the beloved. Improper self-love becomes so by pride, which amounts to a false self-image and false relation to oneself (says Flood: the person "eschews . . . his true relational identity"). When one loves in a [End Page 366] disordered way, one malforms one's own self, triggering a cascade of consequences for the person's ability to love both self and neighbor. Proper self-love (chapter 5), by contrast, turns out to be a form of self-governance, whose final cause is the love of God and neighbor. It is perfected both in natural love of God through religion and worship, and in supernatural charity, and thus leads to love of others. The final chapter offers a standalone coda: an argument that since self-love requires self-experience, Thomas's arguments yield a kind of notion of personal subjectivity.
Flood treats big themes in a small space—with particular clarity to boot. This is no small achievement, and it speaks to the maturity of his understanding. Thinking of love and self-love in terms of their ontological foundations richly illuminates them. Being both rich and clear, this book is likely to prompt an abundance of further reflection in its readers. It also shines in short and lucid descriptions of foundational points, such as his brief overview of charity and his definition of participation. Notably, although Flood presents his work as an exercise in philosophy, he clearly enjoys mining Aquinas's New Testament commentaries for insights. And in the fourth chapter, commendably, he turns to Evagrius, Cassian, and the tradition of the desert fathers to understand Aquinas's view of acedia. It would have been even better if he had parsed out the relationship between the traditional Evagrian analysis of eight evil thoughts, and Aquinas's seven deadly sins, as well as the relationship between...