Summary of On Loving God by St. Bernard of Clairvaux

You want me to tell you why God is to be loved and how much. I answer, the reason for loving God is God Himself; and the measure of love due to Him is immeasurable love.

We are to love God for Himself, because of a twofold reason; nothing is more reasonable, nothing more profitable.

“Because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19)

Pleased by such heavenly fragrances the bridegroom rejoices to revisit the heart’s chamber when He finds it adorned with fruits & decked with flowers – that is, meditating on the mystery of His Passion or on the glory of His Resurrection… So it behooves us, if we would have Christ for a frequent guest, to fill our hearts with faithful meditations on the mercy He showed in dying for us, and on His mighty power in rising again from the dead.

What kind of people are fittest for God’s love — Those who can say with truth, “My soul refuseth comfort” (Ps 77:2). For it is meet that those who are not satisfied by the present should be sustained by the thought of the future, and that the contemplation of eternal happiness should solace those who scorn to drink from the river of transitory joys.

Reason & natural justice alike move me to give up myself wholly to loving Him to whom I owe all that I have and am. But faith shows me that I should love Him far more than I love myself, as I come to realize that He hath given me not my own life, but even Himself… In the first creation He gave me myself; but in His new creation He gave me Himself, and by that gift restored me to the self that I had lost. Created first and then restored, I owe Him myself twice over in return for myself. But what have I to offer Him for the gift of Himself? Could I multiply myself a thousand-fold and then give Him all, what would that be in comparison with God?

I cannot love Thee as Thou deservest to be loved, for I cannot love Thee more than my own feebleness permits. I will love Thee more when Thou deemest me worthy to receive greater capacity for loving; yet never so perfectly as Thou hast deserved of me.

Love is an affection of the soul, not a contract: it cannot rise from a mere agreement, nor is it so to be gained. It is spontaneous in its origin and impulse; and true love is its own satisfaction.

True love does not demand a reward, but it deserves one.

One who loves God truly asks no other recompense than God Himself; for if he should demand anything else it would be the prize that he loved and not God.

If you should see a starving man standing with mouth open to the wind, inhaling draughts of air as if in hope of gratifying his hunger, you would think him lunatic. But it is no less foolish to imagine that the soul can be satisfied with worldly things which only inflate it without feeding it. What have spiritual gifts to do with carnal appetites, or carnal with spiritual?

The motive for loving God is God Himself, for He is as well the efficient cause as the final object of our love. He gives the occasion for love, He creates the affection, He brings the desire to good effect…

He gives Himself as prize and reward: He is the refreshment of holy soul, the ransom of those in captivity.

What will He be then to those who gain His presence? But here is a paradox, that no one can seek the Lord who has not already found Him. It is Thy will, O God, to be found that Thou mayest be sought, to be sought that Thou mayest the more truly be found. But though Thou canst be sought and found, Thou canst not be forestalled.

1st degree of love – man loves God for self’s sake.

  • Nature is so frail & weak that necessity compels her to love herself first.

Now a man cannot love his neighbour in God, except He love God Himself; wherefore we must love God first, in order to love our neighbours in Him.

2nd degree of love – to love God, not for God’s sake, but selfishly.

  • Man perceives that he cannot exist by himself, and so begins by faith to seek after God, and to love Him as something necessary to his own welfare.

3rd degree of love – to love God, not merely as benefactor, but as God.

  • God’s goodness once realized draws us to love Him unselfishly.
  • Whosoever loves God aright loves all God’s creatures.
  • Whosoever praises God for His essential goodness, and not merely b/c of the benefits He has bestowed, does really love God for God’s sake, and not selfishly.
  • It is beyond our powers to move beyond this point.

4th degree of love – man does not even love self save for God’s sake

  • Example of a drop of water poured into wine loses itself, and take the colour and savour of wine.
  • In the saints all human affections melt away by some unspeakable transmutation into the will of God.
  • You don’t possess the 4th degree, but are possessed by it.
  • And to this degree no human effort can attain: it is in God’s power to give it to whom He wills.

Charity – charity alone is able to turn the soul away from love of self and of the world to pure love of God. Only charity can convert the soul freeing it from unworthy motives.

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