Bernard of Clairvaux

August 20 is the feast day of Bernard, abbot of Clairvaux, who brought the Cistercian order out of obscurity and into the center of Western Christendom. Bernard was born in 1090 near Dijon, France, to noble parents. He received an excellent education and grew into an attractive, affable young man. At the age of 22, he decided to join the monastery at Citeaux, persuading 31 men to join him. The monks at Citeaux, known as Cistercians, observed a strict interpretation of the Rule of Benedict, and Bernard became a leader of the reform within the Benedictine order. He was sent to establish a new monastery in a valley in the Champagne region, which became known as Clairvaux (or Valley of Light) because it was situated right in the eye of the sun. Working miracles, including restoration of speech, healings, and others, Bernard built the monastic community to 130 monks. He became a renowned theologian and was considered one of the most eloquent and influential men of his era. He became involved in matters of state, laboring for peace and reconciliation between England and France. He preached the Second Crusade and sent vast armies on the road toward Jerusalem. In his last years, he rose from his sickbed and went into the Rhineland to defend the Jews against a savage persecution. When he died on August 20, 1153 at the age of 63, it was said that he had "carried the 12th century on his shoulders." He was canonized by Pope Alexander III on January 18, 1174. Pope Pius VII declared him a Doctor of the Church in 1830.

The following is a reading from the treatise On the Love of God by Bernard of Clairvaux.

"God deserves of us all our love, a love which knows no bounds. This is the first thing to understand. The reason is because God was the first to love. God, who is so great, loves us so much; he loves us freely, poor, pathetic worthless creatures though we be. This is why I insist that our love for God should know no bounds. And since love given to God is given to the One who is infinite and without boundary, what measure or boundary could we make anyway?

Furthermore, our love is not bestowed for no reason, as God's love is for us: we render it in payment of a debt. God, infinite and eternal, who is love beyond our human capacity to comprehend, whose greatness knows no bounds, whose wisdom has no end, simply loves. Should we, for our part then, set limits on our love for God?

...The reason, then, for our loving God is God. He is the initiator of our love and its final goal. He is himself the occasion of human love; he gives us the power to love, and brings our desire to consummation. God is lovable in himself, and gives himself to us as the object of our love. He desires that our love for him should bring us happiness, and not be arid and barren. His love for us opens up inside us the way to love, and is the reward of our own reaching out in love. How gently he leads us in love's way, how generously he returns the love we give, how sweet he is to those who wait for him. 

...He offers himself as refreshment to our souls, and spends himself to set free those who are in prison. You are good, Lord, to the soul that seeks you. What, then, are you to the soul that finds you?  The marvel is, no one can seek you who has not already found you. You want us to find you so that we may seek you, but we can never anticipate your coming, for though we say 'Early shall my prayer come before you,' a chilly, loveless thing that prayer would be, were it not warmed by your own breath and born of your own Spirit."

From Celebrating the Saints, compiled and introduced by Robert Atwell and Christopher Webber, and other sources.

Dianne Green