On Loving God
Bernard, of Clairvaux, Saint (1090-1153)
What is love? In his text On Loving God, St. Bernard surveys the four types of love that Christians experience as they grow in their relationship with God: loving one's self, selfish love, loving God as God, and loving one's self in God. St. Bernard reminds us that not only did God give us life, but He gave us Himself. For indeed, "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." St. Bernard reminds us that we are indebted to God for his love and His sacrifice. Not only should we love God because it is what He deserves, but also because loving God does not go without reward. Loving God is to our advantage. The Lord rewards those who love Him with the blessed state of the heavenly Fatherland, where sorrow and sadness cannot enter. St. Bernard's medieval prose is poetic and full of clever imagery. His work is as beautiful as it is knowledgeable.
To the illustrious Lord Haimeric, Cardinal Deacon of the Roman Church, and Chancellor: Bernard, called Abbot of Clairvaux, wisheth long life in the Lord and death in the Lord.
Hitherto you have been wont to seek prayers from me, not the solving of problems; although I count myself sufficient for neither. My profession shows that, if not my conversation; and to speak truth, I lack the diligence and the ability that are most essential. Yet I am glad that you turn again for spiritual counsel, instead of busying yourself about carnal matters: I only wish you had gone to some one better equipped than I am. Still, learned and simple give the same excuse and one can hardly tell whether it comes from modesty or from ignorance, unless obedience to the task assigned shall reveal. So, take from my poverty what I can give you, lest I should seem to play the philosopher, by reason of my silence. Only, I do not promise to answer other questions you may raise. This one, as to loving God, I will deal with as He shall teach me; for it is sweetest, it can be handled most safely, and it will be most profitable. Keep the others for wiser men.