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In a medieval history class my junior year of college, our professor assigned us a book of the selected works of Bernard of Clairvaux. I found it to be the richest spiritual work I had ever read, and would later take Bernard as my confirmation name. Now re-reading Bernard’s sermons on the Song of Songs, the other day I came across a beautiful passage in Sermon 83 (the translation below comes from here ):

Now the Bridegroom is not only loving; he is love. Is he honor too? Some maintain that he is, but I have not read it. I have read that God is love, but not that he is honor. It is not that God does not desire honor, for he says, ‘If I am a father, where is my honor? Here he speaks as a father, but if he declares himself to be a husband I think he would change the expression and say, ‘If I am a bridegroom, where is my love?’ For he had previously said, ‘If I am the Lord, where is my fear?’ God then requires that he should be feared as the Lord, honored as a father, and loved as a bridegroom. Which of these is highest and most lofty? Surely it is love. Without it fear brings pain, and honor has no grace. Fear is the lot of a slave, unless he is freed by love. Honor which is not inspired by love is not honor but flattery. Honor and glory belong to God alone, but God will receive neither if they are not sweetened with the honey of love.

Love is sufficient for itself; it gives pleasure to itself, and for its own sake. It is its own merit and own reward. Love needs no cause beyond itself, nor does it demand fruits; it is its own purpose. I love because I love; I love that I may love. Love is a great reality, and if it returns to its beginnings and goes back to its origin, seeking its source again, it will always draw afresh from it, and thereby flow freely. Love is the only one of the motions of the soul, of its senses and affections, in which the creature can respond to its Creator, even if not as an equal, and repay his favor in some similar way . . . Now you see how different love is, for when God loves, he desires nothing but to be loved, since he loves us for no other reason than to be loved, for he knows that those who love him are blessed in their very love.

The ringing declaration of God first and foremost as lover still strikes me, perhaps because it is a message of which I need constant reminding. The core of our relationship with God should not be guilt or fear or sorrow for our imperfections, but love. For love alone pleases God and brings freedom, life, and yet more love.



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