This concerns the Christian duty: love of country, according to the Catholic Church, which can be found in the chapter Christianity and Love of Country in the book: How Christ Changed the World: The Social Teachings of the Catholic Church by Msgr. Luigi Civardi of Catholic Action, published in 1961 (edited here by A. J. MacDonald, Jr. (.pdf here; .html here.)
The Latin word patria is derived from pater (father), which is where we get our English word patriotism, and is synonymous with “fatherland.” It is the place where we were born. As a synonym for country, one may also employ the word nascere (to be born). Love of county is natural; that is it springs spontaneously in the heart of man. Just as nature itself makes flowers bloom in the fields, so likewise it makes “the love of our native land spring up in our heart.”
How can we help loving the land that we were born and grew up in; the land that left its stamp upon our bodies, upon our minds and even upon our voice; the land that harbors our father’s home, in which we were reared, the temple where we became children of God, and a hundred other things that are indelibly engraved in our imagination and in our hearts?
But one’s country is not merely a place and an aggregate of endearing things, it is also, above all, the community of the people who were born in the land of our birth and who avail themselves of the things that we also avail ourselves of, in a word, it is the whole of our fellow citizens. This is the loftiest and the truest idea of county, It is also an eminently Christian idea. Love of country thus understood is nothing but a manifestation of love of neighbor. It is a natural extension of our love toward our father, an expansion of our love for our family.
Love of country, understood in this latter sense too, is a natural sentiment; it was felt even by the pagans, who were fond of this motto:: “pro aris et focis” (for our alters and our fires) – that is, for religion and for country. Very often it was a sense of exaggerated love and pride, that not only disregarded the rights of humankind, but did violence to them. Thus for the Greeks, every foreigner was a barbarian, and for the Romans, an enemy. Even the people of Israel, although taught by God, had [have] an exaggerated idea of country that was often in conflict with their duties toward mankind. Christianity purified and elevated this virtue by reconciling it with man’s duties.
Love of country was a natural duty before becoming a Christian duty. The Holy Spirit dictated this sentence: “Every beast loves its like:so also every man that is nearest himself.” (Ecclus. 13:19). These words contain a fundamental law of nature: Love has its motive and its foundation in likeness – the greater and deeper are the likenesses, the keener the love. Now who are our fellow countrymen if not neighbors with whom we have the most in common? Those who share the same language, culture, traditions, customs, tastes, social relations, common moral and even physical traits. Love of country, therefore, has its foundations in nature. Patriotism is an inborn sentiment; hence, it is willed and enjoined by the Creator.
Love of country is also a duty of gratefulness for the benefits that the citizens have received from the peoples and from the country in which we were born and reared. St. Thomas Aquinas says on this point: “After God, man is chiefly indebted to his parents and to his country; and, therefore, just as religion must render worship to God, so, to a lesser degree, piety must pay honor to parents and to country.”
Love of country is a Christian duty, in as much as it was not only practiced but preached by Christ who made love of neighbor the characteristic and the novelty of his message: “This is my commandment: that you love one another…(John 15:12). “A new commandment I give to you; that you love one another.” (John 13:34). Now our closest neighbors, after those that come in contact with us within the walls of our homes, are those that we come in contact with as soon as we cross the threshold of our homes, within the boundaries of our country.
Indeed, Jesus came to save all peoples. He teaches the brotherhood of all men, so likewise he enjoins universal love. Therefore the prime center of love of neighbor is the family, where the traits of resemblance are more numerous and more marked; from the family it spreads to the country, and from there, to the whole of humankind.
Jesus taught us the duty to love our country, first of all by his conduct. He showed, in fact, a special love for his country. His preaching was reserved for the children of Israel: “I was not sent except to sheep that are lost of the house of Israel.” (Matt. 15:24). Jerusalem, the capital of his people, rejected his kindness. He was saddened by it, and one day he uttered these words, full of tenderness: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how often would I have gathered your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you would not!” (Matt. 23:37).
The apostles, too, brought up in the school of Christ, gave undoubted proof of this love. They were sent Christ to teach all nations; but their first concern was for their countrymen within the boundaries of their country, and when after crossing these boundaries, they entered a strange city to preach the new message, their first word was always for the Jews that dwelt there.
St. Paul, too, the apostle to the Gentiles, the zealous champion of universal Christianity, upon entering a city, began his preaching at the synagogue and preached to Gospel to his countrymen. He even went so far as to say that he longed to be accursed (if that were possible and necessary) provided that he could save those who were bound to him by blood: “For I wished myself to be accursed from Christ, for my brethren, who are my kinsmen according to the flesh.” (Rom. 9:3).
The Church of Christ has always taught the duty of loving one’s country in preference to others. Leo XIII said in this regard: “The supernatural love for the Church and the natural love of country are two loves that have their origin in the same eternal principles, since the same God is the author of the one and the other. (Encyclical Sapientiae Christianae). The Church, however, while teaching and enjoining love of country, has at the same time endeavored to keep it within just bounds by harmonizing with other loves, according to the dictates of reason and faith. Christianity is the religion of harmonies. It teaches true love of country, which lies midway between two erroneous extremes: between exaggerated nationalism, which ignores the rights of humanity, and internationalism, which denies country.
Pius XI tells us that gross injustices can arise “when true love of country is debased to the condition of extreme nationalism when we forget that all men are brothers and members of the same human family, that other nations have an equal right with us both to life and to prosperity.” (Encyclical Ubi Arcano Dei).
A Christian, besides belonging to civil society, belongs also to religious society, namely the Church. Hence the two loves must be in harmony with each other. The following is a teaching of Leo XIII on this point:
“Now if the natural law commands us to love with devotion and to defend the country in which we were born so that every good citizen does not hesitate to face death for his native land, very much more is the urgent need of Christians to be ever quickened by like feelings toward the Church. For the Church is the holy city of the living God….[and] we have a much more urgent obligation to love, with an ardent love, the Church to which we owe the life of the soul.” (Encyclical Sapientiae Christianae).
Love of country, like love of neighbor generally, should be not only affective, but also effective. When is this the case? When legitimate authority is respected and all just laws observed; when citizens are people of integrity, honest and industrious; when the duties of justice and charity are fulfilled; when all sacrifices that the country justly calls for are accomplished.
Now who does not see that these are virtues taught and fostered by the religion of Christ?
While on the one hand Christianity teaches and enjoins such love, on the other she offers the means to make it effective; these are the principles of the Gospel and help of divine grace. Love of country, therefore, cannot be divorced from respect for religion. Whoever opposes harms his country. All history affirms the prophet’s sentence: “Happy is the people whose God is the Lord.” (Ps. 143:15).