Bernard of Clairvaux

On Loving God

1. Why we should love God, and the measure of that love

2. How much God deserves love from man in recognition of His gifts, both material and spiritual; and how these gifts should be cherished without neglect of the Giver

3. What greater incentives Christians have, more than the heathen, to love God

4. Of those who find comfort in the recollection of God, or are fittest for His love

5. Of the Christian's debt of love, how great it is

6. A brief summary

7. Of love toward God not without reward; and how the hunger of man's heart cannot be satisfied with earthly things

8. Of the first degree of love, wherein man loves God for self's sake

9. Of the second and third degrees of love

10. Of the fourth degree of love, wherein man does not even love self, save for God's sake

11. Of the attainment of this perfection of love only at the resurrection

12. Of love: out of a letter to the Carthusians

13. Of the law of self-will and desire, of slaves and hirelings

14. Of the law of the love of sons

15. Of the four degrees of love, and of the blessed state of the heavenly fatherland


You want me to tell you why and in what measure God is to be loved. I reply, the reason for loving God is God himself, and the measure, is to love without measure. Is this sufficient? Perhaps, to a thoughtful man, but I am debtor also to simple persons. This word to the wise may be sufficient, but I should consider simple persons as well. Therefore it is no burden to repeat the same thing at greater length and in greater depth.

I said that God is to be loved for himself, for a twofold reason: nothing is more reasonable, nothing more profitable. For when we ask, "Why should we love God?" we may mean, "What is lovable in God?" or "What profit is there for us in loving God?" In either case, I answer that I find no worthy reason for loving God, except God himself.

And first let us consider how he deserves to be loved. He who gave himself for us without any merit on our part, merited to received much from us. For what better gift could he give than himself? Hence, if one seeks for why God deserves our love, this reason is the primary one: because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).

Should not he be loved in return, especially when we think who loved, whom he loved, and how much he loved? For who is he who loved? Is it not him of whom every spirit testifies: "Thou art my God, because you have no need of my goods" (Psalm 16:2, Vulg.)? And the love is that true majestic charity which "seeks not her own" (1 Corinthians 13:5). But to whom was such pure love shown? The apostle tells us: "When we were still enemies, we were reconciled to God" (Romans 5:10).

So it was God who loved us, loved us both freely, and while yet we were enemies. And how much did he love us? St John says: "God so loved the world that he gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).

And St. Paul says: "He spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all" (Romans 8:32); and the son says of himself, "Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).

Thus has he who just merited from the wicked, he who is supreme from the lowly, he who is omnipotent from the weak. But perhaps someone will say, "this is true of mankind, but not of angels." This is true, for it was not necessary. He who came to the help of men in their time of need, preserved angels from such need, and he who by loving men, made them no longer remain sinful, so he, loving angels equally, preserved them altogether free from sin.


Those to whom these things are evident, I think will also see why God should be loved, i.e., whence he merited to be loved. But if this is not recognized by unbelievers, God at once confounds their ingratitude by his innumerable benefits, lavished on our race, and evident to the senses. Who is it that gives food to all flesh, light to all that see, air to all that breathe? It would be foolish to wish to enumerate them, as I just said they are innumerable: but it is enough to give, as notable instances, food, sunlight and air. I say notable, not because they are the most excellent, but because they are the most necessary. Man must seek in his higher nature for the highest gifts, which are dignity, knowledge and virtue. By dignity in man I mean free-will, by which he not only excels all other earthly creatures, but has dominion over them. Knowledge is the power by which he recognizes this dignity, and recognizes that it is not from himself. Virtue is that which impels man to seek eagerly for him who is man's Source, and to hold fast to him when he has been found.

And thus it will appear that each of these three things has a twofold character. Human dignity shows not only the prerogatives of nature, but also as the power of dominion, which brings the fear and dread of man upon every beast of the earth. Knowledge is also twofold, if we realize that this dignity, or any other good in us, is both in us, and is not from us. Finally virtue will also be recognized as twofold, if we seek our author, and having found him, cling inseparably to him. Dignity therefore without knowledge is of no value; rather, it is harmful, if virtue is absent, as the following argument shows: if someone has something without knowing it, what glory does he have? Again, if you know what you have, but do not know from whom you have it, you have glory, but not before God. And so the apostle says to him who glorifies himself, "What do you have, that you have not received? But if you received it, why do you glory as if you had not received it?" (1 Corinthians 4:7). He does not simply say, "Why do you glory?" but adds, "as if you had not received it," showing that what is reprehensible is not the glorying over what one has, but glorying as though these things had not been received. And rightly is such glorying called vain-glory, since it lacks the solid foundation of truth. The apostle shows how to distinguish the true glory from the false, when he says, "He who glories, let him glory in the Lord," that is, in the Truth, since our Lord is Truth. (1 Corinthians 1:31; John 14:6).

You must know, then, what you are, and that it is not of yourself that you are what you are, lest either you not glory at all, or glory in vain. Finally, it is said, "If you know not, go forth after the flocks of your companions." (Song of Solomon. 1:8).

And this indeed happens thus: man, being in honor, if he does not know his own honor, is rightly compared, by reason of such ignorance, to the beasts that perish, as to certain companions of the present corruption and mortality. It happens, then, that the creature blessed with the great gift of reason, not knowing itself, begins to approach the flocks of irrational animals, when, being ignorant of its own glory, which is from within, it is conformed to the sensible things outside, and is led away captive by its curiosity, and becomes one among others, which does not understand that it has received something more than the others.

We must vigilantly guard against this ignorance, by which we might perceive ourselves as less than we really our, or by which we might grant to ourselves more than we ought, when we wrongly think that the good which is in us, is also from us. But far more than either of these kinds of ignorance, we must reject and shun that presumption with which a person with knowledge and wisdom might dare to seek glory in goods not his own, and which are certainly not from him, and thus seek to rob another [God] of the honor due him. The first kind of ignorance does not glory at all, while the second kind does, but not before God. The third evil, however, which is committed knowingly, usurps the glory which belongs to God. And this last kind of ignorance is an arrogance that is more grievous and dangerous fault than the ignorance of the second, since it despises God, while the other simply does not knows him. And it is lower and more detestable than the first, inasmuch as by the first kind of ignorance we are associated to beasts, while by this kind we are associated with demons. It is pride, the greatest crime, to use things given us as though they were not given us, and in the benefits we receive, to rob our benefactor of the glory due him.

Wherefore to dignity and knowledge we must add virtue, which is the fruit of both of them. Through virtue one seeks and holds fast to him who is the author and giver of all things, and who is deservedly to be glorified in all things; otherwise, one who knows what is right yet fails to do it, will be beaten with many stripes (Luke 12:47). Why? "Because he has not wished to understood, so as to act well," but rather "has imagined mischief upon his bed" (Psalm 36:4), as a wicked servant, he has plotted to take and to seize for himself the Lord's glory in regard to the goods which, by his own knowledge, he knew were not from himself. It is plain, therefore, that dignity without knowledge is useless and that knowledge without virtue is accursed. But a man of virtue, for whom knowledge is not harmful, nor dignity unfruitful, calls on God and confesses sincerely, "Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Thy name give glory" (Psalm 115:1), that is, "O Lord, we attribute nothing of knowledge, nothing of dignity to ourselves, but acknowledge all as yours, from whom all comes.

But we have gotten too far off track, in wishing show that even those who know not Christ are sufficiently admonished by the natural law, and by the goods of body and soul which they perceive themselves to have, that they ought to love God for God's own sake. To recapitulate what has been said: what unbeliever does not know that he has received all the things necessary for bodily life--that from which he subsists, from which he sees, from which he breathes--not from another in this mortal life, but from him who gives food to all flesh (Psalm 136:25), who makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, who sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:45). Who is so impious as to attribute the splendor in the soul to another author of human dignity than the one who says in Genesis, "Let us make man in our image, after 0ur likeness"? (Genesis 1:26). Who else would he esteem as the giver of knowledge except him "who teaches man knowledge?" (Psalm 94:10) Who would he think had given him virtue, or from whom would he hope for virtue, except from the Lord of virtue? Therefore even the unbeliever who does not know Christ, but knows himself, ought to love God for God's own sake. He is therefore unpardonable if he does not love the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his strength; for the justice innate in him, and not unknown to reason, cry out that with his whole self he should love him, to whom he knows he owes his whole self.

But it is hard, indeed impossible, for the will by its own strength or freedom, to turn those things it has received from God, wholly to God, rather than turning them back to itself, and holding on to them as its own, as it is written: "For all seek their own" (Philippians 2:21); and again, "The imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth" (Genesis 8:21 ).


The faithful know clearly how much need they have of Jesus, and him crucified, when admiring and embracing the love in him who surpasses knowledge, they are not embarrassed at having no more than their own poor souls to give in return for such great and condescending charity. They love all the more, because they know themselves to be loved so exceedingly; but they to whom little is given, loves little (Luke 7:47). Neither Jew nor pagan is incited by pangs of love such as the Church feels, which says, "Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples; for I am sick with love" (Song of Solomon 2:5).

She beholds King Solomon, with the crown with which his mother crowned him; she sees the Only-begotten of the Father carrying the cross for himself; she sees the Lord of majesty bruised and spat upon, the author of life and glory transfixed with nails, smitten by the lance, overwhelmed with mockery, and finally laying down his beloved life for his friends. She beholds this, the sword of love pierces through her own soul also, and she cries aloud, "Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples; for I am sick with love." These are pomegranates which the spouse, brought into the garden of her beloved, gathers from the tree of life, (Song of Solomon 4:13), which borrow their taste from the bread of heaven, their color from the Blood of Christ. She sees death dead and the author of death overthrown: she beholds captivity led captive from hell to earth, from earth to heaven, so that "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth" (Philippians 2:10).

She sees the earth, which under the ancient curse brought forth thorns and thistles, now flowering again, restored by the grace of a new blessing. And in all these things, mindful of the verse, "My heart dances for joy, and in my song I will praise him," she longs for the fruits of his passion which she gathers from the tree of the cross, and with the flowers of his resurrection, by whose fragrance the spouse invites her to himself.

Then she says, "Behold you are fair, my beloved, and pleasant: our bed is green" (Song of Solomon 1. 16). The "bed" shows well what she desires, and the "green" indicates whence she expects to obtain it: not by her own merits but on account of the flowers of that field which God has blessed. Christ who willed to be conceived and brought up in Nazareth, delights in such blossoms. The bridegroom rejoices in such heavenly fragrance, and gladly frequents the heart's chamber which he finds adorned with fruits and decked with flowers - that is, meditating on the mystery of his passion or on the glory of his resurrection.

The tokens of the Passion we recognize as the fruits of the past ages, appearing in the fullness of time during the reign of sin and death (Galatians 4:4). But it is the glory of the Resurrection, in the new springtime of regenerating grace, that the fresh flowers of the later age come forth, which shall bring forth their general fruit at the future resurrection, and shall remain without end. It is written, "Now the winter is past; the rain is over and gone, the flowers appear on the earth" (Song of Solomon 2:11 ff.), signifying that summertime has come with him who dissolves icy death into the spring of a new life and says, "Behold, I make all things new" (Revelation 21:5). His flesh sown in death has blossomed in the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:42); and at the odor of this blossoming, our valleys and fields which were barren or frozen, being dead, glow with reviving life and warmth.

In the freshness of those flowers and fruits, and the beauty of the field which breathes forth such heavenly fragrance, the Father delights in Christ who makes all things new, and says, "See the smell of my Son is as the smell of a field which the Lord has blessed" (Genesis 27:27). Blessed to fullness, since of his fullness we have all received (John 1:16). But the Bride may come when she pleases and gather flowers and fruits with which to adorn the inmost places of her conscience, so that the chamber of her heart may be redolent with perfume when the Bridegroom enters.

So we, if we would have Christ as a frequent guest, should prepare our hearts with faithful meditations both on the mercy he showed in dying for us, and on his power in rising again from the dead, as David said sang, "Two things I have heard: that power belongs to God; and that thou, Lord, art merciful" (Psalm 62:11f), since Christ died for our sins, rose again for our justification, ascended into heaven for our protection, sent the Holy Spirit for our comfort, and will come again for our final consummation. In his death he displayed his mercy, in his resurrection his power; both manifest his glory.

These are the apples, these are the flowers, with which the bride desires to be stayed and comforted, I believe because she perceives that the strength of love in her could easily languish and grow cold, if it were not nourished by such helps, until she has entered into the bridal chamber, where, received his long-desired embraces, she will say: "His left hand is under my head and his right hand has embraced me" (Song of Solomon. 2:6).

Then she will understand how all the testimonies of love, which she received in the former coming, as though from the left hand, are nothing in comparison with the sweetness of the right hand's embrace. She will understand what she heard: "It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh profits nothing" (John 6:63).

She will approve what she read: "My spirit is sweeter than honey, and my inheritance sweeter than the honey-comb" (Ec 24:20). What follows, "My memory remains forever and ever," is said because, as long as the present age is seen to stand, in which a generation comes and a generation goes, the consolation of memory will not be absent to the elect, who are not yet privileged to enjoy the full presence. Hence it is written, "They will show the memory of your sweetness" (Psalm 145:7), which doubtless refers to those of whom the Psalmist had said just before: "One generation shall praise thy works to another generation" (Psalm 145:4).

Therefore in the age of the world there is memory, while in the kingdom of heaven there is his presence. In that presence those who have attained it glory, while by that memory those who are wayfarers on the way to the Fatherland are comforted..


But there is a distinction in the generation that receives comfort in the recollection of God. For it is not that perverse and crooked generation to whom it was said, "Woe unto you who are rich; for you have received your consolation" (Luke 6:24), but that which can truly say "My soul refused to be comforted" Psalm (77:2). For this we completely believe, when it is added, "I am mindful of God, and am comforted." It is right that those who receive not delight from his presence, may have in mind future things, and that those who refuse to be comforted by the affluence of passing things, should receive joy from being mindful of eternity. And this is the generation of those who seek the Lord, seeking not the things that are their own, but the face of the God of Jacob.

To those who long for the presence of the God, the thought of him is sweet, yet they are not satiated, but hunger ever more for him who will satisfy them, as he who is our food testifies of himself, saying, "they who eat me shall still hunger" (Ecclus.24:21); and he who was fed said, "I will be satisfied when your glory appears." Yet blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, since they, and not others shall be filled. Woe to you, wicked and perverse generation; woe to you, foolish and unwise people, who hate Christ's memory, and dread His presence! And rightly so: for you do not seek deliverance from the snare of the hunter; for "they who wish to be rich in this world fall into the devil's snare," (1 Timothy 6:9) nor shall that escape that dreadful sentence. O dreadful sentence indeed, O hard saying: "Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire!" (Matthew 25:41) How much harder to bear than that other saying which we repeat daily in church, in memory of the Passion: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life" (John 6:54), i.e., whoever honors my death and after my example mortifies his members which are upon the earth (Colossians 3:5) has eternal life, i.e., "If we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him" (2 Timothy 2:12). And yet many even today recoil from these words and go away, saying not by words, but by deeds, "This is a hard saying; who can hear it?" (John 6:60).

Thus "the generation that sets not their heart aright, and whose spirit trusts not in God" (Psalm 78:8), but places its hopes rather in uncertain riches, is disturbed at the very name of the cross, and judges the memory of the passion intolerable. How can such sustain the burden of that fearful sentence, "Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels?" "On whomsoever that stone shall fall, it will grind him to powder" (Luke 20:18); but "the generation of the faithful shall be blessed" (Psalm 112:2), since, like the apostle, they labor that whether present or absent they may be accepted by the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:9). Finally they shall hear, "Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25:34).

In that day those who set not their hearts aright will feel, too late, how easy is Christ's yoke to which they would not bend their necks, and how light is his burden, in comparison with the pains they must then endure. You wretched slaves of Mammon, you cannot simultaneously glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the treasures of money: you cannot simultaneously go after gold and taste and see how sweet the Lord is. If you have not felt joy at his memory, you will feel wrath at his presence.

But the faithful soul longs and pants for God, and rests sweetly in the memory of him. Until the glory of his face is revealed, she glories in the reproach of the Cross. Like the Bride, the dove of Christ, that is covered with silver wings (Psalm 68:13), white with innocence and purity, she reposes in the thought of thine abundant kindness, Lord Jesus; and above all she longs for that day when in the joyful splendor of thy saints, gleaming with the radiance of the Beatific Vision, her feathers shall be like gold, resplendent with the joy of thy countenance.

Rightly then she may exult and say, "His left hand is under my head and His right hand embraces me." The left hand signifies the memory of that love, than which there is no greater love, to lay down His life for his friends; and the right hand is the Beatific Vision which he has promised to his own, and the delight they have in his presence. Concerning this the psalmist sings with joy, "At thy right hand there is pleasure for evermore" (Psalm 16:11): rightly, then, we may explain the right hand as that divine and deifying joy of His presence.

Rightly too is that wondrous and ever-memorable love symbolized as His left hand, upon which the Bride rests her head until iniquity be done away: for he sustains the purpose of her mind, lest it should be turned aside to earthly, carnal desires. For the flesh wars against the spirit: "The corruptible body presses down the soul and the earthly tabernacle weighs down the mind that thinks upon many things" (Wisdom 9:15). What could result from the contemplation of compassion so marvelous and so undeserved, favor so free and so well attested, kindness so unexpected, clemency so unconquerable, grace so amazing, except that the soul should withdraw from all sinful affections, reject all that is inconsistent with God's love, and yield herself wholly to heavenly things? It is no wonder that the Bride, moved by the perfume of these unctions, runs swiftly, all on fire with love, yet reckons herself as loving all too little in return for the Bridegroom's love.

And rightly, since it is no great matter that a little dust should be all consumed with love of that Majesty which loved her first and which revealed itself as wholly bent on saving her. For "God so loved the world that he gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).

This sets forth the Father's love. But "He has poured out His soul unto death," was written of the Son (Isaiah 53:12). And of the Holy Spirit it is said, "The Comforter which is the Holy Ghost whom the Father will send in My name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you" (John 14:26).

It is plain, therefore, that God loves us, and loves us with all His heart; for the Holy Trinity altogether loves us, if we may venture so to speak of the infinite and incomprehensible Godhead who is essentially one.


From the contemplation of what has been said, we see plainly that God is to be loved, and that he has a just claim upon our love. But the infidel does not acknowledge the Son of God, and so he can know neither the Father nor the Holy Spirit; for he who honors not the Son, honors not the Father who sent him, nor the Spirit whom he has sent (John 5:23).

He knows less of God than we do; no wonder he loves God less. This much he understands at least - that he owes all he is to his Creator. But how will it be with me? For I know that my God is not merely the bounteous Bestower of my life, the generous Provider for all my needs, the pitiful Consoler of all my sorrows, the wise Guide of my course: but that he is far more than all that. He saves me with an abundant deliverance: He is my eternal preserver, the portion of my inheritance, my glory. Even so it is written, "With him is plenteous redemption" (Psalm 130:7); and again, "He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us" (Hebrews 9:12).

Of his salvation it is written, "He forsakes not his that be godly; but they are preserved for ever" (Psalm 37:28); and of his bounty, "Good measure, pressed down and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom" (Luke 6:38); and in another place, "Eye has not seen nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, those things which God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9).

He will glorify us, even as the apostle bears witness, saying, "We look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our lowly body that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body" (Philippians 3:20f); and again, "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18); and again, "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen (2 Corinthians 4:17f).

"What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits towards me?" (Psalm 116:12).

Reason and 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 has given me not my own life only, but even himself. Yet, before the time of full revelation had come, before the Word was made flesh, died on the Cross, came forth from the grave, and returned to His Father, before God had shown us how much he loved us by all this plenitude of grace, the commandment had been uttered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength" (Deuteronomy 6:5), that is, with all your being, all your knowledge, all your powers. And it was not unjust for God to claim this from his own work and gifts. Why should not the creature love his Creator, who gave him the power to love? Why should he not love him with all his being, since it is by his gift alone that he can do anything that is good? It was God's creative grace that out of nothingness raised us to the dignity of manhood; and from this appears our duty to love him, and the justice of His claim to that love. But how infinitely is the benefit increased when we bethink ourselves of his fulfillment of the promise, "Thou, Lord, shall save both man and beast: how excellent is Thy mercy, O Lord! " (Psalm 36:6f.).

For we, who "turned our glory into the likeness of a calf that eats hay" (Psalm 106:20), by our evil deeds debased ourselves so that we might be compared unto the beasts that perish. I owe all that I am to him who made me: but how can I pay my debt to him who redeemed me, and in such wondrous wise? Creation was not so vast a work as redemption; for it is written of man and of all things that were made, "He spoke the word, and they were made" (Psalm 148:5). But to redeem that creation which sprang into being at his word, how much he spoke, what wonders he wrought, what hardships he endured, what shames he suffered! Therefore what reward shall I give unto the Lord for all the benefits which he has done unto me? In the first creation he gave me myself; but in his new creation he gave me himself, and by that gift restored to me 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?


Admit that God deserves to be loved very much, yea, boundlessly, because he loved us first, he infinite and we nothing, loved us, miserable sinners, with a love so great and so free. This is why I said at the beginning that the measure of our love to God is to love immeasurably. For since our love is toward God, who is infinite and immeasurable, how can we bound or limit the love we owe him? Besides, our love is not a gift but a debt. And since it is the Godhead who loves us, himself boundless, eternal, supreme love, of whose greatness there is no end, yea, and His wisdom is infinite, whose peace passes all understanding; since it is he who loves us, I say, can we think of repaying him grudgingly? "I will love thee, O Lord, my strength.

The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my strength, in whom I will trust" (Psalm 18:1f).

He is all that I need, all that I long for. My God and my help, I will love thee for Thy great goodness; not so much as I might, surely, but as much as I can. 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.

"Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being incomplete; and in Thy book all my members were written" (Psalm 139:16).

Yet thou recordest in that book all who do what they can, even though they cannot do what they ought. Surely I have said enough to show how God should be loved and why. But who has felt, who can know, who express, how much we should love him.


And now let us consider what profit we shall have from loving God. Even though our knowledge of this is imperfect, still that is better than to ignore it altogether. I have already said (when it was a question of wherefore and in what manner God should be loved) that there was a double reason constraining us: His right and our advantage. Having written as best I can, though unworthily, of God's right to be loved. I have still to treat of the recompense which that love brings. For although God would be loved without respect of reward, yet he wills not to leave love unrewarded. True charity cannot be left destitute, even though she is unselfish and seeks not her own (1 Corinthians 13:5). 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.

It has its reward; but that reward is the object beloved. For whatever you seem to love, if it is on account of something else, what you do really love is that something else, not the apparent object of desire. St Paul did not preach the Gospel that he might earn his bread; he ate that he might be strengthened for his ministry. What he loved was not bread, but the Gospel.

True love does not demand a reward, but it deserves one. Surely no one offers to pay for love; yet some recompense is due to one who loves, and if his love endures he will doubtless receive it.

On a lower plane of action, it is the reluctant, not the eager, whom we urge by promises of reward. Who would think of paying a man to do what he was yearning to do already? For instance no one would hire a hungry man to eat, or a thirsty man to drink, or a mother to nurse her own child. Who would think of bribing a farmer to dress his own vineyard, or to dig about his orchard, or to rebuild his house? So, all the more, 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.

It is natural for a man to desire what he reckons better than that which he has already, and be satisfied with nothing which lacks that special quality which he misses. Thus, if it is for her beauty that he loves his wife, he will cast longing eyes after a fairer woman. If he is clad in a rich garment, he will covet a costlier one; and no matter how rich he may be he will envy a man richer than himself. Do we not see people every day, endowed with vast estates, who keep on joining field to field, dreaming of wider boundaries for their lands? Those who dwell in palaces are ever adding house to house, continually building up and tearing down, remodeling and changing. Men in high places are driven by insatiable ambition to clutch at still greater prizes. And nowhere is there any final satisfaction, because nothing there can be defined as absolutely the best or highest. But it is natural that nothing should content a man's desires but the very best, as he reckons it. Is it not, then, mad folly always to be craving for things which can never quiet our longings, much less satisfy them? No matter how many such things one has, he is always lusting after what he has not; never at peace, he sighs for new possessions. Discontented, he spends himself in fruitless toil, and finds only weariness in the evanescent and unreal pleasures of the world. In his greediness, he counts all that he has clutched as nothing in comparison with what is beyond his grasp, and loses all pleasure in his actual possessions by longing after what he has not, yet covets. No man can ever hope to own all things. Even the little one does possess is got only with toil and is held in fear; since each is certain to lose what he hath when God's day, appointed though unrevealed. shall come.

But the perverted will struggles towards the ultimate good by devious ways, yearning after satisfaction, yet led astray by vanity and deceived by wickedness. Ah, if you wish to attain to the consummation of all desire, so that nothing unfulfilled will be left, why weary yourself with fruitless efforts, running hither and thither, only to die long before the goal is reached? It is so that these impious ones wander in a circle, longing after something to gratify their yearnings, yet madly rejecting that which alone can bring them to their desired end, not by exhaustion but by attainment. They wear themselves out in vain travail, without reaching their blessed consummation, because they delight in creatures, not in the Creator. They want to traverse creation, trying all things one by one, rather than think of coming to him who is Lord of all. And if their utmost longing were realized, so that they should have all the world for their own, yet without possessing him who is the Author of all being, then the same law of their desires would make them contemn what they had and restlessly seek him whom they still lacked, that is, God himself. Rest is in him alone. Man knows no peace in the world; but he has no disturbance when he is with God. And so the soul says with confidence, "Whom have I in heaven but thee; and there is none upon earth that I desire in comparison of thee. God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever. It is good for me to hold me fast by God, to put my trust in the Lord God" (Psalm 73:25ff).

Even by this way one would eventually come to God, if only he might have time to test all lesser goods in turn.

But life is too short, strength too feeble, and competitors too many, for that course to be practicable. One could never reach the end, though he were to weary himself with the long effort and fruitless toil of testing everything that might seem desirable. It would be far easier and better to make the assay in imagination rather than in experiment. For the mind is swifter in operation and keener in discrimination than the bodily senses, to this very purpose that it may go before the sensuous affections so that they may cleave to nothing which the mind has found worthless. And so it is written, "Prove all things: hold fast that which is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Which is to say that right judgment should prepare the way for the heart. Otherwise we may not ascend into the hill of the Lord nor rise up in His holy place (Psalm 24:3). We should have no profit in possessing a rational mind if we were to follow the impulse of the senses, like brute beasts, with no regard at all to reason. Those whom reason does not guide in their course may indeed run, but not in the appointed race-track, neglecting the apostolic counsel, "So run that ye may obtain'. For how could they obtain the prize who put that last of all in their endeavor and run round after everything else first? But as for the righteous man, it is not so with him. He remembers the condemnation pronounced on the multitude who wander after vanity, who travel the broad way that leads to death (Matthew 7:13); and he chooses the King's highway, turning aside neither to the right hand nor to the left (Numbers 20:17), even as the prophet says, "The way of the just is uprightness (Isaiah 26:7). Warned by wholesome counsel he shuns the perilous road, and heeds the direction that shortens the search, forbidding covetousness and commanding that he sell all that he hath and give to the poor (Matthew 19:2 1). Blessed, truly, are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 5:3). They which run in a race, run all, but distinction is made among the racers.

"The Lord knows the way of the righteous: and the way of the ungodly shall perish" (Psalm 1:6).

"A small thing that the righteous hath is better than great riches of the ungodly" (Psalm 37:16).

Even as the Preacher says, and the fool discovers, "He who loves silver shall not be satisfied with silver" (Ecclesiastes 5:10). But Christ says, "Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled" (Matthew 5:6).

Righteousness is the natural and essential food of the soul, which can no more be satisfied by earthly treasures than the hunger of the body can be satisfied by air. 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? Praise the Lord, O my soul: who satisfies your mouth with good things (Psalm 103:1ff). He bestows bounty immeasurable; he provokes thee to good, he preserves you in goodness; he comes before, he sustains, he fills thee. He moves you to longing, and it is he for whom you long.

I have said already that the motive for loving God is God himself. And I spoke truly, 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 is such that love to him is a natural due; and so hope in him is natural, since our present love would be vain did we not hope to love him perfectly some day. Our love is prepared and rewarded by His. He loves us first, out of His great tenderness; then we are bound to repay him with love; and we are permitted to cherish exultant hopes in him. "He is rich unto all that call upon him" (Romans 10:12), yet he has no gift for them better than himself. He gives himself as prize and reward: he is the refreshment of holy soul, the ransom of those in captivity.

"The Lord is good unto them that wait for him" (Lamentations 3:25).

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. For if we say, "Early shall my prayer come before thee" (Psalm 88:13), yet doubtless all prayer would be lukewarm unless it was animated by thine inspiration.

We have spoken of the consummation of love towards God: now to consider whence such love begins.


Love is one of the four natural affections, which it is needless to name since everyone knows them. And because love is natural, it is only right to love the Author of nature first of all. Hence comes the first and great commandment, "You shall love the Lord your God." But nature is so frail and weak that necessity compels her to love herself first; and this is carnal love, wherewith man loves himself first and selfishly, as it is written, "That was not first which is spiritual but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual" (1 Corinthians 15:46).

This is not as the precept ordains but as nature directs: "No man ever yet hated his own flesh" (Ephesians 5:29). But if, as is likely, this same love should grow excessive and, refusing to be contained within the restraining banks of necessity, should overflow into the fields of voluptuousness, then a command checks the flood, as if by a dike: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself'. And this is right: for he who shares our nature should share our love, itself the fruit of nature. Wherefore if a man find it a burden, I will not say only to relieve his brother's needs, but to minister to his brother's pleasures, let him mortify those same affections in himself, lest he become a transgressor. He may cherish himself as tenderly as he chooses, if only he remembers to show the same indulgence to his neighbor. This is the curb of temperance imposed on thee, O man, by the law of life and conscience, lest you should follow your own lusts to destruction, or become enslaved by those passions which are the enemies of your true welfare. Far better divide your enjoyments with your neighbor than with these enemies. And if, after the counsel of the son of Sirach, you go not after your desires but refrain yourself from your appetites (Ecclus. 18:30); if according to the apostolic precept having food and raiment you are content with them (1 Timothy 6:8), then you wilt find it easy to abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, and to divide with your neighbors what you have refused to your own desires. That is a temperate and righteous love which practices self-denial in order to minister to a brother's necessity. So our selfish love grows truly social, when it includes our neighbors in its circle.

But if you are reduced to want by such benevolence, what then? What indeed, except to pray with all confidence unto him who gives to all men liberally and upbraids not (James 1:5), who opens His hand and fills all things living with plenteousness (Psalm 145:16). For doubtless he who gives to most men more than they need will not fail you as to the necessaries of life, even as he has promised: "Seek the Kingdom of God, and all those things shall be added unto you" (Luke 12:31).

God freely promises all things needful to those who deny themselves for love of their neighbors; and to bear the yoke of modesty and sobriety, rather than to let sin reign in our mortal body (Romans 6:12), that is indeed to seek the Kingdom of God and to implore His aid against the tyranny of sin.

It is surely justice to share our natural gifts with those who share our nature.

But if we are to love our neighbors as we ought, we must have regard to God also: for it is only in God that we can pay that debt of love aright. Now a man cannot love his neighbor in God, except he love God himself; wherefore we must love God first, in order to love our neighbors in him.

This too, like all good things, is the Lord's doing, that we should love him, for he has endowed us with the possibility of love. He who created nature sustains it; nature is so constituted that its Maker is its protector forever. Rescued by God's hand, it should glorify him, as it is written, "Call upon Me in the time of trouble; so will I hear thee, and you shall praise Me" (Psalm 50:15).

In such wise man, animal and carnal by nature, and loving only himself, begins to love God by reason of that very self-love; since he learns that in God he can accomplish all things that are good, and that without God he can do nothing.


So then in the beginning man loves God, not for God's sake, but for his own. It is something for him to know how little he can do by himself and how much by God's help, and in that knowledge to order himself rightly towards God, his sure support. But when tribulations, recurring again and again, constrain him to turn to God for unfailing help, would not even a heart as hard as iron, as cold as marble, be softened by the goodness of such a Savior, so that he would love God not altogether selfishly, but because he is God? Let frequent troubles drive us to frequent supplications; and surely, tasting, we must see how gracious the Lord is (Psalm 34:8).

Thereupon His goodness once realized draws us to love him unselfishly, yet more than our own needs impel us to love him selfishly: even as the Samaritans told the woman who announced that it was Christ who was at the well: "Now we believe, not because of your word: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the savior of the world" (John 4:42).

We likewise bear the same witness to our own fleshly nature, saying, "No longer do we love God because of our necessity, but because we have tasted and seen how gracious the Lord is'. Our temporal wants have a speech of their own, proclaiming the benefits they have received from God's favor. Once this is recognized it will not be hard to fulfill the commandment touching love to our neighbors; for whosoever loves God aright loves all God's creatures. Such love is pure, and finds no burden in the precept bidding us purify our souls, in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren (1 Peter 1:22). Loving as he ought, he counts that command only just. Such love is thankworthy, since it is spontaneous; pure, since it is shown not in word nor tongue, but in deed and truth (1 John 3:18); just, since it repays what it has received. Whoso loves in this fashion, loves even as he is loved, and seeks no more his own but the things which are Christ's, even as Jesus sought not His own welfare, but ours, or rather ourselves. Such was the psalmist's love when he sang: "O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is gracious" (Psalm 118:1). Whosoever praises God for His essential goodness, and not merely because of the benefits he has bestowed, does really love God for God's sake, and not selfishly. The psalmist was not speaking of such love when he said: "So long as you do well unto yourself, men will speak good of thee' (Psalm 49:18). The third degree of love, we have now seen, is to love God on His own account, solely because he is God.


How blessed is he who reaches the fourth degree of love, wherein one loves himself only in God! Thy righteousness stands like the strong mountains, O God. Such love as this is God's hill, in which it pleases him to dwell.

"Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?" "O that I had wings like a dove; for then would I flee away and be at rest." "At Salem is His tabernacle; and His dwelling in Sion." "Woe is me, that I am constrained to dwell with Mesech!" (Psalm 24:3; 55:6; 76:2;120:5).

When shall this flesh and blood, this earthen vessel which is my soul's tabernacle, attain thereto? When shall my soul, rapt with divine love and altogether self-forgetting, yea, become like a broken vessel, yearn wholly for God, and, joined unto the Lord, be one spirit with him? When shall she exclaim, "My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever" (Psalm 73:26).

I would count him blessed and holy to whom such rapture has been vouchsafed in this mortal life, for even an instant to lose yourself, as if you were emptied and lost and swallowed up in God, is no human love; it is celestial. But if sometimes a poor mortal feels that heavenly joy for a rapturous moment, then this wretched life envies his happiness, the malice of daily trifles disturbs him, this body of death weighs him down, the needs of the flesh are imperative, the weakness of corruption fails him, and above all brotherly love calls him back to duty. Alas! that voice summons him to re-enter his own round of existence; and he must ever cry out lamentably, "O Lord, I am oppressed: undertake for me" (Isaiah 38:14); and again, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (Romans 7:24).

Seeing that the Scripture says, God has made all for His own glory (Isaiah 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" (Matthew 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 godlike. 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?" (Psalm 42:2).

"My heart has said of thee, Seek ye his face: Thy face, Lord, will I seek" (Psalm 27:8).

Lord, thinkest thou that I even I shall see Thy holy temple? In this life, I think, we cannot fully and perfectly obey that precept, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind" (Luke 10:27).

For here the heart must take thought for the body; and the soul must energize the flesh; and the strength must guard itself from impairment. And by God's favor, must seek to increase. It is therefore impossible to offer up all our being to God, to yearn altogether for His face, so long as we must accommodate our purposes and aspirations to these fragile, sickly bodies of ours. Wherefore the soul may hope to possess the fourth degree of love, or rather to be possessed by it, only when it has been clothed upon with that spiritual and immortal body, which will be perfect, peaceful, lovely, and in everything wholly subjected to the spirit. And to this degree no human effort can attain: it is in God's power to give it to whom he wills. Then the soul will easily reach that highest stage, because no lusts of the flesh will retard its eager entrance into the joy of its Lord, and no troubles will disturb its peace. May we not think that the holy martyrs enjoyed this grace, in some degree at least, before they laid down their victorious bodies? Surely that was immeasurable strength of love which enraptured their souls, enabling them to laugh at fleshly torments and to yield their lives gladly. But even though the frightful pain could not destroy their peace of mind, it must have impaired somewhat its perfection.


What of the souls already released from their bodies? We believe that they are overwhelmed in that vast sea of eternal light and of luminous eternity.

But no one denies that they still hope and desire to receive their bodies again: whence it is plain that they are not yet wholly transformed, and that something of self remains yet unsurrendered. Not until death is swallowed up in victory, and perennial light overflows the uttermost bounds of darkness, not until celestial glory clothes our bodies, can our souls be freed entirely from self and give themselves up to God. For until then souls are bound to bodies, if not by a vital connection of sense, still by natural affection; so that without their bodies they cannot attain to their perfect consummation, nor would they if they could. And although there is no defect in the soul itself before the restoration of its body, since it has already attained to the highest state of which it is by itself capable, yet the spirit would not yearn for reunion with the flesh if without the flesh it could be consummated.

And finally, "Right dear in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints" (Psalm 116:15).

But if their death is precious, what must such a life as theirs be! No wonder that the body shall seem to add fresh glory to the spirit; for though it is weak and mortal, it has availed not a little for mutual help. How truly he spoke who said, "All things work together for good to them that love God" (Romans 8:28). The body is a help to the soul that loves God, even when it is ill, even when it is dead, and all the more when it is raised again from the dead: for illness is an aid to penitence; death is the gate of rest; and the resurrection will bring consummation. So, rightly, the soul would not be perfected without the body, since she recognizes that in every condition it has been needful to her good.

The flesh then is a good and faithful comrade for a good soul: since even when it is a burden it assists; when the help ceases, the burden ceases too; and when once more the assistance begins, there is no longer a burden. The first state is toilsome, but fruitful; the second is idle, but not monotonous: the third is glorious. Hear how the Bridegroom in Canticles bids us to this threefold progress: "Eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved" (Song of Solomon. 5:1). He offers food to those who are laboring with bodily toil; then he calls the resting souls whose bodies are laid aside, to drink; and finally he urges those who have resumed their bodies to drink abundantly. Surely those he styles "beloved" must overflow with charity; and that is the difference between them and the others, whom he calls not "beloved" but "friends'. Those who yet groan in the body are dear to him, according to the love that they have; those released from the bonds of flesh are dearer because they have become readier and abler to love than hitherto.

But beyond either of these classes are those whom he calls "beloved': for they have received the second garment, that is, their glorified bodies, so that now nothing of self remains to hinder or disturb them, and they yield themselves eagerly and entirely to loving God. This cannot be so with the others; for the first have the weight of the body to bear, and the second desires the body again with something of selfish expectation.

At first then the faithful soul eats her bread, but alas! in the sweat of her face. Dwelling in the flesh, she walks as yet by faith, which must work through love. As faith without words is dead, so work itself is food for her; even as our Lord says, "My meat is to do the will of him who sent Me" (John 4:34). When the flesh is laid aside, she eats no more the bread of carefulness, but is allowed to drink deeply of the wine of love, as if after a repast. But the wine is not yet unmingled; even as the Bridegroom says in another place, "I have drunk My wine with My milk" (Song of Solomon. 5:1). For the soul mixes with the wine of God's love the milk of natural affection, that is, the desire for her body and its glorification. She glows with the wine of holy love which she has drunk; but she is not yet all on fire, for she has tempered the potency of that wine with milk. The unmingled wine would enrapture the soul and make her wholly unconscious of self; but here is no such transport for she is still desirous of her body. When that desire is appeased, when the one lack is supplied, what should hinder her then from yielding herself utterly to God, losing her own likeness and being made like unto him? At last she attains to that chalice of the heavenly wisdom, of which it is written, "My cup shall be full." Now indeed she is refreshed with the abundance of the house of God, where all selfish, carking care is done away, and where, for ever safe, she drinks the fruit of the vine, new and pure, with Christ in the Kingdom of His Father (Matthew 26:29).

It is Wisdom who spreads this threefold supper where all the repast is love; Wisdom who feeds the toilers, who gives drink to those who rest, who floods with rapture those that reign with Christ. Even as at an earthly banquet custom and nature serve meat first and then wine, so here. Before death, while we are still in mortal flesh, we eat the labors of our hands, we swallow with an effort the food so gained; but after death, we shall begin eagerly to drink in the spiritual life and finally, reunited to our bodies, and rejoicing in fullness of delight, we shall be refreshed with immortality. This is what the Bridegroom means when he says: "Eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved." Eat before death; begin to drink after death; drink abundantly after the resurrection. Rightly are they called beloved who have drunk abundantly of love; rightly do they drink abundantly who are worthy to be brought to the marriage supper of the Lamb, eating and drinking at His table in His Kingdom (Revelation 19:9; Luke 22:30).

At that supper, he shall present to himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing (Ephesians 5:27). Then truly shall he refresh His beloved; then he shall give them drink of His pleasures, as out of the river (Psalm 36:8). While the Bridegroom clasps the Bride in tender, pure embrace, then the rivers of the flood thereof shall make glad the city of God (Psalm 46:4). And this refers to the Son of God himself, who will come forth and serve them, even as he hath promised; so that in that day the righteous shall be glad and rejoice before God: they shall also be merry and joyful (Psalm 68:3). Here indeed is appeasement without weariness: here never-quenched thirst for knowledge, without distress; here eternal and infinite desire which knows no want; here, finally, is that sober inebriation which comes not from drinking new wine but from enjoying God (Acts 2:13). The fourth degree of love is attained for ever when we love God only and supremely, when we do not even love ourselves except for God's sake; so that he himself is the reward of them that love him, the everlasting reward of an everlasting love.


I remember writing a letter to the holy Carthusian brethren, wherein I discussed these degrees of love, and spoke of charity in other words, although not in another sense, than here. It may be well to repeat a portion of that letter, since it is easier to copy than to dictate anew.

To love our neighbor's welfare as much as our own: that is true and sincere charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned (1 Timothy 1:5). Whosoever loves his own prosperity only is proved thereby not to love good for its own sake, since he loves it on his own account. And so he cannot sing with the psalmist, "O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is gracious" (Psalm 118:1). Such a man would praise God, not because he is goodness, but because he has been good to him: he could take to himself the reproach of the same writer, "So long as thou doest well unto him, he will speak good of thee" (Psalm 49:18).

One praises God because he is mighty, another because he is gracious, yet another solely because he is essential goodness. The first is a slave and fears for himself; the second is greedy, desiring further benefits; but the third is a son who honors his Father. He who fears, he who profits, are both concerned about self-interest. Only in the son is that charity which seeks not her own (1 Corinthians 13:5). Wherefore I take this saying, "The law of the Lord is an undefiled law, converting the soul" (Psalm 19:7) to be of charity; because charity alone is able to turn the soul away from love of self and of the world to pure love of God. Neither fear nor self-interest can convert the soul. They may change the appearance, perhaps even the conduct, but never the object of supreme desire. Sometimes a slave may do God's work; but because he does not toil voluntarily, he remains in bondage. So a mercenary may serve God, but because he puts a price on his service, he is enchained by his own greediness. For where there is self-interest there is isolation; and such isolation is like the dark corner of a room where dust and rust befoul. Fear is the motive which constrains the slave; greed binds the selfish man, by which he is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust and enticed (James 1:14). But neither fear nor self-interest is undefiled, nor can they convert the soul. Only charity can convert the soul freeing it from unworthy motives.

Next, I call it undefined because it never keeps back anything of its own for itself. When a man boasts of nothing as his very own, surely all that he has is God's; and what is God's cannot be unclean. The undefiled law of the Lord is that love which bids men seek not their own, but every man another's wealth. It is called the law of the Lord as much because he lives in accordance with it as because no man has it except by gift from him. Nor is it improper to say that even God lives by law, when that law is the law of love. For what preserves the glorious and ineffable Unity of the blessed Trinity, except love? Charity, the law of the Lord, joins the Three Persons into the unity of the Godhead and unites the holy Trinity in the bond of peace. Do not suppose me to imply that charity exists as an accidental quality of Deity; for whatever could be conceived of as wanting in the divine Nature is not God. No, it is the very substance of the Godhead; and my assertion is neither novel nor extraordinary, since St John says, "God is love" (1 John 4:8). One may therefore say with truth that love is at once God and the gift of God, essential love imparting the quality of love. Where the word refers to the Giver, it is the name of His very being; where the gift is meant, it is the name of a quality. Love is the eternal law whereby the universe was created and is ruled. Since all things are ordered in measure and number and weight, and nothing is left outside the realm of law, that universal law cannot itself be without a law, which is itself. So love though it did not create itself, does surely govern itself by its own decree.


Furthermore, the slave and the hireling have a law, not from the Lord, but of their own contriving; the one does not love God, the other loves something else more than God. They have a law of their own, not of God, I say; yet it is subject to the law of the Lord. For though they can make laws for themselves, they cannot supplant the changeless order of the eternal law.

Each man is a law unto himself, when he sets up his will against the universal law, perversely striving to rival his Creator, to be wholly independent, making his will his only law. What a heavy and burdensome yoke upon all the sons of Adam, bowing down our necks, so that our life draws nigh unto hell.

"O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (Romans 7:24).

I am weighed down, I am almost overwhelmed, so that "If the Lord had not helped me, it had not failed but my soul had been put to silence" (Psalm 94:17).

Job was groaning under this load when he lamented: "Why hast thou set me as a mark against thee, so that I am a burden to myself?" (Job 7:20).

He was a burden to himself through the law which was of his own devising: yet he could not escape God's law, for he was set as a mark against God. The eternal law of righteousness ordains that he who will not submit to God's sweet rule shall suffer the bitter tyranny of self: but he who wears the easy yoke and light burden of love (Matthew 11:30) Will escape the intolerable weight of his own self-will. Wondrously and justly does that eternal law retain rebels in subjection, so that they are unable to escape. They are subject to God's power, yet deprived of happiness with him, unable to dwell with God in light and rest and glory everlasting. O Lord my God, "why dost thou not pardon my transgression and take away mine iniquity?" (Job 7:21). Then freed from the weight of my own will, I can breathe easily under the light burden of love. I shall not be coerced by fear, nor allured by mercenary desires; for I shall be led by the Spirit of God, that free Spirit whereby Thy sons are led, which beareth witness with my spirit that I am among the children of God (Romans 8:16). So shall I be under that law which is thine; and as thou art, so shall I be in the world. Whosoever do what the apostle bids, "Owe no man anything, but to love one another" (Romans 13:8), are doubtless even in this life conformed to God's likeness: they are neither slaves nor hirelings but sons.


Now the children have their law, even though it is written, "The law is not made for a righteous man" (1 Timothy 1:9). For it must be remembered that there is one law having to do with the spirit of servitude, given to fear, and another with the spirit of liberty, given in tenderness. The children are not constrained by the first, yet they could not exist without the second: even as St Paul writes, "Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father" (Romans 8:15).

And again to show that that same righteous man was not under the law, he says: "To them that are under the law, I became as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ)" (1 Corinthians 9:20f).

So it is rightly said, not that the righteous do not have a law, but, "The law is not made for a righteous man', that is, it is not imposed on rebels but freely given to those willingly obedient, by him whose goodness established it. Wherefore the Lord says meekly: "Take My yoke upon you', which may be paraphrased thus: "I do not force it on you, if you are reluctant; but if you will you may bear it. Otherwise it will be weariness, not rest, that you shall find for your souls.' Love is a good and pleasant law; it is not only easy to bear, but it makes the laws of slaves and hirelings tolerable; not destroying but completing them; as the Lord says: "I am not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill" (Matthew 5:17). It tempers the fear of the slave, it regulates the desires of the hireling, it mitigates the severity of each. Love is never without fear, but it is godly fear. Love is never without desire, but it is lawful desire. So love perfects the law of service by infusing devotion; it perfects the law of wages by restraining covetousness. Devotion mixed with fear does not destroy it, but purges it. Then the burden of fear which was intolerable while it was only servile, becomes tolerable; and the fear itself remains ever pure and filial. For though we read: "Perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18), we understand by that the suffering which is never absent from servile fear, the cause being put for the effect, as often elsewhere. So, too, self-interest is restrained within due bounds when love supervenes; for then it rejects evil things altogether, prefers better things to those merely good, and cares for the good only on account of the better. In like manner, by God's grace, it will come about that man will love his body and all things pertaining to his body, for the sake of his soul. He will love his soul for God's sake; and he will love God for himself alone.


Nevertheless, since we are carnal and are born of the lust of the flesh, it must be that our desire and our love shall have its beginning in the flesh.

But rightly guided by the grace of God through these degrees, it will have its consummation in the spirit: for that was not first which is spiritual but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual (1 Corinthians 15:46). And we must bear the image of the earthy first, before we can bear the image of the heavenly. At first, man loves himself for his own sake.

That is the flesh, which can appreciate nothing beyond itself. Next, he 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.

That is the second degree, to love God, not for God's sake, but selfishly.

But when he has learned to worship God and to seek him aright, meditating on God, reading God's Word, praying and obeying His commandments, he comes gradually to know what God is, and finds him altogether lovely. So, having tasted and seen how gracious the Lord is (Psalm 34:8), he advances to the third degree, when he loves God, not merely as his benefactor but as God. Surely he must remain long in this state; and I know not whether it would be possible to make further progress in this life to that fourth degree and perfect condition wherein man loves himself solely for God's sake. Let any who have attained so far bear record; I confess it seems beyond my powers. Doubtless it will be reached when the good and faithful servant shall have entered into the joy of his Lord (Matthew 25:21), and been satisfied with the plenteousness of God's house (Psalm 36:8). For then in wondrous wise he will forget himself and as if delivered from self, he will grow wholly God's. Joined unto the Lord, he will then be one spirit with him (1 Corinthians 6:17). This was what the prophet meant, I think, when he said: " I will go forth in the strength of the Lord God: and will make mention of Thy righteousness only" (Psalm 71:16).

Surely he knew that when he should go forth in the spiritual strength of the Lord, he would have been freed from the infirmities of the flesh, and would have nothing carnal to think of, but would be wholly filled in his spirit with the righteousness of the Lord.

In that day the members of Christ can say of themselves what St. Paul testified concerning their Head: "Yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more" (2 Corinthians 5:16).

None shall thereafter know himself after the flesh; for "flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 15:50). Not that there will be no true substance of the flesh, but all carnal needs will be taken away, and the love of the flesh will be swallowed up in the love of the spirit, so that our weak human affections will be made divinely strong.

Then the net of charity which as it is drawn through the great and wide sea doth not cease to gather every kind of fish, will be drawn to the shore; and the bad will be cast away, while only the good will be kept (Matthew 13:48). In this life the net of all-including love gathers every kind of fish into its wide folds, becoming all things to all men, sharing adversity or prosperity, rejoicing with them that do rejoice, and weeping with them that weep (Romans 12:15). But when the net is drawn to shore, whatever causes pain will be rejected, like the bad fish, while only what is pleasant and joyous will be kept. Do you not recall how St Paul said: "Who is weak and I am not weak? Who is offended and I burn not?" And yet weakness and offense were far from him. So too he bewailed many which had sinned already and had not repented, though he was neither the sinner nor the penitent. But there is a city made glad by the rivers of the flood of grace (Psalm 46:4), and whose gates the Lord loves more than all the dwellings of Jacob (Psalm 87:2). In it is no place for lamentation over those condemned to everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). In these earthly dwellings, though men may rejoice, yet they have still other battles to fight, other mortal perils to undergo. But in the heavenly Fatherland no sorrow nor sadness can enter: as it is written, "The habitation of all rejoicing ones is in thee" (Psalm 87:7); and again, "Everlasting joy shall be unto them" (Isaiah 61:7). Nor could they recall things piteous, for then they will make mention of God's righteousness only. Accordingly, there will be no need for the exercise of compassion, for no misery will be there to inspire pity.

On Loving God (Text and Commentary) at

De Diligendo Deo (Latin text of On Loving God)

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