Though there are so many degrees of love amongst true lovers, yet is there but one commandment of love, which universally and equally obliges every one, with an exactly like and entirely equal obligation, though it be observed differently and with an infinite variety of perfections; there being perhaps no souls on earth, as there are no angels in heaven, who are perfectly equal to one another in their love. As one star differs from another in brightness, so shall it be with the Blessed in their resurrection, when each one sings a canticle of glory, and receives a name which no man knoweth but he that receiveth it. But what degree of love is it then, to which the divine commandment equally, universally and continually obliges all?
It is an action of the providence of the Holy Ghost, that in our ordinary version, which his divine majesty has canonized and sanctified by the Council of Trent, the heavenly commandment of love is expressed by the word dilection rather than by the word love; for although dilection is a kind of love, yet is it not a simple love, but a love of choice and election, which sense the word itself conveys, as the glorious S. Thomas notes: for this commandment enjoins us a love chosen out of thousands, the well-beloved object of this love being chosen out of thousands, according to that of the beloved Sulamitess in the Canticles. It is a love which must prevail over all our loves, and reign over all our passions. And this is what God requires of us -- that among all our loves his be the dearest, holding the first place in our hearts; the warmest, occupying our whole soul; the most general, employing all our powers; the highest, filling our whole spirit; and the strongest, exercising all our strength and vigour. And inasmuch as by this we choose and elect God for the sovereign object of our soul, it is a love of sovereign election, or an election of sovereign love. You are not ignorant, Theotimus, that there are various species of love, as for example, there is a fatherly love, a brotherly love, a filial love and a nuptial love; a love of society, of obligation, of dependence, -- and a hundred more, which are all different in excellence, and are so proportioned to their objects that scarcely can they be applied or appropriated to any other. He who should love his father with the love of a brother only, would certainly not love him enough. He who should love his wife only like his father, would not love her properly; he who should love his servant with a filial love, would commit an impropriety. Love is like honour; for as honour is diversified according to the diversity of the excellences to which the honour is given, so loves are different according to the difference of the goodnesses for which we love. Sovereign honour is due to sovereign excellence, and sovereign love to sovereign goodness. The love of God is a love without peer, because the goodness of God is a peerless goodness. Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord, and therefore, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole strength. For as God is the only Lord, his goodness is infinitely above all goodness, and he is to be loved with a love which is eminent, excellent, and mighty beyond all comparison. It is this supreme love which places God in such esteem in our souls, and makes us repute it so great a happiness to be agreeable in his sight, that we prefer him and love him above all things. Now, Theotimus, do you not plainly see, that he who loves God in this sort has dedicated his whole soul and strength to God, since ever, and for ever, and in all occurrences, he will prefer the good grace of God to all things, and will be ever ready to forsake the whole world, in order to preserve the love which is due to the divine goodness. And, in a word, it is the love of excellence, or the excellence of love, which is commanded to all mortals in general, and to each one of them in particular as soon as they have the free use of reason: a love sufficient for each one, and necessary for salvation to all.