Bernard of Clairvaux (1090 – 1153)
You wish me to tell you why and how God should be loved. My answer is
that God himself is the reason why he is to be loved. As for how he is
to be loved, there is to be no limit to that love...
...There are two reasons why God should be loved for his own sake: no
one can be loved more righteously and no one can be loved with greater
benefit... My answer to both questions is assuredly the same, for I can
see no other reason for loving him than himself. So let us see first how
he deserves our love.
How God is to
be loved for his own sake
God certainly deserves a lot from us since he gave himself to us when
we deserved it least (Galatians 1:4). Besides, what could he have given
us better than himself? Hence when seeking why God should be loved, if
one asks what right he has to be loved, the answer is that the main reason
for loving him is, “He loved us first” (1 John 4:9-10). Surely he is worthy
of being loved in return when one thinks of who loves, whom he loves, how
much he loves. Is it not he whom every spirit acknowledges (1 John 4:2)?
… This divine love is sincere, for it is the love of one who does not seek
his own advantage (1 Corinthians 13:5).
To whom is such love shown? It is written: “While we were still his
enemies, he reconciled us to himself” (Romans 5:10). Thus God loved freely,
and even his enemies. How much did he love? St. John answers that: “God
so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son” (John 3:16). St
Paul adds: “He did not spare his only Son, but delivered him up for us”
(Romans 8:32). The Son also said of himself: “No one has greater love than
he who lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
Thus the righteous one deserved to be loved by the wicked, the highest
and omnipotent by the weak. Now someone says: “This is true for man, but
it does not hold for the angels.” That is true because it was not necessary
for the angels, for he who came to man’s help in time of need, kept the
angels from such a need, and he who did not leave man in such a state because
he loved him, out of an equal love gave the angels the grace not to fall
into that state.
I think that they to whom this is clear see why God ought to be loved,
that is, why he merits to be loved. If the infidels conceal these facts,
God is always able to confound their ingratitude by his innumerable gifts
which he manifestly places at man’s disposal. For, who else gives food
to all who eat, sight to all who see, and air to all who breathe? It would
be foolish to want to enumerate; what I have just said cannot be counted.
It suffices to point out the chief ones: bread, sun, and air. I call them
the chief gifts, not because they are better but because the body cannot
live without them. Man’s nobler gifts – dignity, knowledge, and virtue
– are found in the higher parts of his being, in his soul. Man’s dignity
is his free will by which he is superior to the beasts and even dominates
them. His knowledge is that by which he acknowledges that this dignity
is in him, but that it is not of his own making. Virtue is that by which
man seeks continuously and eagerly for his Maker and when he finds him,
adheres to him with all his might.
- excerpted from On Loving God, Chapter 1
of Clairvaux (1090 – 1153) was born of noble parentage. He became a Cistercian
monk at the age of 22 and took with him thirty young men, including his
brothers and uncles, to Citeaux Abbey in France. Three years later he founded
a new monastery at Clairvaux. This abbey became a center of the Cistercian
order and a source of spiritual renewal throughout Europe.]