Love of God, Consciousness of the Real

~Frithjof Schuon

Love seems to be the only element capable of uniting the soul to God, for it alone is desire of possession or union—a desire whose sublimation can engender the greatest sacrifices—whereas knowledge, as seen from this point of view, appears on the contrary as a static element having no operative or unitive virtue. To adopt this standpoint is either a question of terminology—and then “knowledge” is taken to mean only theory while “love” is held to exclude no mode of spiritual union—or it shows a misconception of metaphysical “consciousness”, which is an eminently concrete participation in transcendent realities: far from denying love or the fear that is its complement, this consciousness embraces them in surpassing them, and because it surpasses them.

Before being able to “love” it is necessary to “be conscious”; the sun pours out light before heat, as is proven by the visibility of immeasurably distant stars; and to be conscious in the sense that interests us here is to fix the heart in the Real, in permanent “remembering” of the Divine. Fear distances from the world, and love brings near to God; but consciousness “is” already something of its content or aim; it is true that this observation is valid for other spiritual modes as well, but in a less direct way since intellective consciousness alone transcends human subjectivity by definition. In a certain sense love saves because it includes the whole subject, whereas consciousness delivers because it excludes it.

Within the framework of gnosis, love has something impersonal about it because the love of man for God joins in a sense with that of God for man. The divine quality of “love” is everywhere, being in the very substance of the Universe, “created by love”; it belongs to no single person and embraces all; it is derived in short from the supreme Beatitude, which is at the same time divine Contemplation and creative Will.

All men have the need in some degree or another to understand and to love; but there are men who understand only love and act through it alone, just as there are others who are stirred only by sapiential consciousness; the element “truth” then takes precedence over the element “life”, if one may so express it. The fundamental contemplation of these souls—and not the sharpness of their intelligence on lower planes—is equivalent to a need for total truth and cannot be stopped by formal screens, any more than light can come to rest in space; for these screens, being symbols, are transparent, only the blind believing them to be opaque. Contemplativity implies furthermore a certain natural distance with regard to the world, not only because things appear in their metaphysical “translucence”—outward alternatives then lose much of their importance—but also because the human world is shown up in all its absurdity, so that the simple fact of enduring it is already a form of asceticism.


The fact that the term “love” evokes above all the ideas of sexual attraction and family affection indicates that it is not arbitrary to attribute to the way of love a character of emotiveness, even sentimentalism; but the term is necessarily broadened once it becomes the common denominator of all spirituality for an entire tradition. Now it is precisely the idea of “union”—included in the notion of love—that allows us to give the name of “love” to whatever attaches us to God in an effective way; no matter our motives, we “love” the place we wish to be, the object we want to possess, the state we wish to enjoy. In this sense we can accept without hesitation the postulate of the preeminence of “love” over a “knowledge” that remains mental and inoperative.

Love thus divested of its emotive aspect—but not of its character of “union”, lest the word lose all its meaning—is none other, all things considered, than the will: in fact the will obeys intellectual as well as sentimental motives; it is neutral in itself, but never operates alone, its motive always coming from outside; but from another angle the will allows itself to become absorbed by what determines it and thus becomes as it were an aspect of the driving intention.

When Christ—in renewing the Law of Sinai, which he came to “fulfill” and not to “destroy”—teaches the love of God, he distinguishes between “heart”, “soul”, “strength” (Torah: “might”), and “mind”; this “love” thus excludes no faculty that unites with God, and it cannot be merely one term of an opposition, as when love and knowledge confront each other. If by the word “love” the Torah and the Gospel express above all the idea of “union” or “desire for union”, they make it clear by the adjectives that follow that this tendency includes diverse modes in keeping with the diversity of man’s nature; hence it is necessary to say, not that love alone draws toward God, but rather that only what draws toward God is love.

Love, even when considered in its current sense and in its psychological specificity, readily goes hand in hand with a desire to suffer for the Beloved, for it burns to be able to prove its fullness. Metaphysical consciousness, on the other hand, carries its dimensions within itself: the detachment it implies is not really distinct from it, and this is why it does not impose itself as a suffering or sacrifice, but only insofar as it is a “void”, a “poverty”, or an “extinction” for the sake of the plenitude of the Self.

There is all the same a mystical love which does not necessarily lead to suffering and which, more contemplative than volitive, is connected to beauty; the condition of this love is a vision of the “metaphysical transparency” of things and so also—by compensation—a detachment with regard to them, which means that this love is akin to gnosis. This connection between love and beauty—which appears with special significance in the sexual realm—permits one to conceive of a love that responds to the Beauty of God and of a Mercy that responds to the beauty of human virtues or, in a deeper sense, to the beauty of the divine virtues as reflected in man.

It is this connection moreover that permits in principle the integration of pleasure into spirituality, even if only to the extent this is inevitable. It is necessary to distinguish here between contingent level and absolute content or between the aspect of “manifestation” and that of “revelation”; the first is animal or “worldly” and the second spiritual. The demiurgic tendency moves away from God—from the macrocosmic point of view—but with a creative and revelatory intention, and this second characteristic allows the microcosm to return to God through the medium of the symbol; the satanic tendency, on the contrary, separates from God and so is opposed to Him; however, the very least of insects is obedient to Heaven by its subjection to natural laws as much as by its form. The devil’s greatest vexation is that he is obliged to be a symbol of God, doubtless inverted, but always recognizable and ineffaceable.

From: Gnosis: Divine Wisdom 
A New Translation with Selected Letters