Love is the Answer

Love is the Answer January 8, 2019

When asked by a scribe which commandment was the greatest of all, Jesus said that it was love – love for God first, and then love for one’s neighbor:

Jesus answered, “The first is, `Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these”  (Mk 12:29-31 RSV).

Love, Jesus said, was the foundation for what is found in the law and the prophets (cf. Matt 22:40). He confirmed that his teaching about love was the continuation and fulfillment of what God taught in the Torah and with the prophets. The two go together. Love is the central teaching of the Christian faith, for the Christian faith is centered upon God who is love. Moses, knowing God, knew the God who is love. David, knowing God, knew the God who is love. Isaiah, who knew God, knew the God who is love. All those who know God, know God is love, and indeed, love because of it. Likewise, those who follow the dictates of love, follow God, while those who ignore what love teaches, even if they proclaim the doctrinal teachings of the Christian faith, have nothing for they have yet to find God:

Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God.  He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.  By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his own Spirit (1Jn 4:7-13 RSV).

To abide in God is to abide in love. The better we understand love, the better we understand the Christian faith, even its difficult teachings like the Trinity (for, as many theologians like Richard of St. Victor indicate, the personal relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is founded upon love). The incarnation – God becoming man – is founded upon love, for it is in and through God’s love for the world that the Son became man in order to save it.  “But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us “ (Rom 5:8 RSV). Indeed, he covers up our sins through his love, proving the dictate in the Book of Proverbs: “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses” (Prov 10:12 RSV).  Love covers up and heals all offenses, as the incarnate one, the God-man, took upon himself the sins of the world and cast it away into the depths of the abyss, covering us with himself as our mantle, so that we can join in with him in his resurrected glory.  He is the God of love who reveals himself to the world as man; he is love manifest in the world, and we are truly blessed when we are adorned in him: “Blessed are those who saw you, and those who have been adorned in love; for we also shall surely live” (Sir 48:11 RSV). We, shall, therefore imitate him and love others, being merciful to them, covering them from the nakedness of their sins even as we have had our sins covered by Christ: “Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1Ptr 4:8 RSV).

If we love Jesus, we will keep his commandments, the commandments which come from and thrive in love (cf. Jn. 14:15).  “Those who trust in him will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with him in love, because grace and mercy are upon his elect, and he watches over his holy ones” (Wis 3:9 RSV). We are able to do this because this love is divine, born in is as a gift of God, as William of St Thierry suggested:

Concerning the love of which we are treating, one ought not to conceal the origin of its birth; from there it takes its lineage of eminent nobility.  Nor [ought one to conceal] the place from which it rises. First of all, its birthplace is God. There it is born, there it is nourished, there developed. There it is a citizen, not a stranger but a native. Love is given by God alone, and it endures in him, and it is due to no one else but him and for his sake.[1]

When we have accepted the mantle of love, have had our multitude of sins covered in Jesus as we become one with him in baptism, we are excepted to take the love given to us and share it with all. We do this out of our love and devotion to God, for it is in our love for God we love his creation. When we truly have taken on the mantle of love, and let it penetrate us, then we will be like God, loving everyone, as we will naturally reflect God’s love for the world in our own love, as St. Maximus the Confessor explained: “The one who loves God cannot help but love also every man as himself even though he is displeased by the passions of those who are not yet purified.”[2] Indeed, he further said, “Blessed is the man who has leant to love all men equally.”[3]

Hugh of St Victor said that love is the desire and delight we find in the good found in someone or something else; for this reason, all love is founded upon some element of the good, though we can love poorly if we do not love someone or something as it should be loved:

Love seems to be – and love is – the delight of somebody’s heart toward something on account of something. It is desire in seeking, and delight in thoroughly enjoying; it runs by means of (per) desire, it rests by means of delight. O human heart, here is your good and here is your bad: if you are good you are not good in any other way; nor are you otherwise bad if you are bad, but only because you love either well or badly that which is good. Therefore he who loves is not bad, nor is what he loves bad, nor is the love by which he loves bad, but that he loves badly is bad; and this is what every evil is.[4]

To love is to engage the good and to enjoy the good which we love. The better the love, the greater our good. This is why love is the whole of the law. Indeed, love is the heart of the Christian faith, as God is love. But love manifests itself in many forms. We are called to love all things in our love for God, desiring their beatitude. Love is the explanation for creation. Love is the explanation for the incarnation. Love is the explanation for the resurrection. Love is the explanation for salvation. Love is the explanation for deification. Love is the explanation and any attempt to make an over-arching claim of the core of Christianity who speaks with legalistic overtones and not out of love has found itself far away from that core.

“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony“ (Col. 3:14 RSV).  The spirit gives life, for the spirit of the faith is established by the Spirit of Love, while the letter, those who seek legalistic definitions and understandings of the faith based upon some ideological core to judge all others, finds itself away from the love which Christ proclaimed. This is why such legalism establishes a counter-faith.  We can know many teachings about the faith. We can have a lot of knowledge, but that is nothing if we do not have love. We can do many good deeds, we can promote all kinds of good things, but if we do not have love at the core, whatever we do is as naught, as St. Paul made clear: without love we have nothing (cf. 1 Cor. 8:1-3).  It is this root, this foundation, which Paul knew the Christians had to have if they were to be true to Christ:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,  from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named,  that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man,  and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love,  may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,  and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God  (Eph. 3:14-19 RSV).

To love is open ourselves up beyond ourselves, to be awakened to the other. It takes us away from the evil root of selfish pride, as we realize that we cannot sustain ourselves in the good which we desire. We cannot find the perfection of the good in ourselves, so we most open up and break down the egotistical self and let the good come in from outside ourselves, as Hugh of St Victor understood:

The life of the heart is love, and for that reason it is utterly impossible for the heart that desires to live to be without love. Consider what follows from this. If, then, the human mind is not able to be without love, it is necessary either that it loves itself or certainly that it loves something else. Because it does not find perfect good in itself if it loves itself only, its love cannot be happy. Therefore, it is necessary that if it desires to love happily, it should seek something other than itself to love.[5]

When we love another, we open ourselves up to them, and unite ourselves in and with them and their good. When we open ourselves up to God, we open ourselves up to the source and foundation of every good, and so receive in return the greatness of his greater good, the greatness of love itself, capable of sustaining us in beatitude for eternity.  We pass out of the death of sin and into true life, eternal life, when we come to know God with a perfect love, for then he takes that love into himself and raises us up outside of ourselves into the glory which he desires for us by his love. He does not force that glory upon us: love is kind, patient, enduring, it never is boastful or proud, as it grants freedom to the beloved, but when that love is met with love, then the two can unite and become one. When we become one with God, in and through Jesus Christ, we find ourselves then abiding not in death, but in the life of love:

We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.  Any one who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.  By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.  But if any one has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?  Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth, and reassure our hearts before him (1Jn 3:14-19 RSV).

Love is the core of the Christian faith. Without it there is only death. Let us move on from the death of sin to the life of the world, to the life found in Christ, the life which truly is known and received only in love. This is how we will be known to be the disciples of Christ: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:34-5 RSV).

[IMG= Cross in a Heart Formed with Candles. Photos taken in Camp Tejas, Giddings, Texas, by Wingchi Poon [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons]


[1] Willian of St. Thierry, The Nature and Dignity of Love. Trans. Thomas X. Davis (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1981), 53.

[2] Saint Maximus the Confessor, “Four Centuries on Love” in Maximus Confessor Selected Writings. trans. George C. Berthold (New York: Paulist Press, 1985), 37.

[3] Saint Maximus the Confessor, “Four Centuries on Love,” 37.

[4] Hugh of St Victor, “On the Substance of Love” in Victorine Texts in Translation: On Love. Trans. Venessa Butterfield. Ed. Hugh Feiss, OSB (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2012), 144.

[5] Hugh of St Victor, “What Truly Should Be Loved?” in Victorine Texts in Translation: On Love. Trans. Venessa Butterfield. Ed. Hugh Feiss, OSB (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2012), 179.

 

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