Sabbath rest

Daily Reading for January 12 • Aelred, Abbot of Rievaulx, 1167

About 1142, Bernard of Clairvaux asked Aelred to write his Mirror of Charity. Bernard encouraged his son in the faith to write this treatise as an apologetic for the new monastic way of living in the Cistercian order. In this work, it would be made clear that human relations were not just “natural,” and the craving for love not just a human need. For Aelred, following Augustine’s Confessions, it was forgetfulness of God our Creator, error of mind, and reversal of love in loving self before others that distort our affections and make us miserably frustrated in relationships. As Aelred had once fed on a memory of distinguished ancestral heritage, he now focused on the biblical awareness of being “created in the image and likeness of God.” Because God has created us in love, “our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God.” For the root of love is to will what another wills; it is becoming selfless. To consent then to what God loves and wills is a new orientation, a paradigm shift indeed!

This “spiritual art” is not abstract; it is learnt concretely. . . . For twenty-five years, Aelred daily lived what he also taught. It is all about the reordering of our loves, from “concupiscence” (or love of self) to “caritas” (or love of others), drawn by “affectus,” that supreme devotional attachment to God.

Aelred describes progress in loving God as “Sabbath rest.” He identifies three Sabbaths: in the first, the converted conscience is free of guilt, resting in divine acceptance and forgiveness; in the second, growing in love to others, brotherly affection grows and deepens in a peaceful community; third, love of self and love of neighbor lead onward to the love of God as the ultimate object of love, fully resting in God. “Spiritual friendship” is thus “a Sabbath rest” of devotion to Christ. All other relations of friendship radiate from that center at rest.

From “Profiles in Faith: Aelred of Rievaulx, Friend and Counselor” by James M. Houston, in Knowing and Doing: A Teaching Quarterly for Discipleship of Heart and Mind by the C. S. Lewis Institute (Fall 2007).

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