Scope: I'm seeking answers from Catholicism.

The concept of a "personal relationship" is fairly natural and intuitive when we think of the interactions between two human beings, like friends, spouses, or parents and children. However, attempting to extrapolate this intuition and understanding to a relationship between a human and God isn't immediately obvious. Let me explain why I think this. In human interactions, we can dissect a "personal relationship" into several core components:

  • Awareness or Perception: In a personal relationship between two individuals, each person must be aware of the other's presence. Put simply, they must be able to perceive each other's existence and acknowledge their presence. It doesn't seem logical to claim that A has a personal relationship with B if A isn't aware of B's existence or cannot perceive B's presence. There must be a means for both parties to perceive and be aware of each other's presence for a genuine personal relationship to exist. In human interpersonal relationships, this perception and awareness is possible through our natural senses and a well-functioning brain capable of sound cognitive processing. This combination enables us to decode and interpret sensory input into meaningful concepts, like perceiving another person's presence.

  • Communication: In a personal relationship between A and B, communication is essential. A should be able to convey coherent messages to B, and vice versa. Moreover, A must recognize when B initiates communication and vice versa, which ties closely to the previous point on awareness and perception. A needs to be able to distinguish between moments when B is speaking and moments when B is not, making it possible for A to have reactions such as "Ah, B is addressing me now" (and vice versa).

  • Interactivity: Beyond communication, it should be possible for A and B to engage in many other forms of interaction. While communication is crucial, human interaction can extend to many more activities. For instance, A and B can play a game of chess together, play table tennis together, practice synchronizing moves in a dance routine (like tango) together, take turns driving a car together, and so forth. Notice how these specific examples require fairly equal involvement from both parties.

I might be overlooking some features, but the ones I've mentioned appear to be quite fundamental, particularly in human interpersonal relationships.

Regarding the concept of a "personal relationship" between a human and God, do the features I outlined (awareness or perception, communication, interactivity) retain their importance? Are there additional crucial aspects? Are there interactions that are possible between two humans but are not possible between a human and God? Conversely, are there interactions that are possible between a human and God but that are not possible between two humans?

In short, is there an established list of essential attributes in Catholicism defining a "personal relationship" between a human and God?

References to official or reputable Catholic sources are encouraged.


1 Answer 1


Instead of "personal relationship" (a commonly used Protestant phrase), Catholics would say "friendship" or "charity".

John 15:15:

I will not now call you servants: […] But I have called you friends.

Antonio Royo Marín, O.P., Teología de la caridad p. 27 defines charity:

Charity is a single theological virtue, infused by God into the will, by which the just man loves God for Himself with a love of friendship above all things and oneself and his neighbor for God.

A "love of friendship" is (ibid. p. 25):

the love of [1] benevolence with [2] reciprocity of affections and [3] communication of goods.

  1. benevolence = willing the good for another
  2. reciprocity (what you call "interactivity") occurs with prayer
  3. communication of goods: e.g., God gives us grace, and we give Him glory.

The Cistercian Aelred of Rievaulx in Spiritual Friendship p. 69 equates friendship and charity:

Should I say of friendship what John, the friend of Jesus, said of charity, “God is friendship”? […] the one who remains in friendship remains in God, and God in him. [1 Jn. 4:16]

  • Would it be appropriate to show that charity = love? After all, God is love, and that love is exhibited in His grace and charity towards repentant sinners.
    – Lesley
    Commented May 10 at 9:01
  • 1
    @Lesley The English word "love" is ambiguous. There are several Greek words for the types of love. Charity (ἀγάπη, apagpe) = self-sacrificial love. {Amor (eros) is more what's generally meant by "love" in English.}
    – Geremia
    Commented May 10 at 17:29

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