Church History Teasers (Part 6): Bernard of Clairvaux ‘On Loving God’

December 29, 2008 at 4:17 pm Leave a comment

Brief Outline of ‘On Loving God’ by Bernard of Clairvaux

Dedication: To Lord Haimeric
Chapter 1: On why God is to be loved, and how much
Chapter 2: On God deserving such love
Chapter 3: On the manner of charity to those who love God
Chapter 4: On those who take comfort in the thought of God
Chapter 5: On the Christian’s debt and duty to love God
Chapter 6: On the reward of those who love God
Chapter 7: On the first degree of love
Chapter 8: On the second degree and third degree of love
Chapter 9: On the fourth degree of love
Chapter 10: On the perfection of love in the age to come
Chapter 11: On the letter written to the holy Carthusian brethren
Chapter 12: On the law of mercenary love from self-interest
Chapter 13: On the law of love from children
Chapter 14: On the four degrees of love

Key Quotes

“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.”

“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.”

“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… At first, man loves himself for his own sake… 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… [Then] advances to the third degree, when he loves God, not merely as his benefactor but as God… [Until he] make further progress in this life to that fourth degree and perfect condition wherein man loves himself solely for God’s sake.”

“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.”

‘On Loving God’

Bernard’s ‘On Loving God’ is good support to the idea that our ideas on prayer must be grounded in our doctrine of God. From the outset Bernard writes with a humble posture, “take from my poverty what I can give you,” understanding his right place when speaking of God. When one understands who God is, one rightly views the self and understands that “the reason for loving God is God Himself; and the measure of love due to Him is immeasurable love.”

Bernard assumes that all men have knowledge of God through self, “what infidel does not know that he has received light, air, food–all things necessary for his own body’s life–from Him alone who gives food to all flesh?” Beyond this common knowledge one begins to understand, and love God more “because they know themselves to be loved so exceedingly.” This is the ultimate grounds for thanksgiving in prayer, that “He gave Himself for us unworthy wretches.” God’s mercy is made abundantly clear in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for He “died for our sins and rose again for our justification, and ascended into heaven that He might protect us from on high, and sent the Holy Spirit for our comfort. Hereafter He will come again for the consummation of our bliss.” For these reasons, we as Christians should “take comfort in the thought of God.”

It is the Christian, “the believing soul longs and faints for God…rests sweetly in the contemplation of Him.” In seeking God one begins to understand that He is ‘not merely the bounteous bestower of life, the generous provider for all needs, the pitiful consoler of all sorrows, the wise Guide of course: but that He is far more than all that. He saves with an abundant deliverance: He is the eternal preserver, the portion of our inheritance.’ Rightly understanding who God is leads one to adoration. One who adores and “loves God truly asks no other recompense than God Himself.” It is this realization that “He is all that I need, all that I long for”…Understanding that one “cannot love” Him as He deserves to be loved, limited by ones own feebleness.

Theologically speaking, “no one can seek the Lord who has not already found Him.” “So then in the beginning man loves God, not for God’s sake, but for his own.” But soon realizes that this love for God is a gift, “it is in God’s power to give it to whom He wills.” “One may therefore say with truth that love is at once God and the gift of God, essential love imparting the quality of love.” Therefore when one falls in love with God, they may look back and realize that they were “rightly guided by the grace of God” to that point of love.

Bernard argues that it is God’s will ‘to be found that He may be sought, to be sought that He may the more truly be found.’ When one 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.”

One could conclude that Bernard, though Haimeric came seeking prayers, illustrated the importance of a proper doctrine of God as the foundation for prayer. For Bernard dealing with loving God is the sweetest of all topics to discuss, “for it can be handled most safely, and will be most profitable” to any discussion pertaining to the Christian life. Prayer is a gift, an implication of the ultimate gift, namely God, and “there is no glory in having a gift without knowing it.” “His goodness once realized draws us to love Him unselfishly, yet more than our own needs impel us to love Him selfishly.” Again, the doctrine of God leads one to understand His character, and the actions of His Son who dies so that “He might protect us from on high, and send the Holy Spirit for our comfort.” Does this not bear weight on how we should pray?

Part 1: Tertullian’s Apology

Part 2: Athanasius ‘On the Incarnation’

Part 3: Saint Benedict ‘The Rule’

Part 4: Gregory’s ‘Pastoral Rule’

Part 5: Anselm’s ‘Proslogion’

Entry filed under: Books, Christianity, Faith, Religion.

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