About St. Paul’s praise of love.


We all know the famous statement of St. Paul : “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”

We know this word for word, but it is likely that only a few of us can reach the true meaning of the sentence. The crucial point here is of course in the word charity. How does Paul understand it? Is it just a common human feeling that people are said to experience in their relations to other people, their love ones? Or is it meant to point at some far more essential concept beyond the commonplace usage of the word?

After writing this statement the apostle is trying to explain how he defines the charity: “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

 rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things (King James version of the text).

  It is easy to see that the charity here differs in many respects from a usual human love. We human beings are not very patient in loving but want to fulfil all our desires as soon as possible. Lovers certainly seek their own good – in fact they usually seek their own ideas of perfection reflected in the targets of their love. In too many cases this idea of perfection reveals in time to be fake, because it was just an idea not based on a real knowledge. After the idea starts to break down its owner also begins to get inflamed and then he suddenly sees unwanted and unexpected features in his partner. Thinking of evil becomes soon a growing feeling between two people who just a little while ago had uttered their solemn want to love one another as long as they live. George Bernard Shaw wrote in his book (The Importance of Being Earnest) in a very British way that marriages are made in hell! Maybe he had learnt that all too many devoted relationships end up in disaster, because they were based on false expectations, illusions.

Certainly we often think that we are rejoicing in the truth, but in fact we are just happy if things go according to our wishes. The truth here lies above all thought forms, even the finest ones. Are we to understand that Paul merely set us a distant goal to strive for? So that we must try to develop our ways and manners to a more civilized and refined direction? It may well be that this was one of Paul’s aims, but certainly not the most important one.

We should see that he is writing of the fundamental basis of all being, of the life beyond all that we usually sense as life. By talking about sounding brass and tinkling cymbal Paul is characterising a normal human behaviour which is based on thoughts and feelings adapted in the course of this temporal life.

Now St. Paul lifts up charity above all other faculties, which also indicates that he is talking about the essence of life itself, about the charity which is to be found beyond time – in eternal being.  Yes, it is the divine love that St. Paul is writing of here. Divine love that embraces all beings without distinction. One of the most popular spiritual teachers of today, Eckhart Tolle, would talk about being present in this very moment – loosing ones sense of time.

It is easy to say that in the daily life of a human being this kind of charity is totally impossible. That is a fact if we think of people in their normal state and understanding, strictly bounded with their inherited and learned thinking and feeling processes.

Everybody can see that people in their daily life don’t exercise Luke’s writing: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.” But we love God as we love a cow – for the milk we expect from her (a statement of Master Eckhart)!

Further more people do not really follow the advice: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Because they do not know themselves, which means that they cannot reach the ultimate basis of love.

A human love can in time turn to its opposite, and it has an awkward inclination to insist some return service – in other words - to do business.

So we can see that also these two clear pieces of advice from the bible most probably characterise in the first place the divine love as the ultimate goal for the people who are getting fed up with being captured by the functions of their minds.

By defining charity in so many words St. Paul is trying to tell something about the life beyond all this ever lasting fluctuation, about the real life and love without any kind of opposites, not even the beginning or the end. He is talking about the only love where everything dwells timelessly in total peace and harmony. Maybe we can call it a state of consciousness where The Son and The Father are one, as said in the bible, and where we too, united beyond time in a secret moment, are in fact one with them as well.