Feast of St Bernard – Last of the Fathers…editor
ST. BERNARD, ABBOTT AND DOCTOR OF THE CHURCH
A family gathered together in prayer
Bernard was born in 1090 at Fontaine, in France, of a good family. When he was 22, after having studied grammar and rhetoric, he entered the monastery founded by Robert of Molesme at Citeaux (in Latin, Cistercium — the order centred around the monastery were thus known as Cistercians). Twelve companions joined him, including four brothers, an uncle, and a cousin. Following his example, many of his relatives undertook to enter religious life.
Jesus and Mary
For Bernard, the monastic life should involve work, contemplation, and prayer; and revolve around two fixed points: Jesus and Mary. For the Cistercian abbot, Christ is all: “When you discuss or speak, nothing has any flavour for me, if I have not heard you resound the Name of Jesus (Sermons on the Song of Songs, XV). And Mary, St Bernard writes, leads us to Jesus: “In dangers, 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 more surely obtain the assistance of her prayer, neglect not to walk in her footsteps. With her for guide, you shall never go astray…” (Homily II on the text Missus est).
The four grades of love
In his work On Loving God, Bernard points out the path of humility in order to achieve love of God. He exhorts us to love God without measure. For the Cistercian monk, there are four fundamental degrees or grades of love:
· Love of oneself for oneself: “First, one loves oneself for one’s own sake. Seeing, then, that by himself he cannot subsist, he begins to seek God by means of faith.”
· Love of God for love of self: “In the second grade, then, one loves God, but for oneself, not for Him. Beginning then to attend to God and to honour Him, in relation to one’s own needs.”
· Love of God for God: “The soul passes to the third grade, loving God not for oneself, but for Him. In this degree we stop for a long time; indeed, I do not know if in this life it is possible to reach the fourth grade.”
· Love of self for God: “That degree, that is, in which one loves himself only for love of God. Then, there will be a wonderful almost forgetfulness of self, almost abandoning of oneself so that everything tends toward God, so much so as to be one spirit only with Him.”
Bernard and the Templars
Among the writings of St Bernard is also the celebrated elegy of the monastic military order of the Templars, founded in 1119 by a group of knights under the guidance of Hugues de Payens, from Champagne, a relative of Bernard. In his work In Praise of the New Knighthood, he described the Templars in these words: “They are vested simply and covered with dust, their faces burned by the sun, their gaze proud and hard; before the battle they are armed interiorly with the strength of faith. Their only faith is addressed to God.”
The mellifluous doctor
Bernard of Clairvaux died on 20 August 1153; he was proclaimed a saint by Pope Alexander III in 1174. Pope Pius XII dedicated an encyclical to him, entitled Doctor Mellifluus, in which he recalled, in particular, these words of St Bernard: “Jesus is honey on the lips, melody in the ear, joy in the heart.” “The mellifluous doctor,” the Pope wrote, “‘The ‘Doctor Mellifluus,’ ‘the last of the Fathers, but certainly not inferior to the earlier ones,’ was remarkable for such qualities of nature and of mind, to which God added an abundance of heavenly gifts.” Source – Vatican News…
Not that you really need to know this, but I’m going to tell you anyway… My father’s only brother was named Bernard. I never met him. He died as a result of an accident aged 19. I’ll be remembering him today on the Feast of his patron saint. Perhaps you, too, would spare a prayer for the repose of his soul. May he rest in peace.
To the topic… (1) Do you recognise yourself in St Bernard’s four grades of love? (2) Is there sufficient attention paid – in sermons and writings (including in our newsletter and blog) – to the central importance of cultivating the love of God in our souls? I know I’ve published articles on the subject from time to time in the newsletter, but I’m not so sure we’ve ever discussed the subject here, on the blog. Now’s your chance to share your thoughts and tips for growing in the love of God. The great saints teach that we must ask God Himself to “make us love Him more and more”. Before “Bind us Together Lord” infiltrated our schools and parishes, we imbibed this great truth by singing devotional hymns designed to touch our souls with the love of God, such as the old favourite below – enjoy! And share your favourite hymns, poems, stories, whatever, incidents/quotes from the lives of saints – anything that might help deepen the love of God in our souls. Go for it! Happy Feast of St Bernard!
Here is a poem about God’s love:
You Are The Music By Marcia A. Newton
You are the music. You are the song.
You are the words of truth and love.
You are the voice that speaks to our heart.
You are the music, the song of our heart.
You are the music we love and adore.
You are the song that we sing evermore.
You are the voice that calls us to pray.
You are the words of goodness and strength.
You are the music that brings us delight.
You are the song that brings hope to our life.
You are the voice that calls us to faith.
You are the words of kindness and grace.
You are the music we sing joyfully.
You are the song that brings light to our day.
You are the voice that calls us to serve.
You are the words of love we have heard.
You are the music that fills us with peace.
You are the song that we sing and believe.
You are the voice that calls us to grace.
You are the words we pray every day.
You are the music that blesses our soul.
You are the love song that makes our lives whole.
You are the voice that calls us to Him.
You are the words of life without end.
St Bernard is not a saint I knew anything about but I was glad to read about him this morning. Happy Feast Day to everyone at CTS.
That is a lovely poem about God’s Love.
I wonder what it might have been like listening to a sermon given by Saint Bernard about the four grades of Love for God. The First Commandment is to know, love and serve God with your whole heart, mind and soul. I for one would love to have heard one of Saint Bernard’s sermons on that very topic.
I love reading about miracles and that article confirmed my sense that St Bernard is a lovely saint, an excellent model of holiness. Thank you for posting!
Me, too – I love the stories of miracles of the saints. The healing miracles was my favourite. That was a great article.
I love the poem and the hymn to the Sacred Heart. These are the kind of devotions that inspire love for Jesus in our hearts.
I’m not a “poetry person” but that one is a very good meditation on God and his love.
I’ve only read some of this article but it is very good so far, showing how to apply the love of God through keeping the Commandments.
I honestly didn’t know anything about St Bernard before reading this thread – he’s a very great saint. If only there were some like him today.
Happy Feast of St Bernard everyone!
Happy Feast! I’m posting one of my favourite hymns of love to God, although it’s not the best version I’ve ever heard – it’s OK.
Here is an interesting except from Butler’s Lives of the Saints entry on St. Bernard:
“Bernard was seconded in his resolutions by thirty noblemen and gentlemen, including his brothers, and after they had staid six months at Chatillon to settle their affairs, he accompanied them to Citeaux. That monastery had been founded fifteen years, and was at that time governed by St. Stephen. This holy company arrived there in 1113, and, prostrating themselves before the gate, begged to be admitted to join the monks in their penitential lives. St. Stephen seeing their fervour, received them with open arms, and gave them the habit. St. Bernard was then twenty-three years old. He entered this house in the desire to die to the remembrance of men, to live hidden, and to be forgotten by creatures, that he might be occupied only on God. To renew his fervour against sloth he repeated often to himself this saying of the great Arsenius; Bernard, Bernard, “why camest thou hither?” He practised himself what he afterwards used to say to postulants who presented themselves to be admitted into his monastery at Clairvaux: “If you desire to live in this house, you must leave your body; only spirits must enter here;” that is, persons who live according to the Spirit. He studied to mortify his senses, and to die to himself in all things. This practice by habit became a custom, and by custom, was almost changed into nature; so that his soul being always occupied on God, he seemed not to perceive what passed about him, so little notice did he take of things, as appeared in several occurrences. After a year’s novitiate he did not know whether the top of his cell was covered with a ceiling; nor whether the church had more than one window, though it had three. Two faults, however, into which he fell, served to make him more watchful and fervent in his actions. The exact author of the Exordium of Citeaux relates, that the saint had been accustomed to say every day privately seven psalms for the repose of the soul of his mother; but he one day omitted them. St. Stephen knew this by inspiration, and said to him the next morning: “Brother Bernard, whom did you commission to say the seven psalms for you yesterday?” The novice surprised that a thing could be known which he had never disclosed to any one, full of confusion, fell prostrate at the feet of St. Stephen, confessed his fault, and asked pardon, and was ever after most punctual in all his private practices of devotion, which are not omitted without an imperfection; nor without a sin, if it be done through sloth or culpable neglect.”
I had to smile at the saint’s “fault” – not for no reason am I expecting to spend a very very long time in Purgatory!
Happy Feast everyone!
Happy Feast – St Bernard is a beautiful saint! “Last of the Fathers” – I’ll remember him now!
With thanks to everyone who contributed to this Feast Day thread, I’ll now close it to comments.
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