JUNE 13, 2007: 2 COR 3:4-1; MT 5:17-19

 

GOD HAS QUALIFIED US AS MINISTERS OF A NEW COVENANT, A COVENANT NOT OF A WRITTEN LAW BUT OF SPIRIT. Rightly to appreciate the import of these words of St. Paul, we must recall his earlier training and lifestyle. As he himself informs us elsewhere, he was a Pharisee whose parents were Pharisee. He had been formed in the best of schools and having become an expert in the written law, was held in high regard by the leaders of that sect. He carried into practice the prescriptions of that law so that his way of life was a zealous witness to its traditions that, according to the doctors of the Torah, included 613 commandments.

 

In light of his devoted adherence to this tradition which he understood to be a gift of God and the source of true wisdom, when we hear him declare, as he does in today=s text, that The written law kills, but the Spirit gives life, we obtain a more vivid realization of the transforming power of the grace of beholding the glory of God shining on the face of Christ. So powerful was Paul=s encounter with the risen Lord Jesus that he arrived at the astonishing understanding expressed in this phrase that was to have such a powerful impact on the history of the world and of our civilization: The written law kills, but the Spirit gives life.

 

The way one conceives law has a radical, far-reaching influence on the character of society and of the individuals formed in that society. Like the air we breathe and the water we drink, the law=s influence is only partly visible and conscious; its ethos infiltrates the whole of the society in which it applies. What the law neglects or overlooks tends to disappear, to cease to have reality; what it presupposes, even though remaining unexpressed, becomes the foundation of the world that it governs. A major reason why attempts at true dialogue between the Muslim world and the Western countries breaks down and is replaced by violence is the different understanding of law and its presuppositions. That law is formative of life and of character in its application and presuppositions, as Paul well realized from his own experience prior to his conversion and subsequent to his preaching as minister of the Gospel.

           

Law properly to fulfill its legitimate purpose must follow life and so be a vehicle of the spirit. And the human spirit must be enlightened by the Spirit of God properly to frame laws that serve its adherents so as to preserve and nourish humanizing values. Our Cistercian Fathers saw this truth so clearly that they took it as a rallying point for their reform. Convinced of the primacy of love they came to grasp that law and love were intrinsically bound together. When Saint Bernard reflected on the great issue of love and its transformations he treated of the various levels of our human condition as we progress in the way that leads to union with God through love. His analysis is remarkable in its subtle insight into the refinements of love for he recognizes the fact that at various levels human desire is governed by sets of laws that correspond to the world created by the nature of our loves. The abbot of Clairvaux leads us into the very life and nature of the blessed Trinity and, as he does so, he indicates the nature of law and relates it to the Spirit of God under the name of charitas, charity. Here are his words:

 


 

The immaculate law of God is, then, charity which seeks not what is useful for itself but for many. It is called the law of the Lord either because he lives by it or because nobody can possess it save by his gift. Nor does it seem absurd to say that even God lives by a law since I say that law is nothing else than charity. For what in the highest and blessed Trinity conserves unity save charity? And so charity is a law, and it is the Law of the Lord which binds as it were the Trinity in unity and links it together by the chains of peace.(De Deo diligendo xii.54, PL 181:996)  

 

We discover the scope and nature of this New Law, as St Paul puts it, in contemplating the person of the risen Lord Jesus. These are his words: For God who made light to shine out of darkness, has Himself has shone in our hearts with the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shining on the face of Christ. May this light ever guide and strengthen us in fidelity to the law of God given us in the form of His love.

 

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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