Set Free by Love to Love (Bernard)

This is an excellent meditation on loving God: “Sermon 83 on the Song of Songs” by Bernard of Clairvaux. I appreciate how Bernard is Augustinian in this exposition of love based on the greatest love song, the Song of Songs:

…God then demands to be feared as Lord, honored as Father, and loved as Bridegroom. Which of these is first? Which is supreme? Surely love. Without love, fear is a source of pain (1 Jn 4:18), and honor is thankless. Fear is servile until it is set free by love. And the honor which does not proceed from love is not honor but adulation. And indeed “honor and glory belong to God alone” (1 Tm 1:17), but God will accept neither if they are not sweetened with the honey of love. That is enough on its own; it pleases by itself and on its own account. It is its own merit and its own reward. Love needs no cause, no fruit besides itself; its enjoyment is its use (Augustine, De Doctrine Christiana I.1).

I love because I love; I love that I may love. Love is a great thing; as long as it returns to its beginning, goes back to its origin, turns again to its source, it will always draw afresh from it and flow freely. In love alone, of all the movements of the soul and the senses and affections, can the creature respond to its Creator, if not with an equal, at least with a like return of gift for gift.

For example, if God is angry with me, can I return his anger? Not at all; I shall be afraid and tremble and beg for his pardon. If he accuses me, I shall not return his accusation, but concede that he is right. If he judges me, I shall not judge him but adore him; and in saving me he does not seek to be saved by me in return, nor does he need to be set free by anyone in return when he frees all. If he commands it is for me to obey; if he gives me orders it is for me to do what he says and not ask service or obedience from the Lord in return. Now you see how different it is with love. For when God loves, he wants nothing but to be loved; he loves for no other purpose than to be loved, knowing that those who love him are blessed by their very love.

Bernard of Clairvaux, Bernard of Clairvaux: Selected Works, ed. by John Farina, trans. by G. R. Evans, The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1987).

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015