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LETTER XLVI (circa A.D. 1125)
To Guigues, the Prior, And to the Other Monks of the Grand Chartreuse
He discourses much and piously of the law of true and sincere charity, of its signs, its degrees, its effects, and of its perfection which is reserved for Heaven (Patria).
Brother Bernard, of Clairvaux, wishes health eternal to the most reverend among fathers, and to the dearest among friends, Guigues, Prior of the Grande Chartreuse, and to the holy Monks who are with him.
1. I have received the letter of your Holiness as joyfully as I had long and eagerly desired it. I have read it, and the letters which I pronounced with my mouth, I felt, as it were, sparks of fire in my heart, which warmed my heart within me; as coming from that fire which the Lord has sent upon the earth (S. Luke xii. 49). How great a fire must glow in those meditations from which such sparks fly forth! This, your inspired and inspiring salutation, was to me, I confess, not as if coming from man, but like 193words descending surely from Him who sent the salutation to Jacob. It is not for me, in fact, a simple salutation given in passing, according to the custom and usage of men, but it is plainly from the very bowels of charity, as I feel, that this benediction, so sweet and so unhoped for, has come forth. I pray God to bless you, who have had the goodness to prevent me with benedictions of such sweetness, that confidence is granted to me, your humble servant, to reply, since you have first written; for though I had meditated writing, I had hitherto not presumed to do so. For I feared to trouble, by my eager scribbling, the holy quiet which you have in the Lord, and the religious silence which isolates you from the world. I feared, also, to interrupt, even for a moment, those mysterious whispers from God, and to pour my words into ears always occupied with the secret praises of heaven. I feared to become as one who would trouble even Moses on the mountain, Elias in the desert, or Samuel watching in the temple, if I had tried to turn away ever so little, minds occupied with divine communion. Samuel cries out: Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth (1 Sam. iii. 10). And should I presume to make myself heard? I feared, I say, lest presenting myself out of season before you, as it were to David engaged in flight, or abiding in solitude, you might not wish to listen, and might say, “Excuse me, I cannot hear thee now; I prefer rather to give ear to words sweeter than thine.” I will hear what the Lord God will say unto me; for He shall speak peace unto His people, and to His saints, and to those who are converted at heart (Ps. lxxxiv. 9 Vulg.). Or, at least, this: Depart from me, ye evil-disposed, and 194I will study the commandments of my God (Ps. cxix. 115). For could I be so rash as to dare to arouse the much-loved spouse sweetly resting in the arms of her bridegroom as long as she will? Should I not hear from her on the instant: Do not be troublesome to me; I am for My Beloved, and My Beloved is for Me; He feedeth among the lilies (Cant. ii. 16).
2. But what I do not dare to do, charity dares, and with all confidence knocks at the door of a friend, thinking that she ought by no means to suffer repulse, who knows herself to be the mother of friendships; nor does she fear to interrupt for an instant your rest, though so pleasant, to speak to you of her own task. She, when she will, causes you to withdraw from being alone with God; she, also, when she willed, made you attentive to me; so that you did not regard it as unworthy of you, not merely to benignantly endure my speaking, but more, to urge me to break the silence. I esteem the kindness, I admire the worthiness, I praise and venerate the pure rejoicing with which you glory in the Lord, for the advances in virtue which, as you suppose, I have made. I am proud of so great a testimony, and esteem myself happy in a friendship so grateful to me as that of the servants of God towards me. This is now my glory, this is my joy and the rejoicing of my heart, that not in vain I have lifted up mine eyes unto the mountains whence there has now come to me help of no small value. These mountains have already distilled sweetness for me; and I continue to hope that they will do so until our valleys shall abound with fruit. That day shall be always for me a day of festival and perpetual 195memorial, in which I had the honour to see and to receive that worthy man, by whom it has come about that I should be received into your hearts. And, indeed, you had received me even before, if I may judge by your letter; but now with a more close and intimate friendship, since, as I find, he brought back to you too favourable reports concerning me which, doubtless, he believed, though without sufficient cause. For, as a faithful and pious man, God forbid that he should speak otherwise than he believed. And truly I experience in myself what the Saviour says: He who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward (S. Matt. x. 41). I have said, the reward of a righteous man, because I am regarded as righteous, only through receiving one who is righteous. If he has reported of me something more than that, he has spoken not so much according to the truth of the case as according to the simplicity and goodness of his heart. You have heard, you have believed, you have rejoiced, and have written, thereby giving me no little joy, not only because I have been honoured with a degree of praise and a high place in the estimation of your Holiness, but also because all the sincerity of your souls has made itself known to me in no small measure. In few words, you have shown to me with what spirit you are animated.
3. I rejoice, therefore, and congratulate you on your sincerity and goodness as I congratulate myself on the edification which you have afforded to me. That is, indeed, true and sincere charity, and must be considered to proceed from a heart altogether pure and a good conscience and faith unfeigned, with 196which we love our neighbour as ourself. For he who loves only the good that himself has done, or, at least, loves it more than that of others, does not love good for its own sake, but on account of himself, and he who is such cannot do as the prophet says: Give thanks unto the Lord, because He is good (Ps. cxviii. 1). He gives thanks, indeed, perhaps, because the Lord is good to him, not because He is good in Himself. Wherefore let him understand that this reproach from the same prophet is directed against him: They will praise thee when thou doest well unto thy own soul (Ps. xlix. 18). One man praises the Lord because He is mighty; another because He is good unto him; and, again, another simply because He is good. The first is a slave, and fears for himself; the second mercenary, and desires somewhat for himself; but the third is a son, and gives praise to his Father. Therefore both he who fears and he who desires are each working for his own advantage; charity which is in him alone who is a son, seeketh not her own. Wherefore I think that it was of charity that was spoken, The law of the Lord is pure, converting the soul (Ps. xix. 7), because it is that alone which can turn away the mind from the love of itself and of the world and direct it towards God. Neither fear nor selfish love converts the soul. They change sometimes the outward appearance or the actions, but never affect the heart. No doubt even the slave does sometimes the work of God, but because he does it not of his own free will he remains still in his hardness. The mercenary person does it also, but not out of kindness, only as drawn by his own particular advantage. Where there is distinction of persons, there are personal 197interests, and where there are personal interests there is a limit of willingness, and there, without doubt, a rusting meanness. Let the very fear by which he is constrained be a law to the slave, let the greedy desire, with which the mercenary is bound, be a law to him, since it is by it that he is drawn away and enticed. But of these neither is without fault or is able to convert the soul. But charity does convert souls when it fills them with disinterested zeal.
4. Now, I should say that this charity is faultless in him who has become accustomed to retain nothing for himself out of that which is his own. He who keeps nothing for himself gives to God quite certainly all that he has, and that which belongs to God cannot be unclean. Thus that pure law of the Lord is no other than charity, which seeks not what is advantageous to herself, but that which profits others. But law is said to be of the Lord, either because He Himself lives by it or because no one possesses it except by His gift. Nor let it seem absurd what I have said, that even God lives by law, since I declared that this law was no other than charity. For what but charity preserves in the supreme and blessed Trinity, that lofty and unspeakable unity which it has? It is law, then, and charity the law of the Lord, which maintains in a wonderful manner the Trinity in Unity and binds It in the bond of peace. Yet let no one think that I here take charity for a quality or a certain accident in God, or otherwise to say that in God (which God forbid) there is something which is not God; but I say that it is the very substance of God. I say nothing new or unheard of, for S. John says God is love (1 S. John iv. 16).198
It is then right to say that charity is God, and at the same time the gift of God. Therefore Charity gives charity, the substantial7373 Mabillon reads substantiva, but another reading is substantia.—[E.] gives the accidental. Where the word signifies the Giver it is a name of the substance, and where the thing given, it is a name of the accident. This is the eternal law, Creator and Ruler of the Universe. Since all things have been made through it in weight and measure and number, and nothing is left without law, not even He who is the Law of all things, yet He is Himself none other than the law which rules Him, a law untreated as He.
5. But the slave and the mercenary have a law, not from God, but which they have made for themselves—the one by not loving God, the other by loving something else more than Him. They have, I say, a law which is their own and not of the Lord, to which, nevertheless, their own is subjected; nor are they able to withdraw themselves from the unchangeable order of the divine law, though each should make a law for himself. I would say, then, that a person makes a law for himself when he prefers his own will to the common and eternal law, perversely wishing to imitate his Creator; so that as He is a law unto Himself, and is under no authority but His Own, so the man also will be his own master, will make his own will a law to himself. Alas! what a heavy and insupportable yoke upon all the sons of Adam, which weighs upon and bows down our necks, so that our life is drawn near to the grave. Unhappy man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? (Rom. vii. 24) with which I am so weighed 199down that unless the Lord had helped me, my soul would almost have dwelt in the grave (Ps. xciv. 17). With this load was he burdened who groaned, saying: Why hast Thou set me as a mark against Thee, so that I am a burden to myself? (Job vii. 20). Where he says, I am made a burden to myself, he showed that he was a law unto himself, and the law no other than he himself had made it. But when, speaking to God, he commenced by saying, Thou hast set me as a mark against Thee, he showed that he had not escaped from the Divine law. For this is the property of that eternal and just law of God, that he who would not be ruled with gentleness by God, should be ruled as a punishment by his own self; and that all those who have willingly thrown off the gentle yoke and light burden of charity should bear unwillingly the insupportable burden of their own will.
6. Thus the everlasting law does in a wonderful manner, to him who is a fugitive from its power, both make him an adversary and retain him as a subject; for while, on the one hand, he has not escaped from the law of justice, by which he is dealt with according to his merits, on the other he does not remain with God in His light, or peace, or glory. He is subjected to power, and excluded from happiness. O Lord, my God, why dost Thou not take away my sin, and pardon my transgression? (Job vii. 21). So that throwing down the heavy weight of my own will, I may breathe easily under the light burden of charity; that I may not be overborne any longer by servile fear, nor allured by selfish cupidity, but may be impelled by Thy spirit, the spirit of liberty, which is that of Thy children. Who is it, who witnesses to 200my spirit that I, too, am one of Thy children, since Thy law is mine, and as Thou art, so am I also, in this world? For it is quite certain that those who do this which the Apostle says owe no one anything except to love one another (Rom. xiii. 8) are themselves as God is in this world, nor are they slaves or mercenaries, but sons. Therefore neither are sons without law, unless, perhaps, some one should think the contrary because of this which is written, the law is not made for a righteous man (1 Tim. i. 9). But it ought to be remembered that the law promulgated in fear by a spirit of slavery is one thing, and that given sweetly and gently by the spirit of liberty is another. Those who are sons are not obliged to submit to the first, but they are always under the rule of the second. Do you wish to hear why it is said that law is not made for the righteous? You have not received, he says, the spirit of slavery again in fear. Or why, nevertheless, they are always under the rule of the law of charity? But ye have received the spirit of the adoption of sons (Rom. viii. 15). Listen, now, in what manner the righteous man confesses that at the same time he is and is not under the law. I became, he says, to those which were under the law as being under the law, although I myself was not under the law: but to those who were without law, I was as being without law, since I was not without the law of God but in the law of Christ (1 Cor. ix. 20, 21). Whence it is not accurately said the righteous have no law, or the righteous are without law, but that the law was not made for the righteous; that is, it is not, as it were, imposed upon unwilling subjects, but given freely to willing hearts by Him to whose sweet inspiration it is due. Wherefore the 201Lord also beautifully says, Take My yoke upon you (S. Matt. xi. 29). As if He would say, I do not impose it upon you against your will, take it if you are willing; otherwise you will find not rest, but labour, for your souls.
7. The law of charity, then, is good and sweet, it is not only light and sweet to bear, but it renders bearable and light the laws even of slaves and mercenaries. But it does not destroy these, but brings about their fulfilment, as the Lord says, I am not come to destroy the law, but to fulfil (S. Matt. v. 17). The one it moderates, the other it reduces to order, and each it lightens. Charity will never be without fear, but that fear is good; it will never be without any thought of interest, but that a restrained and moderated one. Charity, therefore, perfects the law of the slave when it inspires a generous devotion, and that of the mercenary when it gives a better direction to interested wishes. So, then, devotion mixed with fear does not annul those last, but purifies them, only it takes away the fear of punishment which servile fear is never exempt from; and this fear is clean and filial, enduring for ever (Ps. xix. 9). For that which is written, perfect love takes away fear (1 S. John iv. 18), is to be understood of the fear of punishment, which is never wanting, as we have said, to slavish fear. It is, in fact, a common mode of speech which consists in putting the cause for the effect. As for cupidity, it is then rightly directed by the charity which is joined with it, since ceasing altogether to desire things which are evil, it begins to prefer those which are better, nor does it desire good things except in order to reach those which are better; which when, 202by the grace of God, it has fully obtained, the body and all the good things which belong to the body will be loved only for the sake of the soul, the soul for the sake of God, and God alone for Himself.
8. However, as we are in fleshly bodies, and are born of the desire of the flesh, it is of necessity that our desire, or affection, should begin from the flesh; but if it is rightly directed, advancing step by step under the guidance of grace, it will at length be perfected by the Spirit, because that is not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural, and afterwards that which is spiritual; and it is needful that we should first bear the image of the earthly and afterwards that of the heavenly (1 Cor. xv. 46, 49). First, then, a man loves his own self for self’s sake, since he is flesh, and he cannot have any taste except for things in relation with him; but when he sees that he is not able to subsist by himself, that God is, as it were, necessary to him, he begins to inquire and to love God by faith. Thus he loves God in the second place, but because of his own interest, and not for the sake of God Himself. But when, on account of his own necessity, he has begun to worship Him and to approach Him by meditation, by reading, by prayer, by obedience, he comes little by little to know God with a certain familiarity, and in consequence to find Him sweet and kind; and thus having tasted how sweet the Lord is, he passes to the third stage, and thus loves God no longer on account of his own interest, but for the sake of God Himself. Once arrived there, he remains stationary, and I know not if in this life man is truly able to rise to the fourth degree, which is, no longer to love himself except for 203the sake of God. Those who have made trial of this (if there be any) may assert it to be attainable; to me, I confess, it appears impossible. It will be so without doubt when the good and faithful servant shall have been brought into the joy of his Lord, and inebriated with the fulness of the house of God. For being, as it were, exhilarate, he shall in a wonderful way be forgetful of himself, he shall lose the consciousness of what he is, and being absorbed altogether in God, shall attach himself unto Him with all his powers, shall thenceforth be one spirit with Him.
9. I consider that the prophet referred to this when he said: I will enter into the powers of the Lord: O, Lord, I will make mention of Thy righteousness only (Ps. lxxi. 16). He knew well that when he entered into the spiritual powers of God he would be freed from all the infirmities of the flesh, and would have no longer to think of them, but would be occupied only with the perfections of God. Then, for certain, each of the members of Christ would be able to say of himself, what Paul said of their Head: If we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more (2 Cor. v. 16).There no one knows himself according to the flesh, because flesh and blood will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. xv. 50). Not that the substance of flesh will not be there, but that every fleshly necessity will be away; the love of the flesh is to be absorbed into the love of the spirit, and the weak human passions which exist at present will be absorbed into powers divine. Then the net of charity, which is now drawn through a great and vast sea, and does not cease to bring together from every kind of 204fish, at length drawn to the shore, shall retain only the good, rejecting the bad. And while in this life charity fills with all kinds of fishes the vast spaces of its net, suiting itself to all according to the time, making, in a sense, its own, and partaking of the good and evil fortunes of all, it is accustomed not only to rejoice with them that rejoice, but to weep with them that weep. But when it shall have reached the shore [of eternity], casting away as evil fish all that it bore with grief before, it will retain those only which are sources of pleasure and gladness. Then Paul will no longer be weak with the weak, or be scandalized with those who are scandalized, since scandal and weakness will be far away. We ought not to think that he will still let fall tears over those who have not repented here below; and as it is certain that there will no longer be sinners, so there will be no one to repent. Far be it from us to think that he will mourn and deplore those whose portion is everlasting fire with the devil and his angels, when in that City of God which the streams of that river make glad (Ps. xlvi. 4), the gates of which the Lord loves more than all the dwellings of Jacob (Ps. lxxxvii. 2), because in those dwellings, although the joy of victory is sometimes tasted, yet the combat always continues, and sometimes the struggle is for life; but in that dear country there is no place for adversity or sorrow, as in that Psalm we sing: The abiding place of all those who rejoice is in Thee (Ps. lxxxvii. 7, Vulg.), and again: Everlasting joy shall be unto them (Is. lxi. 7). How, then, shall any remembrance be of mercy, where the justice of God shall be alone remembered? There can be no feeling of compassion called into exercise 205where there shall be no place for misery, or occasion for pity.
10. I am impelled to prolong this already lengthy discourse, dearly beloved and much longed-for brethren, by the very strong desire I have of conversing with you; but there are three things which show me that I ought to come to an end. First, that I fear to be burdensome to you; that I am ashamed to show myself so loquacious; third, that I am pressed with domestic cares. In conclusion, I beg you to have compassion for me, and if you have rejoiced for the good things you have heard of me, sympathize with me also, I pray, in my too real temptations and cares. He who related these things to you has, no doubt, seen some few little things, and has valued these little things as great, while your indulgence has easily believed what it willingly heard. I felicitate you, indeed, on that charity which believes all things (1 Cor. xiii. 7). But I am confounded by the truth which knows all things. I beg you to believe me in what I say of myself rather than another who has only seen me from without. No man knoweth the things that are in a man save the spirit of man which is in him (1 Cor. ii. 11). I assure you that I do not speak of myself by conjecture, but out of full knowledge, and that I am not such as I am believed and said to be. I fell assured of this, and confess it frankly; that so I may obtain your special prayers, and thus may become such as your letter sets forth, than which there is nothing I desire more.
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