[Consonant with both Anglicanism’s and monasticism’s love of patristic theology-spirituality, I occasionally post selections from a two-year lectionary for the Divine Office that draws mostly from patristic writings. The lectionary was initially edited by Stephen Mark Holmes (University of Edinburgh School of Divinity) and subsequently re-edited and formatted by Michele Freyhauf (Durham University). Click here for the link to the lectionary. When there are lacunae in the Durham edition, I draw from R. M. Healey’s edition. Click here for the link to his formatting of the lectionary.]
Patristic Lectionary – 17 May 2021 – Feria in Eastertide
[Image: East window and altar at Fontenay Abbey, the best surviving example of Cistercian architecture from the early years of the Cistercian reforms. “Fontenay is today the only abbey founded by Saint Bernard that has remained intact through the centuries.” It exemplifies the Cistercian preference for simplicity and the symbolism of Uncreated Light.]
1 John 4:1-10
God Loved Us First
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God. This is the spirit of antichrist, of which you heard that it was coming, and now it is in the world already. Little children, you are of God, and have overcome them; for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are of the world, therefore what they say is of the world, and the world listens to them. We are of God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and he who is not of God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
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.
St. Bernard de Clairvaux
Letter 107.8-9 (Patrologia Latina 182:246-247)
No one who loves God need have any doubt that God loves him. God gladly returns our love, which was preceded by his own. How could he be reluctant to love us in response to our love for him, when he already loved us before we ever loved him at all. Yes, I say, God loved us. We have a pledge of his love in the Spirit and a faithful witness to it in Jesus – a double and irrefutable proof of the love God bears toward each one of us.
Christ died, and so deserves our love. The Spirit moves us by his grace and so enables us to love. Christ gives us the reason, the Spirit gives us the power. The one sets before us the example of his own great love, the other gives us the love itself. In Christ we see the object of our love, by the Spirit we are empowered to love him. We can say then that the former supplies the motive for charity, the latter the volition.
How shameful it would be to see God’s Son dying for us without being moved to gratitude! Yet this could easily happen if the Spirit were lacking. Now, however, the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit he has given us, and so we love him in return for his love, and by loving him we deserve to be loved still more. If while we were still his enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved through his Son’s life! God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all; how could he fail to accompany such a gift with everything else we need?
We possess, then, a double token of our salvation, the twofold outpouring of blood and Spirit. Neither is of any profit to us without the other. The Spirit is only given to those who believe in the Crucified, and faith is only effective when it works through love. But love is the gift of the Spirit. The second Adam, I mean Christ, became not merely a living being but also a life-giving spirit. As a living being he died; as a life-giving spirit he raises the dead. The mortal principle in him cannot help me without the life-giving principle. The flesh is of no avail; it is the Spirit that gives life. And to say that the Spirit gives life is only another way of saying that the Spirit justifies us by rectifying our relationship with God. Since the death of the soul is sin, as Scripture says: The soul that sins shall die, it is beyond dispute that the life of the soul is justice or righteousness, because, again as Scripture says, The just shall live by faith.
And who are the just? Are they not those who pay their debt of love to the God who loves them? Now it is impossible for them to do this unless they have received in faith the Spirit’s revelation of God’s eternal plan for their future salvation. That revelation is none other than an infusion of spiritual grace, through which, as we mortify the works of the flesh, we are made ready for the kingdom which flesh and blood cannot possess. In the one Spirit we receive both the audacity to believe ourselves loved and the power to love in return, so that God’s love for us may not go unrequited.