Bernard of Clairvaux's On Loving God

This is the first treatise of St Bernard that we read; this is our edition, from the wonderful Classics of Western Spirituality. Bernard says that there are four degrees of love.

The first is when man loves himself for his own sake: The first reason to embrace Christian discipline is because it's good for you--it is the best way to take care of yourself; you need to learn to take care of yourself, to love yourself. A discipline of daily prayer keeps you from being buffeted this way and that by the world, by random persons whose desires may be disordered. For Bernard, the self is not the rugged invididuality of conservative America--there is a radical solidarity among persons. For Bernard, you love others for your own sake: you intuit your connection with others, in a realization that we're all in the same boat; when we take care of eachother, we're loving ourself for our own sake. This sense of solidarity leads us to the realization that we're not self-sufficient--that we depend upon God and that he comes through for us. Self-sufficiency will block us from the second degree of love. God breaks us of this self-sufficiency by trials so that we will rely on him. This is to teach us that he is good and helps us to love him.

The second degree is when man loves God for his own good: Wanting our own good, and coming to realize that God wants our good, we have a basis for friendship with him. This is love on a natural (pre-Christian) level. It gives God joy, but he does want us to move to supernatural love.

The third degree is loving God for God's sake: This is expressed by David in Ps 62. Having tasted the sweetness of the Lord, we are lead to "love God in purity more than our need alone would prompt us to do." (IX.26) This is trusting in the Lord because he is good, not because he is good to you.

The fourth degree is loving self for God's sake. Again, this self is not isolated, but a self in communion, enveloping all persons; so this can also be called loving others for God's sake. God loves you because he sees something good in you, despite the bad that's there; and in this stage I see the good which he sees. Seeing this good, I can love as he loves.

There is a letter appended to the treatise which has a good reflection on conversion (XII.34)
There are some who praise God for his power, some who praise him for his goodness to them, and some who praise him simply because he is good. The first is a slave, fearful on his own account. The second is mercenary, and desires profit for himself. The third is a son who honors his father... Neither fear nor love of self can convert the soul. They change the appearance of one's deeds from time to time, but never one's character. A slave can sometimes do God's work, but because he does not do it of his own free will he remains in his former state of hard-heartedness. The hireling can do it, too, but because he does not do it for nothing he can be convicted of being led by his own desire.
We must pray for the grace to praise God because he is good.

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