14 April 2011

Bernard of Clairvaux on Lent

Therefore I exhort you, my friends, to leave for
a season the painful and anxious remembrance of
your ways, to strike away into the softer paths of
memory, and dwell on the loving-kindness of God,
that you who are confounded in yourselves may re-
cover by gazing on him. I wish you to experience that
which the holy prophet advised, saying, ' Delight thou
in the Lord, and he shall give thee thy heart's desire.'
Now grief over sin is necessary, if it be not constant ;
it must be broken by the more joyful remembrance
of the divine goodness, lest the heart grow hardened
through sadness, and from despair perish more ex-
ceedingly. Let us mix honey with our wormwood,
in order that the wholesome bitter, tempered by the
added sweetness, may be swallowed, and give us
health. Listen how God softens the bitterness of a
contrite heart, how he recalls the faint-hearted from
the pit of despair, how through the honey of pleasant n the
and faithful promises he consoles the sorrowful and
establishes the weak. He says by the prophet, I will
bridle thy mouth with my praises, lest thou perish.
This means, lest by the sight of thy wickedness
thou be too much cast down, and even like an
unbridled horse thou rush headlong and perish
desperately. With the bridle, he says, of my in-
dulgence will I restrain thee, and will raise thee up
with my praises ; thou who art confounded with
thine own evil shalt breathe again in my good, and
shalt surely find my mercy is greater than thy sin.
If Cain had been so restrained, he would never
have said in despair, ' My sin is too great for me
to be forgiven.' l God forbid, God forbid ! for
his loving-kindness is greater than any iniquity.
Wherefore the just man, not throughout, but only in
the beginning of his discourse is a self-accuser, while
he is wont to close with the praises of God. See, thus
doeth the righteous man ( I thought/ he says, ( on
my ways, and I turned my feet to thy testimonies.'
That is, having found sorrow and misery in his own
ways, he took delight in the way of God's testi-
monies, as in all manner of riches. Follow ye the
example of the just ; if ye think of yourselves in
humility, think also of the Lord in his mercy and
goodness. Now this becomes easy to the mind, if
we preserve a frequent, nay, a constant, recollection
of the Divine kindness. Otherwise, how shall we
obey the saying of the apostle, " In everything
give thanks," if those things for which thanks are
due, vanish from the mind ? I would not have you
deserve the reproach earned by the Jews, of whom
the ifc is declared that they forgat his works, and the
canticles. wonders that he had showed them.

" But seeing that the good which the kind and
merciful Lord ceases not to shower on mortals
cannot all be remembered by man for who can
utter the mighty acts of the Lord ? who can show
forth all his praise ? let that which is chief and
greatest the work, namely, of our redemption never
fade from the memory of the redeemed. In this
work there are two points which in a special manner
I will offer to your attention, and this as briefly
as may be, being mindful of that saying, ' Give
instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser.'
These two things, then, are the manner, and the
fruit, or result of our redemption. Now the manner
is the emptying out or humbling of God ; the fruit
thereof is our being filled with him. To dwell on the
last is a seed-plot of holy hope ; to think of the
former an incentive to the highest love. Both are
necessary to our progress, that hope without love
should not grow sordid, nor love wax cold hoping for
no return.

"But indeed we expect such a return for our love as
He whom we love has promised us. ' Good measure,
pressed down, and shaken together, and running over,
shall men give into your bosom.' That measure I
hear will be without measure. But I would fain know
of what is that measure to consist, or rather that
immensity which is promised in return. Eye hath
not seen, God, besides Thee, the things that thou
hast prepared for them that love Thee. Tell us, then,
Thou who preparest, what thou preparest. We believe,
we trust it will be such as Thou dost promise. * We
shall be filled with the good things of thy house.'
But which good things, and of what kind ? Is it with the
corn, wine, and oil, with gold and silver, or precious Canticles -
stones? But these we see and know, we see and
despise them. That we seek which eye hath not seen,
nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart
of man to conceive. This pleases, this is sweet, this
delights us to inquire concerning it, whatever it may
be. And they all shall be taught of God ; and he will
be all in all. As I understand, the fulness which we
expect from God, will not be except of God.

" But who can grasp the magnitude of delight
comprehended in that short word ? God will be all
in all. Not to speak of the body, I perceive three
things in the soul reason, will, memory ; and these
three make up the soul. How much each of these in
this present world lacks of completion and perfect-
ness, is felt by every one who walketh in the Spirit.
Wherefore is this, except because God is not yet all
in all ? Therefore it is that our reason falters in
judgment, that our will is feeble and distracted,
that our memory confounds us by its forgetfulness.
We are subjected unwillingly to this threefold weak-
ness, but hope abides. For He who fills with good
things the desires of the soul, He himself, will be to
the reason the fulness of light; to the will the
abundance of peace ; to the memory, the unbroken
smoothness of eternity. truth! charity!
eternity! blessed and blessing Trinity! to thee my
miserable trinity miserably groans, while it is in exile
from thee. Departing from thee in what errors,
griefs, and fears is it involved ! Alas, for what a
trinity have we exchanged thee away. My heart is
disturbed, and hence my grief ; my strength has
forsaken me, and hence my fear;

'But why art thou cast down, my soul ! and
why art thou disquieted within me ? Hope thou in
God, for I shall yet praise him/ that is, when error
shall have left my mind, sorrow my will, fears my
memory ; and serenity, sweetness, and eternal peace
shall have come in their stead. The first of these
things will be done by the God of truth ; the second
by the God of charity ; the third by the God of
omnipotence, that God may be all in all : the reason
receiving light inextinguishable, the will peace im-
perturbable, the memory cleaving to a fountain which
shall never fail. You may judge for yourselves
whether you would rightly assign the first to the Son,
the second to the Holy Ghost, and the last to the
Father ; in such a manner, however, that you take
away nothing of any of them, either from the Father,
or the Son, or the Holy Ghost.

" As regards the manner of our redemption, which,
if you remember, we defined as the emptying out
or humbling of God, there are three points I com-
mend to your notice. It was not a simple or
moderate humbling, but he humbled himself even
to taking flesh, even to death to death on the
cross. Who can measure the humility, gentleness,
and condescension which moved the Lord of Majesty
to put on flesh, to be punished with death, to be
disgraced by the cross ? But some one may say,
could not the Creator repair his work without that
difficulty ? He could; but he chose to do it with his
own injury, rather than that the foulest and most
odious vice of ingratitude should again find its place
in man. He took upon him much fatigue, that he Son the
might hold man his debtor to much love, and that Canticles -
the difficulty of redemption might remind man of
thanksgiving, whom an easier condition had made
less devout. For what was created and ungrateful
man wont to say? 'I was made indeed free of
charge, but with no labour or effort to my Maker.'

He spake the word and I was made, as all things
were/ Nothing is great, if it only costs a word.
Thus human wickedness, attenuating the benefit of
creation, found food for ingratitude where it ought
to have discovered a source of love, and that to make
an excuse for sin. But the mouth of the evil speaker
is stopped. It is clearer than daylight now, man,
what an outlay He has made for you. From the
Lord He became a servant ; from rich He became
poor ; from the word, flesh ; from the Son of God,
the Son of man. Remember now, that though you
were made from nothing, you were not redeemed for
nothing. In six days He made all things, and you
among them; but for thirty whole years He wrought
at your salvation in the midst of the earth. What
did He not endure in His labours? Necessities of the
flesh, temptations of the enemy, did He not gather
and heap all these on Himself by the ignominy of
the cross, by the horror of His death ? Not without
necessity indeed. Thus, thus, Thou, Lord, shalt
save both man and beast. ' How excellent is thy
mercy, God.' Meditate on these things, dwell
upon them. Draw refreshment from these spices
for your inward parts, long tormented by the reek
of your sins, that you may abound also in these
ointments, not less sweet than salutary. Still, do not
suppose that you yet possess those best of all which
S-mon'on the are praised in the breasts of the Spouse. These
canticles. cannot be spoken of now, the sermon must be
finished. What has been said concerning the other
ointments, keep in your memory, try in your life ;
and concerning these which are to follow, help me with
your prayers, that it be given to me to speak some-
thing which shall be worthy of these delights of the
Spouse, and able to build up your souls to a love of
the Bridegroom, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen

1 comment:

Alice C. Linsley said...

Beautiful! This is preaching that draws from a deep well.

I like your blog, Father.