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To Thomas, Prior of Beverley
This Thomas had taken the vows of the Cistercian Order at Clairvaux. As he showed hesitation, Bernard urges his tardy spirit to fulfil them. But the following letter will prove that it was a warning to deaf ears, where it relates the unhappy end of Thomas. In this letter Bernard sketches with a master’s hand the whole scheme of salvation.
Bernard to his beloved son Thomas, as being his son.
1. What is the good of words? An ardent spirit and a strong desire cannot express themselves simply by the tongue. We want your sympathy and your bodily presence to speak to us; for if you come you will know us better, and we shall better appreciate each other. We have long been held in a mutual bond as debtors one to another; for I owe you faithful care and you owe me submissive obedience. Let our actions and not our pens, if you please, prove each of us. I wish you would apply to yourself henceforth and carry out towards me those words of the Only Begotten: The works which the Father hath 148given Me to finish, the same works bear witness of Me (S. John v. 36). For, indeed, only thus does the spirit of the Only Son bear witness with our spirit that we also are the sons of God, when, quickening us from dead works, He causes us to bring forth the works of life. A good or bad tree is distinguished, not by its leaves or flowers, but by its fruit. So By their fruits, He saith, ye shall know them (S. Matt. vii. 16). Works, then, and not words, make the difference between sons of God and sons of unbelief. By works, accordingly, do you display your sincere desire and make proof of mine.
2. I long for your presence; my heart has long wished for you, and expected the fulfilment of your promises. Why am I so pressing? Certainly not from any personal or earthly feeling. I desire either to be profited by you or to be of service to you. Noble birth, bodily strength and beauty, the glow of youth, estates, palaces, and sumptuous furniture, external badges of dignity, and, I may also add, the world’s wisdom—all these are of the world, and the world loves its own. But for how long will they endure? For ever? Assuredly not; for the world itself will not last for ever; but these will not last even for long. In fact, the world will not be able long to keep these gifts for you, nor will you dwell long in the world to enjoy them, for the days of man are short. The world passes away with its lusts, but it dismisses you before it quite passes away itself. How can you take unlimited pleasure in a love that soon must end? But I ever love you, not your possessions; let them go whence they were derived. I only require of you one thing: that you 149would be mindful of your promise, and not deny us any longer the satisfaction of your presence among us, who love you sincerely, and will love you for ever. In fact, if we love purely in our life, we shall also not be divided in death. For those gifts which I wish for in your case, or rather for you, belong not to the body or to time only; and so they fail not with the body, nor pass away with time; nay, when the body is laid aside they delight still more, and last when time is gone. They have nothing in common with the gifts above-mentioned, or such as they with which, I imagine, not the Father, but the world has endowed you. For which of these does not vanish before death, or at last fall a victim to it?
3. But, indeed, that is the best part, which shall not be taken away for ever. What is that? Eye hath not seen it, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man (I Cor. ii. 9). He who is a man and walks simply according to man’s nature only, he who, to speak more plainly, is still content with flesh and blood, is wholly ignorant what that is, because flesh and blood will not reveal the things which God alone reveals through His Spirit. So the natural man is in no way admitted to the secret; in fact, he receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God (I Cor. ii. 14). Blessed are they who hear His words. I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard of My Father I have made known to you (S. John xv. 15). O, wicked world, which wilt not bless thy friends except thou make them enemies of God, and consequently unworthy of the council of the blessed. For clearly he who is willing to be thy friend makes himself the enemy of God. And if the servant knoweth not what 150his Lord doeth, how much less the enemy? Moreover, the friend of the Bridegroom standeth, and rejoiceth with joy because of the Bridegroom’s voice; whence also it says, My soul failed when [my beloved] spake (Cant. v. 6). And so the friend of the world is shut out from the council of the friends of God; who have received not the spirit of this world but the spirit which is of God, that they may know the things which are given to them of God. I thank Thee, O Father, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes; even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight (S. Matt. xi. 25, 26), not because they of themselves deserved it. For all have sinned, and come short of Thy glory, that Thou mayest freely send the Spirit of Thy Son, crying in the hearts of the sons of adoption: Abba, Father. For those who are led by this Spirit, they are sons, and cannot be kept from their Father’s council. Indeed, they have the Spirit dwelling within them, who searches even the deep things of God. In short, of what can they be ignorant whom grace teaches everything?
4. Woe unto you, ye sons of this world, because of your wisdom, which is foolishness! Ye know not the spirit of salvation, nor have share in the counsel, which the Father, alone discloses alone to the Son, and to him to whom the Son will reveal Him. For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been His counsellor? (Rom. xi. 34). Not, indeed, on one; but only a few, only those who can truly say: The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him. Woe to the world for its clamour! That same Only Begotten, like as the 151Angel of a great revelation, proclaims among the people: He who hath ears to hear let him hear. And since he finds not ears worthy to receive His words, and to whom He may commit the secret of the Father, he weaves parables for the crowd, that hearing they might not hear, and seeing they might not understand. But for His friends how different! With them He speaks apart: To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God (S. Luke viii. 8–10); to whom also He says: Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom (S. Luke xii. 32). Who are these? These are they whom He foreknew and foreordained to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first born among many brethren. The Lord knows who are His. Here is His great secret and the counsel which He has made known unto men. But He judges no others worthy of a share in so great mystery, except those whom He has foreknown and foreordained as His own. For those whom He foreordained, them also He called. Who, except he be called, may approach God’s counsel? Those whom He called, them also He justified. Over them a Sun arises, though not that sun which may daily be seen arising over good and bad alike, but He of whom the Prophet speaks when addressing himself to those alone who have been called to the counsel, he says: Unto you that fear My name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise (Malachi iv. 2).6363 So all texts, except a few, in which the reading is: “Indeed, that Sun is promised to those who have been called,” &c. In the first edition, and many subsequent ones: “For the Sun which arises is not that which is daily to be seen rising over good and bad, but one promised by the prophetic warning to such as fear God, to those only who have been called,” &c. 152So while the sons of unbelief remain in darkness, the child of light leaves the power of darkness and comes into this new light, if once he can with faith say to God: I am a companion of all them that fear Thee (Ps. cxix. 63). Do you see how faith precedes, in order that justification may follow? Perchance, then, we are called through fear, and justified by love. Finally, the just shall live by faith (Rom. i. 17), that faith, doubtless, which works by love (Gal. v. 6).
5. So at his call let the sinner hear what he has to fear; and thus coming to the Sun of Righteousness, let him, now enlightened, see what he must love. For what is that saying: The merciful goodness of the Lord endureth from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him (Ps. ciii. 17). From everlasting, because of predestination, to everlasting, because of glorification. The one process is without beginning, the other knows no ending. Indeed, those whom He predestines from everlasting, He glorifies to everlasting, with an interval, at least, in the case of adults, of calling and justification between. So at the rising of the Sun of Righteousness, the mystery, hidden from eternity, concerning souls that have been predestinated and are to be glorified, begins in some degree to emerge from the depths of eternity, as each soul, called by fear and justified by love, becomes assured that it, too, is of the number of the blessed, knowing well that whom He justified, them also He glorified (Rom. viii. 30). What then? The soul hears that it is called when it is stricken with fear. It feels also that it is justified when it is surrounded with love. Can it do otherwise than be confident that it will be glorified? There is a beginning; there is 153continuation. Can it despair only of the consummation? Indeed, if the fear of the Lord, in which our calling is said to consist, is the beginning of wisdom, surely the love of God—that love, I mean, which springs from faith, and is the source of our justification—is progress in wisdom. And so what but the consummation of wisdom is that glorification which we hope for at the last from the vision of God that will make us like Him? And so one deep calleth another because of the noise of the water-pipes. (Ps. xlii. 9), when, with terrible judgments, that unmeasured Eternity and Eternal Immensity, whose wisdom cannot be told, leads the corrupt and inscrutable heart of man by Its own power and goodness forth into Its own marvellous light.
6. For instance, let us suppose a man in the world, held fast as yet in the love of this world and of his flesh; and, inasmuch as he bears the image of the earthly man, occupied with earthly things, without a thought of things heavenly, can any one fail to see that this man is surrounded with horrible darkness, unless he also is sitting in the same fatal gloom? For no sign of his salvation has yet shone upon him; no inner inspiration bears its witness in his heart as to whether an eternal predestination destines him to good. But, then, suppose the heavenly compassion vouchsafes sometime to have regard to him, and to shed upon him a spirit of compunction to make him bemoan himself and learn wisdom, change his life, subdue his flesh, love his neighbour, cry to God, and resolve hereafter to live to God and not to the world; and suppose that thenceforward, by the gracious visitation of heavenly light and the sudden change accomplished 154by the Right Hand of the Most High he sees clearly that he is no longer a child of wrath, but of grace, for he is now experiencing the fatherly love and divine goodness towards him—a love which hitherto had been concealed from him so completely as not only to leave him in ignorance whether he deserved love or hate, but also as to make his own life indicate hatred rather than love, for darkness was still on the face of the deep—would it not seem to you that such an one is lifted directly out of the profoundest and darkest deep of horrible ignorance into the pleasant and serene deep of eternal brightness?
7. And then at length God, as it were, divides the light from the darkness, when a sinner, enlightened by the first rays of the Sun of Righteousness; casts off the works of darkness and puts on the armour of light. His own conscience and the sins of his former life alike doom him as a true child of Hell to eternal fires; but under the looks with which the Dayspring from on high deigns to visit him, he breathes again, and even begins to hope beyond hope that he shall enjoy the glory of the sons of God. For rejoicing at the near prospect with unveiled face, he sees it in the new light, and says: Lord, lift Thou up the light of Thy countenance upon us; Thou hast put gladness in my heart (Ps. iv. 7); Lord, what is man that Thou hast such respect unto him, or the son of man that Thou so regardest him? (Ps. cxliv. 3). Now, O good Father, vile worm and worthy of eternal hatred as he is, he yet trusts that he is loved, because he feels that he loves; nay, because he has a foretaste of Thy love he does not blush to make return of love. Now in Thy brightness it becomes clear, Oh! Light that no man can 155approach unto, what good things Thou hast in store for so poor a thing as man, even though he be evil! He loves not undeservedly, because he was loved without his deserving it; and his love is for everlasting, because he knows that he has been loved from everlasting. He brings to light for the comfort of the sorrowful the great design which from eternity had lain in the bosom of eternity, namely, that God wills not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live. As a witness of this secret, Oh! man, thou hast the justifying Spirit bearing witness herein with thy spirit that thou thyself also art the son of God. Acknowledge the counsel of God in thy justification; confess it and say, Thy testimonies are my delight and my counsellors (Ps. cxix. 24). For thy present justification is the revelation of the Divine counsel, and a preparation for future glory. Or rather, perhaps, predestination itself is the preparation for it, and justification is more the gradual drawing near unto it. Indeed, it is said, Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (S. Matt. iii. 2). And hear also of predestination that it is the preparation: Come, inherit, He says, the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world (S. Matt. xxv. 34)
8. Let none, therefore, doubt that he is loved who already loves. The love of God freely follows our love which it preceded. For how can He grow weary of returning their love to those whom He loved even while they yet loved Him not? He loved them, I say; yes, He loved. For as a pledge of His love thou hast the Spirit; thou has also Jesus, the faithful witness, and Him crucified. Oh! double 156proof, and that most sure, of God’s love towards us. Christ dies, and deserves to be loved by us. The Spirit works, and makes Him to be loved. The One shows the reason why He is loved: the Other how He is to be loved. The One commends His own great love to us; the Other makes it ours. In the One we see the object of love; from the Other we draw the power to love. With the One, therefore, is the cause; with the Other the gift of charity. What shame to watch, with thankless eyes, the Son of God dying—and yet this may easily happen, if the Spirit be not with us. But now, since The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us (Rom. v. 5), having been loved we love; and as we love, we deserve to be loved yet more. For if, says the Apostle, while we were yet enemies, we have been reconciled to God through the death of His Son; much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved through His life (Rom. viii. 32). For He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?
9. Since, then, the token of our salvation is twofold, namely, a twofold outpouring, of the Blood and of the Spirit, neither can profit without the other. For the Spirit is not given except to such as believe in the Crucified; and faith avails not unless it works by love. But love is the gift of the Spirit. If the second Adam (I speak of Christ) not only became a living soul, but also a quickening spirit, dying as being the one, and raising the dead as being the other, how can that which dies in Him profit me, apart from that which quickens? Indeed, He Himself says: It is the spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth 157nothing (S. John vi. 63). Now, what does “quickeneth” mean except “justifieth”? For as sin is the death of the soul (The soul that sinneth it shall die, Ezek. xviii. 4), without doubt righteousness is its life; for The just shall live by faith (Rom. i. 17). Who, then, is righteous, except he who returns to God, who loves him, His meed of love? And this never happens unless the Spirit by faith reveal to the man the eternal purpose of God concerning his future salvation. Such a revelation is simply the infusion of spiritual grace, by which, with the mortification of the deeds of the flesh, man is made ready for the kingdom which flesh and blood cannot inherit. And he receives by one and the same Spirit both the reason for thinking that he is loved and the power of returning love, lest the love of God for us should be left without return.
10. This, then, is that holy and secret counsel which the Son has received from the Father by the Holy Spirit. This by the same Spirit He imparts to His own whom He knows, in their justification, and by the imparting He justifies. Thus in his justification each of the faithful receives the power to begin to know himself even as he is known: when, for instance, there is given to him some foretaste of his own future happiness, as he sees how it lay hid from eternity in God, who foreordains it, but will appear more fully in God, who is effecting it. But concerning the knowledge that he has now, for his part, attained, let a man glory at present in the hope, not in the secure possession of it. How must we pity those who possess as yet no token of their own calling to this glad assembly of the righteous. Lord, 158 who hath believed our report? (Is. liii. 1). Oh! that they would be wise and understand. But except they believe they shall not understand.
11. But you, too, ye unhappy and heedless lovers of the world, have your purpose far from that of the just. Scale sticks close to scale, and there is no airhole between you. You, too, oh! sons of impiety, have your purpose communicated one to another, but openly against the Lord and against His Christ (Ps. ii. 2). For if, as the Scripture says, The fear of God, that is piety (Job xxviii. 28),6464 The lxx. has Ιδοὺ θεοσέβεια ἐστὶ σοφία. The Vulgate reads “Ecce timor Domini ipsa est sapientia,” with which the A. V, coincides, “Behold the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom.” Does Bernard quote from memory? of course anyone who loves the world more than God is convicted of impiety and idolatry, of worshipping and serving the creature rather than the Creator. But if, as has been said, the holy and impious have each their purpose kept for themselves, doubtless there is a great gulf fixed between the two. For as the just keeps himself aloof from the purpose and council of evil men (cf. Ps. i. 6), so the impious never rise in the judgment, nor sinners in the purpose6565 This must be the reading, not “congregation” [ concilio ], as in Ps. i., for the sense demands “purpose” [ consilio ], and the MSS. so read. for the just. For there is a purpose for the just, a gracious rain which God hath set apart for His heritage. There is a purpose really secret, descending like rain into a fleece of wool—a sealed fount whereof no stranger may partake—a Sun of Righteousness rising only for such as fear God.
12. Moreover, the prophet, noting that the rest remain in their own dryness and darkness, being ignorant of the rain and of the light of the just, mocks and brands their unfruitful gloom and confused 159perversity. This is a nation, he says, that obeyeth not the voice of the Lord their God (Jer. vii. 28). You are not ready, oh! miserable men, to say with David, I will hearken what the Lord God will say with regard to me (Ps. lxxxv. 8), for being exhausted abroad upon [the quest of] vanity and false folly, you seek not for the deepest and best hearing of the truth. Oh! ye sons of men, how long will ye blaspheme mine honour, and have such pleasure in vanity and seek after leasing (Ps. iv. 2). You are deaf to the voice of truth, and you know not the purpose of Him who thinks thoughts of peace, who also speaks peace to His people, and to His saints, and to such as are converted in heart. Now, he says, ye are clean through the word which I have spoken to you (S. John xv. 3). Therefore, they who hear not this word are unclean.
13. But do you, dearly beloved, if you are making ready your inward ear for this Voice of God that is sweeter than honey and the honey-comb, flee from outward cares, that with your inmost heart clear and free you also may say with Samuel, Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth (1 Sam. iii. 9). This Voice sounds not in the market-place, and is not heard in public. It is a secret purpose, and seeks to be heard in secret. It will of a surety give you joy and gladness in hearing it, if you listen with attentive ear. Once it ordered Abraham (Gen. xii. 1) to get him out of his country and from his kindred, that he might see and possess the land of the living. Jacob (Gen. xxxii. 10) left his brother and his home, and passed over Jordan with his staff, and was received in Rachel’s embrace (Gen. xxix. 11). Joseph was lord in Egypt (Gen. xxxvii. and xli.), having been torn by a fraudful purchase 160from his father and his home. Thus the Church is bidden, in order that the King may have pleasure in her beauty, to forget her own people and her father’s house (Ps. xlv. 11, 12). The boy Jesus was sought by His parents among their kinsfolk and acquaintance, and was not found (S. Luke ii. 44, 45). Do you also flee from your brethren, if you wish to find the way of salvation. Flee, I say, from the midst of Babylon, flee from before the sword of the northwind. A bare sustenance I am ready to offer for the help of every one that flees. You call me your abbot; I refuse not the title for obedience’ sake—obedience, I say, not that I demand it, but that I render it in service to others, even as The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give His life a ransom for many (S. Matt. xx. 28). But if you deem me worthy, receive as your fellow-disciple him whom you choose for your master. For we both have one Master, Christ. And so let Him be the end of this Letter, who is The end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth (Rom. x. 4).
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