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We must fear God from love, not love God from fear

On the Readings for Sunday, November 15, 2020

Detail from "The Parable of The Talents or Minas" (17th century) by Willem de Poorter (

• Prov 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31
• Psa 128:1-2, 3, 4-5
• 1 Thess 5:1-6
• Matt 25:14-30

The French bishop Jean Pierre Camus (1584-1652) was a disciple of St. Francis de Sales and the author of The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales. In that work, he recorded the following words of the great bishop, confessor and Doctor:

Meditation on the four last things will be useful to you provided that you always end with an act of confidence in God. Never represent to yourself Death or Hell on the one side unless the Cross is on the other; so that when your fears have been excited by the one you may with confidence turn for help to the other.

Camus then recorded this striking observation of St. Francis de Sales: “The one point on which he chiefly insisted was that we must fear God from love, not love God from fear.”

References to the “fear of God” occur many times in Scripture. It is a phrase easily misunderstood, for to fear something or someone brings to mind the impulse to flee or to avoid whatever or whoever causes our fear. Yet this fear of the Lord is closely connected in the Bible with a true and abiding love of the Lord. A foundational text is Deuteronomy 6, in which the Hebrews are told three times to “fear the Lord your God” (Dt 6:2, 13, 24), but are also commanded to love the one true God: “… and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Dt 6:5).

This loving fear of God is also closely intertwined with wisdom—“Fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov 1:7) and with true life—“The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life” (Prov 14:27; cf. Prov 19:23). Examples abound, but this is enough to provide background to the first reading, in which the worthy wife is praised for many things, all of which are rooted in her fear of the Lord (Prov 31:30). As the notes to the New American Bible explain, this fear is “primarily a disposition rather than the emotion of fear; reverential awe and respect toward God combined with obedience to God’s will.”

This is why the prophet Isaiah listed the fear of the Lord as one of the seven gifts of the Spirit of God (Isa 11:2-3; CCC, 1831). This fear is, paradoxically, a vibrant awareness of who we are in the eyes of a loving God; it is also a recognition of the duties that come with being gifted with God’s mercy and grace. It means that those who have a proper fear of God are spiritually awake and aware, prepared for the day of the Lord that St. Paul wrote about to the Christians in Thessalonica. Those who are filled with the Holy Spirit are “children of the light” and “children of the day” who do not sleep as others do—that is, who are spiritually vigilant and alert.

Today’s Gospel makes mention of fear, but it is a different fear. The parable of the talents is about three servants entrusted by their departing master with different amounts of money. Each sum is quite large; it’s likely that a “talent” was equal to up to twenty years of wages. The first two servants used their talents (yes, this is why the term “talent” refers to abilities or gifts) to produce a profit. But the third went and buried his single talent in the ground. Why? When asked by his angry master, he explained that he has acted “out of fear”.

The master’s angry, damning response is shocking, and we are tempted to think he is overreacting. But here we see the difference between a holy, righteous fear, and a doubtful, faithless fear. The former acts out of love for God, and is fearless for the sake of the Kingdom; the latter is paralyzed and without faith, lacking love. We must, as a great Saint taught, fear God from love.

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the November 13, 2011, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)

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About Carl E. Olson 1217 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.


  1. The bigger issue is, we in the United States need to get back to We are to fear God, but not the terror of Man.. Wow, that ends the whole Middle East War… In FOR GIVE THEM, they know not what they do.. but then neither do we…
    If we had been a Christian nation after 911, we would have forgiven those that did wrong.. rather than attacking, Iraq, that really had nothing to do with, 911.

    We are not to fear God, but to fear that which leads us to deny God, and to lose eternal salvation, fear of our being worth or acceptable to God, to fear to fall and not be humble, fear of not living the Beatitudes..

    Who can avoid the nares of the Devil, the humble person.

    An entire generation has been taught, REVENGE, is the answer, hate, bigotry, and denial of the poor. That is alarming, as to teach a child the wrong path, is eternal damnation for ones self… yet its the norm in the USA today.

    Their is nothing imperfect in Heaven, that is why by Gods Grace, he created pergatory, a cleaning of the soul, that you might in our natural sinful ways, be cleansed. and confession..

    Yes, we are to love our neighbor, and that definitely points to our Brothers and Sisters of Islamic faith, who we cannot deny.. To which, many are on evil path in hate denial of the Islamic.. oh and Catholics of Mexico, Haiti, and all of the Americas.

  2. How true St Francis’s words still ring true in this time of COVID-19 and Hate & Evil vs Love & God in our country and world today.

    • Sonia,
      I understand your sentiment. It’s obvious to me, though, that God has allowed Francis’s reign to continue because this will allow God to bring about a greater good than would have occurred if he had not been elected.

      This appears like nonsense from our limited, earth-bound perspective, but we’ll see the truth of this in the next life at the end of the world.

  3. Closeness to God increases simultaneously with confidence, nonetheless a sense of fear remains healthy and realistic. What offsets this is using our talents for the salvation of others, “The master’s angry, damning response is shocking, and we are tempted to think he is overreacting. But here we see the difference between a holy, righteous fear, and a doubtful, faithless fear” (Olson). When we realize the penalty for not loving our brother we may act out of fear that we may be condemned if we don’t respond to them. Better is the realization that our love for God increases our concern for our brother, to wit our love for the other with the love God has given us. We understanding the dreadful reality of the penalty and becoming willing to pay the price for them through the transforming grace that makes us like himself.

  4. Being forgiving does not include continuing to be a punching bag by those who attack you. There is nothing intelligent or especially Godly about accepting the ongoing murder of your citizens. As surely the Muslims would have done had we shrugged off the 9/11 attacks. You have a right to fight back for justice..see the “Just war” theory. Ditto why should those be give a green light who break our laws to the detriment of our weaker citizens, who, for example, need that job stolen by an illegal. I don’t know a single person who teaches their children hate or bigotry. I do know plenty who taught their children that what you obtain should be gotten by hard work in fair circumstances. Skin color should not result in an unfair leg up, no matter what color that skin may be. To do so increases hate and resentment.

  5. What Christian doesn’t profess a love Christ? However, our weakness of purpose leads us on a path away from him. When Crist said “No One Comes To The Father Except Through Me” poses somewhat of a dilemma, not all will know Christ. Much like God burdening all of humanity with “original sin” when his all omniscient magnificence knew of the consequences. If we say “fear God from love, not love God from fear.”, we may not be able to understand our plight. Many of God’s human creation will never know Christ and the wonders of the words of his way primarily due to the diversity of human existence. I would prefer FDR’s WW II cast… “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.

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