The Second Reading at Mass today is one of those better known Scripture passages, St. Paul’s praise of the virtue of love, found in his First Letter to the Corinthians.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, …“. I’m pretty sure I don’t need to quote the rest of this passage as you will have certainly heard it at…every…single…wedding…you have ever attended
It is my guess that St. Paul’s great hymn of love was the inspiration for a section of an epistle written by St. Clement of Rome at the end of the First Century. A few decades after St. Paul’s death, St. Clement wrote a letter to that same troublesome Corinthian congregation to address that community’s latest round of problems. Some young whipper-snappers had usurped control of the church and deposed their clergy. The Bishop of Rome wrote to them, urging the members of the church to obedience and to brotherly love.
This letter of Clement was the first patristic work which I ever read in its entirety and, given today’s Second Reading, I would like to share with you the portion of St. Clement’s letter which he devotes to the subject of love:
Let him who has love in Christ keep the commandments of Christ. Who can describe the [blessed] bond of the love of God? What man is able to tell the excellence of its beauty, as it ought to be told? The height to which love exalts is unspeakable. Love unites us to God. Love covers a multitude of sins. Love bears all things, is long-suffering in all things. There is nothing base, nothing arrogant in love. Love admits of no schisms: love gives rise to no seditions: love does all things in harmony. By love have all the elect of God been made perfect; without love nothing is well- pleasing to God. In love has the Lord taken us to Himself. On account of the Love he bore us, Jesus Christ our Lord gave His blood for us by the will of God; His flesh for our flesh, and His soul for our souls.
You see, beloved, how great and wonderful a thing is love, and that there is no declaring its perfection. Who is fit to be found in it, except such as God has vouchsafed to render so? Let us pray, therefore, and implore of His mercy, that we may live blameless in love, free from all human partialities for one above another. All the generations from Adam even unto this day have passed away; but those who, through the grace of God, have been made perfect in love, now possess a place among the godly, and shall be made manifest at the revelation of the kingdom of Christ…. Blessed are we, beloved, if we keep the commandments of God in the harmony of love; that so through love our sins may be forgiven us… – Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Chapters 49-50