St. Bernard of Clairvaux on Loving Your Neighbor as Yourself


‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’.

And this is right: for the one who shares our nature should share our love, itself the fruit of nature. Wherefore if people find it a burden, I will not say only to relieve their brother or sister’s needs, but to minister to their pleasures, let them mortify those same affections in themselves, lest they become transgressors. They may cherish themselves as tenderly as they choose, if only they remember to show the same indulgence to their neighbors. This is the curb of temperance imposed on you, O mortal, by the law of life and conscience, lest you should follow your own lusts to destruction, or become enslaved by those passions which are the enemies of your true welfare. Far better divide your enjoyments with your neighbor than with these enemies. And if, after the counsel of the son of Sirach, you go not after your desires but refrain yourself from your appetites (Ecclus. 18.30); if according to the apostolic precept having food and raiment you are therewith content (I Tim. 6.8), then you will find it easy to abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, and to divide with your neighbors what you have refused to your own desires. A temperate and righteous love practices self-denial in order to minister to a brother or sister’s necessity. So our selfish love grows truly social, when it includes our neighbors in its circle.

But if you are reduced to want by such benevolence, what then? What indeed, except to pray with all confidence unto the One who gives to all people liberally and upbraids not (James 1.5), who opens the divine hand and fills all things living with plenty (Ps. 145.16). For doubtless the One that gives to most people more than they need will not fail you as to the necessaries of life, even as God has promised: Seek the Kingdom of God, and all those things shall be added unto you’ (Luke 12.31). God freely promises all things needful to those who deny themselves for love of their neighbors; and to bear the yoke of modesty and sobriety, rather than to let sin reign in our mortal body (Rom. 6.12), that is indeed to seek the Kingdom of God and to implore God’s aid against the tyranny of sin. It is surely justice to share our natural gifts with those who share our nature.

from On Loving God, Chapter 8

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