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§ 104. St. Bernard as a Mystic.


For literature, see § 65, also, Ritschl: Lesefrüchte aus d. hl. Bernard, in Studien u. Kritiken, 1879, pp. 317–335.—J. Ries (Rom. Cath.): D. geistliche Leben nach der Lehre d. hl. Bernard, Freib., 1906, p. 327.


The works of Bernard which present his mystical theology are the Degrees of Humility and Pride, a sermon addressed to the clergy, entitled Conversion, the treatise on Loving God, his Sermons on the Canticles, and his hymns. The author’s intimate acquaintance with the Scriptures is shown on almost every page. He has all the books at his command and quotation follows quotation with great rapidity. Bernard enjoyed the highest reputation among his contemporaries as an expounder of the inner life, as his letters written in answer to questions show. Harnack calls him the religious genius of the twelfth century, the leader of his age, the greatest preacher Germany had ever heard. In matters of religious contemplation he called him a new Augustine, Augustinus redivivus.14261426    Dogmengesch., III. 301, 305. For Bernard’s acquaintance with Scripture, see Ries, pp. 11 sq.

The practical instinct excluded the speculative element from Bernard as worldly ambition excluded the mystical element from Abaelard. Bernard had the warmest respect for the Apostle Paul and greatly admired Augustine as "the mightiest hammer of the heretics" and "the pillar of the Church."14271427    Ries, pp. 9, 15.It is better that one perish than that unity perish."14281428    Omnia vestra in caritate fiant, Ep., 221. Melius est ut unus pereat quam unitas, Ep., 102; Migne, 182. 257.

Prayer and personal sanctity, according to Bernard, are the ways to the knowledge of God, and not disputation. The saint, not the disputant, comprehends God.14291429    Non ea disputatio comprehendit sed sanctitas, quoting Eph., III., 18. Sancti comprehendunt. De consid., V. 14; Migne, 182. 804.l ethical principles of theology. The conventual life, with its vigils and fastings, is not an end but a means to develop these two fundamental Christian virtues.14301430    Ep., 142, 2; Migne, 182, 297. Dr. Philip Schaff said that "love and humility were the crowning traits of Bernard’s character."Lit. and Poetry, p. 232. the sense that all the monks were perfect.14311431    Ries, pp. 35, sqq.

The treatise on Loving God asserts that God will be known in the measure in which He is loved. Writing to Cardinal Haimeric, who had inquired "why and how God is to be loved," Bernard replied. "The exciting cause of love to God, is God Himself. The measure of love to God is to love God without measure.14321432    Causa diligendi Deum Deus est, modus sine modo diligere. De dilig. Deo. 1. Migne, 182. 974.liever does not know, are inexpressibly more precious and call upon man to exercise an infinite and measureless love, for God is infinite and measureless. The soul is great in the proportion in which it loves God."14331433    In Cant., p. 919, as quoted by Ries, p. 212.

Love grows with our apprehension of God’s love. As the soul contemplates the cross it is itself pierced with the sword of love, as when it is said in the Canticles, II. 5. "I am sick from love." Love towards God has its reward, but love loves without reference to reward. True love is sufficient unto itself. To be fully absorbed by love is to be deified.14341434    Sic affici deificari est. Bernard does not shrink from the use of this word as also Origen and Gregory of Nyssa did not, and other Fathers who used it or its Greek equivalent.nsfused by the light of the sun, becomes itself like the light, and seems to be as the sun itself, even so all feeling in the saint is wholly transfused by God’s will, and God becomes all and in all.

In Bernard’s eighty-six Sermons on the Song of Solomon, we have a continuous apostrophe to love, the love of God and the soul’s love to God. As sermons they stand out like the Petite Carême of Massillon among the great collections of the French pulpit. Bernard reached only the first verse of the third chapter. His exposition, which is written in Latin, revels in the tropical imagery of this favorite book of the Middle Ages. Everything is allegorized. The very words are exuberant allegories. And yet there is not a single sensual or unchaste suggestion in all the extended treatment. As for the historical and literal meaning, Bernard rejects all suggestion of it as unworthy of Holy Scripture and worthy only of the Jews, who have this veil before their faces.14351435    Serm., LXXV. 2; LXIII. 1; LXXIII. 1, 2.f the love between the Church and Christ, though sometimes the soul, and even the Virgin Mary, is put in the place of the Shulamite. The kiss of SS. 1:2 is the Holy Spirit whom the second person of the Trinity reveals.14361436    Serm., VIII. Migne, p. 810.e the goodness and longsuffering which Christ feels and dispenses, Rom. 2:4. The Canticles are a song commemorating the grace of holy affection and the sacrament of eternal matrimony.14371437   Divinitus inspiratus Christi et ecclesiae laudes, et sacri amoris gratiam et aeterni connubii cecinit sacramenta, etc. Serm., I. 8.; Migne, p. 788.; no one can hear who does not love, for the language of love is a barbarous tongue to him who does not love, even as Greek is to one who is not a Greek.14381438    Serm., LXXIX. 1; Migne, p. 1163.

Rhapsodic expressions like these welled up in exuberant abundance as Bernard spoke to his audiences at different hours of the day in the convent of Clairvaux. They are marked by no progress of thought. Aphoristic statement takes the place of logic. The same spiritual experiences find expression over and over again. But the treatment is always devout and full of unction, and proves the justice of the title, "the honey-flowing doctor,"—doctor mellifluus — given to the fervid preacher.

The mysticism of St. Bernard centres in Christ. It is by contemplation of Him that the soul is filled with knowledge and ecstasy. The goal which the soul aspires to is that Christ may live in us, and our love to God become the all-controlling affection. Christ is the pure lily of the valley whose brightness illuminates the mind. As the yellow pollen of the lily shines through the white petals, so the gold of his divinity shines through his humanity. Bethlehem and Calvary, the birth and passion of Christ, controlled the preacher’s thought. Christ crucified was the sum of his philosophy.14391439    Haec mea philosophia scire Jesum Christum et hunc crucifixum. Serm., XLIII. 4; Migne, p. 995.14401440    Jesus mel in ore, in aure melos, in corde jubilus. Serm., XV. 6; Migne, p. 847.

Bernard was removed from the pantheistic self-deletion of Eckart and the imaginative extravagance of St. Theresa. From Madame Guyon and the Quietists of the seventeenth century, he differed in not believing in a state of pure love in the present life. Complete obedience to the law of love is impossible here unless it be in the cases of some of the martyrs.14411441    See Vacandard, Vie de S. Bernard, II. 497, and Ries, pp. 198 sq.ship of the disciples in the primitive Church who were together with one heart and one soul, Acts 4:32. The union is not by a confusion of natures, but by a concurrence of wills.14421442    Unitas quam facit non confusio naturarum, sed voluntatum consensio. Serm. in Cant., LXXI. 7; Migne, 183. 1124. Harnack, whose treatment of St. Bernard is one of the most stirring chapters in his Hist. of Doctrine, nevertheless says unjustly III. 304, that Bernard’s mysticism naturally led to Pantheism. In Bernard himself there is no trace of Pantheism. See Ries, pp. 190 sq.



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