How Much?

From On the Love of God (ca. 1128)

You wish me to tell you why God should be loved, and in what way or measure we should love him. My answer is: the reason for loving God is God; the measure of our love is that there should be none.

There are two reasons why God should be loved for his own sake. First, no one can be loved more justly; and secondly, no one can be loved more profitably. When it is asked why God should be loved, there are two possible ways in which to interpret the question. It may mean either, what claim does God have on our love? or, what advantage do we gain by loving God? My answer to both questions is the same: I can see no other reason for loving God than himself.

With regards to his claims upon our love, surely he merits much from us who gave himself for us, unworthy though we were. What better gift could he have given us than himself? Hence, when seeking why God should be loved, if one asks what right he has to be loved, the answer is that the main reason for loving him is that “he loved us first.” Surely he is worthy of being loved in return when one thinks of who loves, whom he loved, and how much he loves. Is it not he whom every spirit acknowledges, saying: “You are my God, you have no need of my goods.”

This divine love is sincere, for it is the love of One who does not seek his own advantage. To whom is such love shown? It is written, “When we were still his enemies, we were reconciled to God.” God has loved us and loved us freely, while we were enemies. How much has he loved us? John answers: “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son.” And Paul adds, “He did not spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us.” And the Son himself says, “Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

This is the claim that the Just One has on sinners, the Highest on the lowest, the Almighty on the weak.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) was one of the most influential preachers and spiritual writers of the Middle Ages. An important leader in the Cistercian reform, he was abbot at Clairvaux and an important advisor to other church leaders. On Loving God is among his best-loved writing, an exploration of the degrees of love and their relation to God’s love for us. St. Bernard’s feast day is August 20.


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