Thoughts from the Early Church
Commentary by Francis de Sales
“This is the first commandment,
and the second is similar to it.” (Mt: 12:38-39)
Because God created us in his own image and likeness, he ordained that our love for one another should be in the image and likeness of the love we owe him, our God. He said: “You must love the Lord your God with your whole heart. This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: You must love your neighbor as yourself.”
What is our reason for loving God? God himself is the reason we love him; we love him because he is the supreme and infinite goodness. What is our reason for loving ourselves? Surely because we are the image and likeness of God. And since all men and women possess this same dignity we love them as ourselves, that is, as holy and living images of the Godhead.
It is as such that we belong to God through a kinship so close and a dependence so lovable that he does not hesitate to call himself our Father, and to name us his children.
It is as such that we are capable of being united to him in the fruition of his sovereign goodness and joy. It is as such that we receive his grace and that our spirits are associated with his most Holy Spirit and rendered, in a sense, “sharers in the divine nature.”
So it is then that the same charity produces together acts of the love of God and of our neighbor. As Jacob saw that the same ladder touching heaven and earth was used by the angels both for ascending and descending, so we can be sure that the same charity cherishes both God and our neighbor, raising us even to spiritual union with God, and bringing us back to loving companionship with our neighbors.
It must always be understood, however, that we love our neighbors for this reason, that they are made in the image and likeness of God, created to communicate in his goodness, share in his grace, and rejoice in his glory.
To have a Christian love for our neighbors is to love God in them, or them in God; it is to cherish God alone for his own sake, and his creatures for love of him.
When we look upon our neighbors, created in the image and likeness of God, should we not say to each other: “Look at these people he has made—are they not like their maker?”
Should we not be drawn irresistibly toward them, embrace them, and be moved to tears for love of them? Should we not call down upon them a hundred blessings? And why? For love of them? No indeed, since we cannot be sure whether, of themselves, they are worthy of love or hate.
Then why? For love of God, who created them in his own image and likeness, and so capable of sharing in his goodness, grace, and glory; for love of God, I say, unto whom they exist, from whom they exist, through whom they exist, in whom they exist, for whom they exist, and whom they resemble in a very special manner.
This is why divine Love not only repeatedly commands us to love our neighbors, but also itself produces this love and pours it out into our hearts, since they bear its own image and likeness; for just as we are the image of God, so our holy love for one another is the true image of our heavenly love for God.
Guérin, Treatise on the Love of God II, 10, 11, 193-95
Francis de Sales (1567-1622), born on the family estate of Sales in Savoy, was educated at Annecy, Paris, and Padua. In 1593 he was ordained priest and in the following year courageously set out to win back the people of the Chablais from Calvinism to Catholicism. Thanks to his ardent zeal and habitual gentleness he made eight thousand converts within two years. He was appointed coadjutor to the bishop of Geneva and in 1602 succeeded to the see. Together with Saint Jane Frances de Chantal he founded the Order of the Visitation. He died at Lyons when returning from Avignon. His best known writings are the Introduction to a Devout Life and the Treatise on the Love of God. In 1877 he was declared to be a doctor of the Church.
Jacob of Serugh
**From Saint Louis University