True Wisdom and Love

By Saint Robert Bellarmine SJ (1542-1621) - Montepulciano, Republic of Siena



Sun gives light and heat, but God gives true wisdom and charity.


There remains the efficacy of light and heat to consider. David says about it, "There is no one that can hide himself from the heat" (Ps. 19:6). This one luminous body stationed in the middle of the universe illuminates all the stars, all the air, all the seas, and all the earth. Everywhere on earth it makes all the buds, all the plants, and all the trees become green and leafy by its life-giving warmth, and it makes all the crops ripen. It even spreads its power beneath the earth and produces every kind of metal.


This is why Saint James at the beginning of his Letter compared God with the sun: "Every good gift and every perfect give is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no change, nor shadow of alteration" (Jas. 1:17).


The sun is the father of bodily lights, while God is the Father of spiritual lights, but God differs greatly from the sun in three ways. First, the sun must be constantly changing in order to fill the whole earth with light and heat, but God who is totally present everywhere needs no change.... Second, because the sun is always changing its place, it brings day in turn to place after place, leaving some in night, shining on others, bringing shadows elsewhere. But God never moves and is always present in every place.... Finally, the greatest boon of all from the sun as father of bodily lights is all the gifts and benefits which are born from the earth.


But these good things are not supreme or perfect but rather poor, temporary, failing, and they do not make man good and can be misused by those who so wish, and many turn them into their damnation. But "every good gift and every perfect gift" comes down from the Father of spiritual lights, and these make their possessor very good and perfect. Nobody can misuse them, and they lead him who perseveres in them to the state of true happiness, a state made perfect by the accumulation of every good....


[T]he best gifts...which come down from God, the true Father of lights, are the light of wisdom and well-ordered love. The light of wisdom, which makes a person truly wise, which no one can misuse, and which leads to the fountain of wisdom which lies in our heavenly fatherland, is the light which teaches us to scorn temporal things and esteem eternal things. It teaches us "not to trust in the uncertainty of riches, but in the living God" (1 Tim. 6:17); it teaches us not to make this exile our fatherland and to endure rather than love this pilgrimage; lastly it teaches us to bear patiently this present life, which is full of dangers and temptations, and see death as desirable, for "blessed are the dead who die in the Lord" (Rev. 14:13).


What is well-ordered love except to love God, who is the end of all desires, without end or limit, and to love other things, which are means to the end, within limits and only to the degree to which they are necessary for the end, that is, for attaining happiness? Nobody among the sons of men would turn things upside down in taking care of his body so that he would love health within limits and love a bitter medicine without limit since he knows that one is the end and the other the means. How comes it then, that so many who want to pass for wise can set no limit in heaping up riches, in seeking the pleasures of the flesh, and in acquiring titles of honor, as if these goods were the end for the human heart? But in loving God and seeking eternal happiness they are content with narrow limits, as if these were means to an end and not the end of all means. This above all is the reason why they have the wisdom of this world and not the wisdom which is from above...and why they do not have a well-ordered love and, therefore, do not have true love, which cannot exist without being well-ordered. Rather they are full of covetousness, which does not come from the Father but from the world.


While you are a pilgrim, my soul, away from your fatherland and sojourning among enemies who plot against true wisdom and true love and substitute guile for wisdom and covetousness for love, sigh with your whole heart for the Father of lights that he make the best gifts and perfect boons, namely, the light of wisdom and the passion of well-ordered love, come down into your heart so that filled with them you may run with a sure foot the path of the commandments and reach the fatherland where one drinks from the very fountain of wisdom and lives on the pure milk of love....



Nota bene: This text is taken from Bellarmine's much longer Ascent of the Mind to God and is excerpted from selected chapters of that text as they appear in Jesuit Writings of the Early Modern Period, 1540-1640, ed. and trans. John Patrick Donnelly SJ (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2006), pp. 183-185. For ease of viewing, we have taken the liberty of inserting a few paragraph breaks in addition to those employed by Bellarmine and Donnelly in his translation.