ST BERNARD OF CLAIRVAUX
The first degree of love: when you love yourself for your own sake
Because nature has become rather frail and weak, we are driven by necessity to serve nature first. This results in bodily love, by which we love ourselves for our own sake. We do not yet know anything but ourselves, as it is written, “First came what is animal, then what is spiritual” (1 Cor 15:46). This love is not imposed by rule but is innate in nature. For who hates his own flesh (Eph 5:29)? But if that same love begins to get out of proportion and headstrong, as often happens, and it ceases to be satisfied to run in the narrow channel of its needs, but floods out on all sides into the fields of pleasure, then the overflow can be stopped at once by the commandment, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Mt 22:39)....
Is it not much more right and honest to share nature’s goods with your fellow human beings, that is, your neighbour, than with an enemy? If you take the advice of Wisdom and turn away from your pleasures (Sir 18:30) and make yourself content with food and clothing s the Apostle teaches (1 Tim 6:8), soon you will find that your love is not impeded by carnal desires which fight against the soul (1 Pt 2:11). I think you will not find it a burden to share with your fellow human beings what they need from the pleasures you have denied yourself. It is in this way that bodily love is shared, when it is extended to the community.
The second degree of love: when you love God for your own sake
God brings about your love for him just as he causes other goods. This is how he does it: He who made nature also protects it. For it was so created that it needs its Creator as its Protector, so that what could not have come into existence without him cannot continue in existence without him. So that no rational creature might be in ignorance of this fact and (dreadful thought) claim for himself the gifts of the Creator, that same Creator willed by a high and saving counsel that we should endure tribulation; then when we fail and God comes to our aid and sets us free, we will honour God as he deserves. For this is what he says, “Call upon me in the day of tribulation. I will deliver you, and you shall honour me” (Ps 50:15). And so in that way it comes about that we who are bodily animals (1 Cor 2:14) and do not know how to love anything but ourselves, begin to love God for our own benefit, because we learn from frequent experience that in God we can everything that is good for us (Phil 4:13), and that without him we can do nothing (Jn 15:5).
The third degree of love: when you love God for God's sake
Our frequent needs make it necessary for us to call upon God often, and to taste by frequent constant, and to discover by tasting how sweet the Lord is. It is in this way that the taste of his sweetness leads us to love God in purity more than our nerd alone would prompt us to do.... Let us say to our flesh, “Now we love God, not because he meets your needs; but we have tasted and we know how sweet the Lord is.”
This love is acceptable because it given freely. It is chaste because it is not made up of words or talk, but of truth and action (1 Jn 3:18). It is just because it gives back what it has received. For those who love in this way love as they are loved. They love, seeking in return not what is their own (1 Cor 13:5), but what is Jesus Christ’s, just as he has sought not his own but our good, or rather, our very selves (2 Cor 12:14). The one who says, “We trust in the Lord for he is good” (Ps 117:1) loves in this way. Those who trust in the Lord not because he is good to them but simply because he is good truly love God for God's sake and not for their own. The one of whom it is said, “He will praise you when you do him favours” (Ps 49:18) does not love in this way.
The fourth degree of love: when you love yourself for God's sake
Happy are they who have been found worthy to attain to the fourth degree, when they love themselves only for God's sake.... When will [we] experience this kind of love, so that the mind, drunk with divine love and forgetting itself, making itself like a broken vessel (Ps 30:13), throws itself wholly on God and, clinging to God (1 Cor 6:17), becomes one with him in spirit and says, “My body and my heart fainted, O God of my heart; God my part in eternity (Ps 73:26)? I should call holy and blessed the one to whom it is given to experience even for a single instant something which is rare indeed in this life. To love yourself as though you did not exist and to have no sense of yourself, to be emptied out of yourself (Phil 2:7) and almost annihilated, belongs to heavenly not to human love....
Since Scripture says that God made everything for himself (Prv 16:4; Rev 4:11) there will be a time when he will cause everything to conform to its Maker and be in harmony with him. In the meantime, we must make this our desire: that as God himself willed that everything should be for himself, so we too should will that nothing, not even ourselves, may be or have been except for him: that is according to his will, not ours. The satisfaction of our needs will not bring us happiness, not chance delights, as does the sight of his will being fulfilled in us and in everything which concerns us. This is what we ask every day in prayer when we say, “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt 6:10).... to love in this way is to become like God. As a drop of water seems to disappear completely in a quantity of wine, taking the wine’s flavour and colour; as red-hot iron becomes indistinguishable from the glow of fire and its own original form disappears; as air suffused with the light of the sun seems transformed into the brightness of the light, as if it were itself light rather than merely lit up; so, in those who are holy, it is necessary for human affection to dissolve in some ineffable way, and be poured into the will of God. How will God be all in all (1 Cor 15:26) if anything of us remains in us? The substance remains, but in another form, with another glory, another power.