Thursday, August 20, 2020

The Wisdom of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux


Bernard lived from 1090-1153. This energetic monastic reformer, theologian, advisor to popes and kings, prolific writer, contemplative, witness to the love of God, and Doctor of the Church is one of the giants of early medieval history. The first half of the 12th century saw the continuation of movements of ecclesiastical renewal as well as the growth of new and complex problems that had emerged in the Second Millennium after the birth of Jesus. While Christians from the West held the Holy Land for the first time, the breach between Eastern and Western Christendom continued to widen. Meanwhile the first sparks of rationalism flashed through the minds of European philosophers (e.g. Abelard) as Aristotle and other Greek philosophers were "rediscovered" through Arabic sources.

Amidst the many affairs of Church and society in his days, Bernard stood larger than anyone else because of his holiness, wisdom, and fairness. But more important than any of these things, he was a monk of Clairvaux, dedicated to prayer, lectio divina, labor according to the primitive ideal of Saint Benedict, and above all caritas, the love that God empowers us to have for Him because He has loved us first. Bernard represents the golden age of the Cistercian reform, and for me personally - nine centuries later - he evokes memories especially of my many visits over the years to the monastery "down the Valley" in Berryville, Virginia. Like the brightness of the "sparse" spaces in the Abbey church on a sunny morning, he "lights up" Cistercian simplicity with the ardor and warmth of Christ's incarnate love.

Here are some quotations from the Saint Bernard:

"For when God loves, all He desires is to be loved in return; the sole purpose of His love is to be loved, in the knowledge that those who love Him are made happy by their love of Him."

"He who will not submit to God’s sweet rule shall suffer the bitter tyranny of self; but he who wears the easy yoke and light burden of love will escape the intolerable weight of his own self-will."

If human beings could become "masters of all in heaven and on earth, they would soon find all insufficient, and discover that they were forced to seek Him who is wanting still. They must seek God Himself... the soul must cry out...'What besides Thee have I in heaven, and besides Thee what do I desire upon earth?'"

“If we wish to have Christ for a guest often, we must keep our hearts fortified by the testimony of our faith in the mercy of him who died for us, and in the power of him who rose from the dead... Christ died for our sins and rose again from the dead for our justification. He ascended to heaven for our protection, sent the Spirit for our consolation, and will someday return for our fulfillment.”

"In dangers, in doubts, in difficulties, think of Mary, call upon Mary. Let not her name depart from your lips, never suffer it to leave your heart. And that you may obtain the assistance of her prayer, neglect not to walk in her footsteps.... While she holds your hand, you cannot fall; under her protection you have nothing to fear; if she walks before you, you shall not grow weary; if she shows you favor, you shall reach the goal."