Loving Forbearance, the Law of Christ – Isaac of Stella

Isaac of Stella on Paul’s exhortation in Galatians 6:2 to “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”  Charity is characterized by compassion, patience, and forbearance.  To forebear the weaknesses and faults of others is a hallmark of divine love.

Why, my brethren, are we so little concerned with finding opportunities to advance each other’s salvation, responding to greater need with greater help and bearing each other’s burdens? This is what St Paul advised: Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ – or, again, forbearing each other in love. For that is most definitely the law of Christ.

When I notice something wrong in my brother that cannot be corrected – either because it is inevitable or because it comes from some weakness of his in body or character – why do I not bear it patiently and offer my willing sympathy? As scripture says, their children will be carried on their shoulders and comforted on their laps. Could it be because there is a lack in me, a lack of that which bears all things and is patient enough to take up the burden, a lack of the will to love?

This is what the law of Christ is like, of Christ who bore our griefs in his passion and carried our sorrows in his compassion for us, loving those whom he carried and carrying those whom he loved. On the other hand, whoever turns on his brother in the brother’s time of need, who exploits his weakness, whatever that weakness may be – without doubt he has subjected himself to the law of Satan and is carrying it out. Let us have compassion for each other and love the brotherhood we share, bear each other’s weaknesses and fight against each other’s vices.

Whatever religious practice or observance it leads to, any teaching or discipline that fosters a stronger love of God and, through God, of our neighbors, is most acceptable to God for that reason. This love is the reason why things should be or not be, why they should remain the same or be changed. This love should be the reason why things are and the end to which all things are directed. For nothing can be considered wrong that is truly directed towards and according to that love.

Without such love we cannot be pleasing to God, and without it we cannot achieve anything at all. May God choose to grant it to us, he who lives and reigns through the undying ages. Amen!

The commentary of Blessed Isaac of Stella (Sermo 31: PL 194, 1292-1293), a 12th Century Cistercian, on St. Paul’s exhortation in Galatians 5 to “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2).  Charity calls us to forbear the faults of others.  It is characterized by compassion, patience, and forbearance. This reflection appears in the Roman Catholic Divine Office of Readings for Saturday in the 5th week in ordinary time with the accompanying biblical reading taken from Galatians 5:25-6:18.

Isaac of Stella

Born ca. 1100AD, Blessed Isaac entered the Cistercian Monastery of Citeaux, near Dijon, France, in the early years of the Cistercian order.  A contemporary of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Isaac became abbot of the Cistercian monastery of Stella where he was renowned for his holiness and the teaching he gave his monks to help them advance in the spiritual life.  He died in 1169AD.