St Bernard on love and the gift of the Spirit

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 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 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.

Jesus, the very thought of Thee
With sweetness fills the breast!
Yet sweeter far Thy face to see
And in Thy presence rest.


Bernard entered the monastery at Citeaux with thirty companions in 1112. He received his monastic training under the abbot, Saint Stephen Harding, who sent him in 1115 to make a foundation at Clairvaux in France. Soon one of the most influential religious forces in Europe,Bernard was instrumental in founding the Knights Templar and in the election of Pope Innocent I in 1130. Above all, Bernard was a monk; his sermons and theological writings show an intimate knowledge of Scripture, a fine eloquence, and an extraordinarily sublime mysticism.

The letter above was written to Thomas, Provost of Beverley Minster(North Yorkshire).