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Bernard of Clairvaux and On Loving God

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) lived during a time of tremendous spiritual renewal in Europe. From the period 900-1200, the two monasteries in Cluny and Citeaux led the Catholic Church in spiritual growth. While the former monastic movement, the Clunic Order, predated Bernard, he became intricately involved in the latter monastic movement, the Order of Citeaux or Cistercians. Bernard joined the monastery in Citeaux in 1112 (age 22), and displayed such leadership and spiritual maturity that the Abbot of the monastery asked him to begin a new monastery after only three years. The new monastery was in built in a wooded area and Bernard called it "Claire Vallee" (French for "clear valley"), which would eventually change to Clairvaux. During his lifetime he became one of the most powerful men in Europe; eventually a former pupil of his became pope, Eugenius III in 1145. Yet Bernard became influential because his spirituality was so deep. Among his many writings is a treatise named “On Loving God.” The remainder of this article is devoted to several excerpts from this work.

Chapter IV: For it is meet that those who are not satisfied by the present should be sustained by the thought of the future, and that the contemplation of eternal happiness should solace those who scorn to drink from the river of transitory joys.

Chapter VII: 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 You; and there is none upon earth that I desire in comparison of You." (Ps 73:25).

Chapter XIII: 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 . . . 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. . . . 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

Chapter XIV: Self-interest is restrained within due bounds when love [is the primary goal]; 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.

[Author's note: this is one of my favorite quotes in all of Church History.] Chapter XV: 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, 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.

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