Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Stump the Priest: Love Covers a Multitude of Sins

Question: "What is meant by the verse in 1 Peter 4:8: " will cover a multitude of sins"?"

First, let's look at what the Fathers say about this verse:

"Then the blessed Chaeremon: There are, said he, three things which enable men to control their faults; viz., either the fear of hell or of laws even now imposed; or the hope and desire of the kingdom of heaven; or a liking for goodness itself and the love of virtue. For then we read that the fear of evil loathes contamination: "The fear of the Lord hateth evil" (Proverbs 8:13). Hope also shuts out the assaults of all faults: for "all who hope in Him shall not fail" (Psalm. 33[34]:23). Love also fears no destruction from sins, for "love never faileth" (1 Corinthians 13:8); and again: "love covers a multitude of sins"(1 Peter 4:8). And therefore the blessed Apostle confines the whole sum of salvation in the attainment of those three virtues, saying "Now abideth faith, hope, love, these three" (1 Corinthians. 13:13). For faith is what makes us shun the stains of sin from fear of future judgment and punishment; hope is what withdraws our mind from present things, and despises all bodily pleasures from its expectation of heavenly rewards; love is what inflames us with keenness of heart for the love of Christ and the fruit of spiritual goodness, and makes us hate with a perfect hatred whatever is opposed to these. And these three things although they all seem to aim at one and the same end (for they incite us to abstain from things unlawful) yet they differ from each other greatly in the degrees of their excellence. For the two former belong properly to those men who in their aim at goodness have not yet acquired the love of virtue, and the third belongs specially to God and to those who have received into themselves the image and likeness of God. For He alone does the things that are good, with no fear and no thanks or reward to stir Him up, but simply from the love of goodness. For, as Solomon says, "The Lord hath made all things for Himself"(Proverbs 16:4). For under cover of His own goodness He bestows all the fulness of good things on the worthy and the unworthy because He cannot be wearied by wrongs, nor be moved by passions at the sins of men, as He ever remains perfect goodness and unchangeable in His nature" (St. John Cassian, quoting Abbot Chaeremon, Conferences 11:6:1).

"For after that grace of baptism which is common to all, and that most precious gift of martyrdom which is gained by being washed in blood, there are many fruits of penitence by which we can succeed in expiating our sins. For eternal salvation is not only promised to the bare fact of penitence, of which the blessed Apostle Peter says: "Repent and be converted that your sins may be forgiven;" and John the Baptist and the Lord Himself: "Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Acts 3:19; Matthew 3:2): but also by the affection of love is the weight of our sins overwhelmed: for "charity covers a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8). In the same way also by the fruits of almsgiving a remedy is provided for our wounds, because "As water extinguishes fire, so does almsgiving extinguish sin.(Sirach. 3:33)." -St. John Cassian, quoting Abbot Pinufius, Conferences 20:8:1)

"Whoso doeth contrary to charity and contrary to brotherly love, let him not dare to glory and say that he is born of God: but whoso is in brotherly love, there are certain sins which he cannot commit, and this above all, that he should hate his brother. And how fares it with him concerning his other sins, of which it is said, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us?" Let him hear that which shall set his mind at rest from another place of Scripture; "Charity covereth a multitude of sins" (St. Augustine, Tractates on John, Homily 5:3).

“Love covers a multitude of sins,” (I Pet. 4:8). That is, for love towards one’s neighbor, God forgives the sins of the one who loves”(St. Theophan the Recluse, Letters, VI.949).

"Whose work is it to disturb, to condemn and to harm, if not that of the demons? And here we prove to be helpers of the demons in our own perdition and our neighbor's. Why is this so? Because there is no love in us! For "love will cover a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8). The saints do not condemn one who sins and do not turn away from him, but suffer with him, grieve over him, make him to understand, comfort him, heal him, as a sick member, and do everything in order to save him" (Abba Dorotheus).

Love is the fulfillment of the Law. If we truly love, we will keep God's commandments (John 14:15; 1 John 5:3). Christ said "Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy" (Matthew 5:7), and that if we forgive others, we will be forgiven (Matthew 6:14). So it is clear that if we truly love, we will be kept by that love from intentionally sinning, and because we love, God will forgive us our sins, voluntary and involuntary, known and unknown, and will show us mercy on the day of judgment.