Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153): Why should God be loved?

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“You wish to hear from me why and in what manner God should be loved. I answer then: the reason for loving God is God [himself]; and there should be no measure [of that love]. Is that enough to say about the matter? For a wise man it most probably is, but I am a debtor to the unwise also. And though I may have said enough for those with understanding, I must have due regard for others too. For those less apt, then, I gladly will explain what I have said more fully, if not with greater depth.

I might have said there was a twofold reason why we are to love God [solely] for himself. Firstly, nothing is more just, and secondly, nothing is more profitable. The question ‘Why should God be loved?’ includes both of these, for it may mean either ‘What is his claim upon our love?’ or ‘What benefit shall we derive from loving him?’. My former answer stands in either case: there is no other worthy cause for loving God except himself.

And firstly, as to his claim upon our love, he surely merits much from us who gave himself to us, unworthy as we were: what better gift could he have given than himself? If, then, it is his claim we have in mind when asking ‘Why should God be loved?’, the first and foremost answer is, ‘Because he first loved us’ (1 Jn. 4:19). Most plainly is he worthy of being loved in return by us, especially if we consider who he is who thus bestows his love on us, who the objects of it are, and how great it is. For who is he, save he whom every soul confesses, ‘Thou art my God, my goods are nothing unto Thee’ (Ps. 16:2). His is indeed that majestic love which ‘seeketh not its own’ (1 Cor. 13:5). But who are they to whom he shows this selfless love? ‘When we were enemies,’ says the Apostle, ‘we were reconciled to God’ (Rom. 5:10). God, then, has loved us freely, while we were enemies. How much has he loved us? John says: ‘God so loved the world the world that he gave his only begotten Son’ (Jn. 3:16). ‘He that spared not his own Son,’ says Paul, ‘but delivered him up for us all’ (Rom. 8:32). The Son, moreover, tells us of himself, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ (Jn. 15:13). This is the claim that the Just One has on sinners, the Highest on the lowest, and he who is Almighty on the weak. You say, perhaps, Yes, that is true of men, but with the angels it is otherwise. That I admit: the angels had not our human need. For the fact is that he who helped man in his misery kept them from falling into such a plight at all; and he whose love gave men the means to leave their lost estate, by a like love preserved the angels from sharing in our fall.”

– Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), De diligendo Deo, Chapter 1

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153): Grief for sins is necessary, but it should not stay there

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“Grief for sins is necessary, but must not be perpetual. My advice is to turn back at times from sorrow and the anxious remembrance of your ways, and escape to the plain, to a calm review of the divine mercies. Let us mingle honey with wormwood, that the salubrious bitter may give health when we drink it tempered with a mixture of sweetness: while you think humbly of yourselves, think also of the goodness of the Lord.”

– Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153), Sermones super Cantica Canticorum (Sermons on the Song of Songs), Sermon 11

Gregory the Great (c. 540–604), Isidore of Seville (c. 560–636) and Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153) on the importance of studying Scripture

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“The Emperor of heaven, the Lord of men and of angels, has sent you His epistles for your life’s advantage—and yet you neglect to read them eagerly.  Study them, I beg you, and meditate daily on the words of your Creator. Learn the heart of God in the words of God, that you may sigh more eagerly for things eternal, that your soul may be kindled with greater longings for heavenly joys.”

– Gregory the Great (c. 540–604), Letters, 5, 46

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“Prayer purifies us, reading instructs us… If a man wants to be always in God’s company, he must pray regularly and read regularly. When we pray, we talk to God; when we read, God talks to us.”

“All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection. By reading we learn what we did not know; by reflection we retain what we have learned.”

“Reading the holy Scriptures (the Bible) confers two benefits. It trains the mind to understand them; it turns man’s attention from the follies of the world and leads him to the love of God.”

“Two kinds of study are called for here. We must first learn how the Scriptures are to be understood, and then see how to expound them with profit and in a manner worthy of them. A man must first be eager to understand what he is reading before he is fit to proclaim what he has learned.”

“The conscientious reader will be more concerned to carry out what he has read than merely to acquire knowledge of it… Learning unsupported by grace may get into our ears; it never reaches the heart. It makes a great noise outside but serves no inner purpose. But when God’s grace touches our innermost minds to bring understanding, his word which has been received by the ear sinks deep into the heart.”

– Isidore of Seville (c. 560–636), Book of Maxims, Lib. 3,8-10: PL 83, 679-682

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“The person who thirsts for God eagerly studies and meditates on the inspired Word, knowing that there, he is certain to find the One for whom he thirsts.”

– Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153), Commentary on the Song of Songs, Sermon, 23:3

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) on conforming to the will and image of God

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“Seeing that the Scripture saith, God has made all for His own glory (Isa. 43.7), surely His creatures ought to conform themselves, as much as they can, to His will. In Him should all our affections center, so that in all things we should seek only to do His will, not to please ourselves. And real happiness will come, not in gratifying our desires or in gaining transient pleasures, but in accomplishing God’s will for us: even as we pray every day: ‘Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven’ (Matt. 6.10). O chaste and holy love! O sweet and gracious affection! O pure and cleansed purpose, thoroughly washed and purged from any admixture of selfishness, and sweetened by contact with the divine will! To reach this state is to become deified. As a drop of water poured into wine loses itself, and takes the color and savor of wine; or as a bar of iron, heated red-hot, becomes like fire itself, forgetting its own nature; or as the air, radiant with sun-beams, seems not so much to be illuminated as to be light itself; so in the saints all human affections melt away by some unspeakable transmutation into the will of God. For how could God be all in all, if anything merely human remained in man? The substance will endure, but in another beauty, a higher power, a greater glory. When will that be? Who will see, who possess it? ‘When shall I come to appear before the presence of God?’ (Ps. 42.2). ‘My heart hath talked of Thee, Seek ye My face: Thy face, Lord, will I seek’ (Ps. 27.8). Lord, thinkest Thou that I, even I shall see Thy holy temple?”

– Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), On Loving God, Ch. 10.

* While Bernard here uses the term “deified” which may put many of us off, I suggest reading it in the sense of “being conformed to the image of God.