“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 (Rom. 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.”
Have you ever read a book, and at first glance thought, cool book, but doesn’t really do anything for me, although intuitively knowing that there is something overlooked and a second glance becomes inevitable? For me, On Loving God by: Saint Bernard of Clairvaux was such a book. I have this as an audio book and for the last two weeks I have been listing to it (half heartily) while going about other task. My first impression of On Loving God was this book does well to explain the topic of loving God in four degrees our motivations. On a more careful, second look, I have finally discovered what has for me, become the pearl of this book. Before I share my personal Ah-Ha moment, a quick summary might be of interest:
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux Four Degress of Love…
“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 (I Cor. 15.46).
1. At first, man loves himself for his own sake. That is the flesh, which can appreciate nothing beyond itself.
2. 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. 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.
3. So, having tasted and seen how gracious the Lord is (Ps. 34.8), he advances to the third degree, when he loves God, not merely as his benefactor but as God.
4. The 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…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 (I Cor. 6.17).”
The Pearl of On Loving God
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux has much to say on the souls approach to love for God, and for the most part is the foundation of the book. For me, the real gem is found in Saint Bernard of Clairvaux’s short but profound exposition of Psalms 19:7…
“Wherefore I take this saying, “The law of the Lord is an undefiled law, converting the soul” (Ps. 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 selfinterest 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.”
So there you have it, the pearl of On Loving God, charity, love without self-interest, and certainly worth further discussion…What makes charity a pearl? Something so simply stated as the word “charity” yet which carries such a profound and life altering value when experienced can be easily compared to a pearl, mystic pearls.
“Only charity can convert the soul, freeing it from unworthy motives”
If you would like to find out more we provide the free ebook On Loving God. You can also download the audio version at Audible.com or purchase a printed copy for your personal library at On Loving God… To review an extended version of notes visit the Christian Mystics Library, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.