When Paul wrote that love is “the more excellent way”–that it “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things”–and that it is greater than faith or hope, he was doing all he could to say it is the sum of all.
Similarly, we have found the early Christians saying the same thing through their words and deeds, many of which are preserved in the Verba Seniorum (c. 550 a.d.), which we today call the sayings of the desert fathers and mothers.
One of my favorite companion books to this ancient volume is Thomas Merton’s The Wisdom of the Desert. I cannot think of a better way to draw our exploration of the principle of love to a close than to post Merton’s summation written in the 20th century and in keeping with Paul’s conviction written in the 1st century…
“All through the Verba Seniorum we find a repeated insistence on the primacy of love over everything else in the spiritual life: over knowledge, gnosis, asceticism, contemplation, solitude, prayer. Love, in fact, is the spiritual life, and without it all the other exercises of the spirit, however lofty, are emptied of content and become mere illusions. The more lofty they are, the more dangerous the illusion.”