He Loved Us First
William of Saint-Thierry
William, abbot of of Saint-Thierry, was a French Cistercian monk and theologian of the 12th century who was an intimate friend of St. Bernard of Clairvaux. This excerpt from his discourse "On the Contemplation of God" is used in the Roman Office of Readings for Monday of the Third Week in Advent.
Truly you alone are the Lord. Your dominion is our salvation, for to serve you is nothing else but to be saved by you!
O Lord, salvation is your gift and your blessing is upon your people; what else is your salvation but receiving from you the gift of loving you or being loved by you?
That, Lord, is why you willed that the Son at your right hand, the man whom you made strong for yourself, should be called Jesus, that is to say, Saviour, for he will save his people from their sins, and there is no other in whom there is salvation. He taught us to love him by first loving us, even to death on the cross. By loving us and holding us so dear, he stirred us to love him who had first loved us to the end.
And this is clearly the reason: you first loved us so that we might love you – not because you needed our love, but because we could not be what you created us to be, except by loving you.
In many ways and on various occasions you spoke to our fathers through the prophets. Now in these last days you have spoken to us in the Son, your Word; by him the heavens were established and all their powers came to be by the breath of his mouth.
For you to speak thus in your Son was to bring out in the light of day how much and in what way you loved us, for you did not spare your own Son but delivered him up for us all. He also loved us and gave himself up for us.
This, Lord, is your Word to us, this is your all-powerful message: while all things were in midnight silence (that is, were in the depths of error), he came from his royal throne, the stern conqueror of error and the gentle apostle of love.
Everything he did and everything he said on earth, even enduring the insults, the spitting, the buffetting – the cross and the grave – all of this was actually you speaking to us in your Son, appealing to us by your love and stirring up our love for you.
You know that this disposition could not be forced on men’s hearts, my God, since you created them; it must rather be elicited. And this, for the further reason that there is no freedom where there is compulsion, and where freedom is lacking, so too is righteousness.
You wanted us to love you, then, we who could not with justice have been saved had we not loved you, nor could we have loved you except by your gift. So, Lord, as the apostle of your love tells us, and as we have already said, you first loved us: you are first to love all those who love you.
Thus we hold you dear by the affection you have implanted in us. You are the one supremely good and ultimate goodness. Your love is your goodness, the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son! From the beginning of creation it was he who hovered over the waters – that is, over the wavering minds of men – offering himself to all, drawing all things to himself. By his inspiration and holy breath, by keeping us from harm and providing for our needs, he unites God to us and us to God.