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LETTER XLVIII

To Magister 7575    S. Bernard usually designates thus Doctors and Professors of Belles Lettres. See Letters 77, 106, and others. It is thus that in the Spicilegium iii. pp. 137, 140, Thomas d’Etampes is called sometimes Magister, sometimes Doctor. In a MS. at the Vatican we read, “To Magister Gaucher.” Walter de Chaumont.

MY DEAR WALTER,

I often grieve my heart about you whenever the most pleasant remembrance of you comes back 209to me, seeing how you consume in vain occupations the flower of your youth, the sharpness of your intellect, the store of your learning and skill, and also, what is more excellent in a Christian than all of these gifts, the pure and innocent character which distinguishes you; since you use so great endowments to serve not Christ their giver, but things transitory. What if (which God forbid!) a sudden death should seize and shatter at a stroke all those gifts of yours, as it were with the rush of a burning and raging wind, just like the winds whirl about and dry grass or as the leaves of herbs quickly fall. What, then, will you carry with you of all your labour which you have wrought upon the earth? What return will you render unto the Lord for all the benefits that He hath done unto you? What gain will you bring unto your creditor for those many talents committed to you? If He shall find your hand empty, who, though a liberal bestower of His gifts, exacts a strict account of their use! “For he that shall come will come and will not tarry, and will require that which is His own with usury.” For He claims all as His own, which seems to ennoble you in your land, with favours full at once of dignity and of danger. Noble parentage, sound health, elegance of person, quick apprehension, useful knowledge, uprightness of life, are glorious things, indeed, but they are His from whom they are. If you use them for yourself “there is One who seeketh and judgeth.”

2. But be it so; suppose that you may for a while call these things yours, and boast in the praise they bring you, and be called of men Rabbi and 210make for yourself a great name, though only upon the earth; what shall be left to you after death of all these things? Scarcely a remembrance alone—and that, too, only upon earth. For it is written, They have slept their sleep, and all the men whose hands were mighty have found nothing (Ps. lxxvi. 5). If this be the end of all your labours—allow me to say so—what have you more than a beast of burden? Indeed, it will be said even of your palfrey when he is, dead that he was good. Look to it, then, how you must answer it before that terrible judgment throne if you have received your soul in vain, and such a soul! if you are found to have done nothing more with your immortal and reasonable soul than some beast with his. For the soul of a brute lives no longer than the body which it animates, and at one and the same moment it both ceases to give life and to live. Of what will you deem yourself worthy, who, being made in the image of your Creator, do not guard the dignity of so great a majesty? And being a man,7676    Some add “in honour” from Ps. xlviii., but it is wanting in the MSS., and certainly is redundant here. but not understanding your honour, art compared unto the foolish beasts and made like unto them, seeing that forsooth, you labour at nothing of a spiritual or eternal nature, but, like the spirit of a beast which as soon as it is loosed from the body is dissolved with the body, have been content to think of nothing but material and temporal goods, turning a deaf ear to the Gospel precept: Labour not for the meat that perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life (S. John vi. 27). But you know well that it is written that only he ascends into 211the hill of the Lord who hath not Lift up his mind unto vanity (Ps. xxiv. 3).7777     Hath not received it in vain, Vulg. And not even he except he hath clean hands and a pure heart. I leave you to decide if you dare to claim this of your deeds and thoughts at the present. But if you are not able to do so, judge what is the reward of iniquity, if mere unfruitfulness is enough for damnation. And, indeed, the thorn or thistle will not be safe when the axe shall be seen laid to the root of the fruit tree, nor will He spare the thorn which stings, who threatens even the barren plant. Woe, then; aye! double woe to him of whom it shall be said, I looked that he should bring forth grapes, and he hath brought forth wild grapes (Is. v. 4).

3. But I know how freely and fully you can nourish these thoughts, though I be silent, but yet I know that, constrained by love of your mother, you are not as yet able to abandon what you have long known how to despise. What answer shall I make to you in this matter? That you should leave your mother? That seems inhuman. That you should remain with her? But what a misery for her to be a cause of ruin to her son! That you should fight at once for the world and for Christ? But no man can serve two masters. Your mother’s wish being contrary to your salvation is equally so to her own. Choose, therefore, of these two alternatives which you will; either, that is, to secure the wish of one or the salvation of both. But if you love her much, have the courage to leave her for her sake, lest if you leave Christ to remain with her she also perish on your account. Else you have ill-served her who bare you 212if she perish on your account. For how doth she escape destruction who hath ruined him whom she bare? And I have spoken this in order in some way to stoop to assist your somewhat worldly affection. Moreover, it is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, although it is impious to despise a mother, yet to despise her for Christ’s sake is most pious. For He who said, Honour thy father and mother (S. Matt. xv. 4), Himself also said, He who loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me (S. Matt. x. 37).


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