Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By F. K. Bartels

8/20/2012 (1 year ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

It was love that led St. Bernard to the fullness of truth; a way of life immersed in beauty and freedom

"It is true that the creature loves less because she is less. But if she loves with her whole being, nothing is lacking where everything is given. To love so ardently then is to share the marriage bond; she cannot love so much and not be totally loved, and it is in the perfect union of two hearts that complete and perfected marriage consists" -- St. Bernard, Doctor of the Church

Bernard of Clairvaux, Doctor of the Church

Bernard of Clairvaux, Doctor of the Church

Article Highlights

By F. K. Bartels

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

8/20/2012 (1 year ago)

Published in Christian Saints & Heroes

Keywords: St. Bernard, Love, holiness, sanctity, charity, monks, monasticism, charity, saints, F.K. Bartels


GLADE PARK, CO (Catholic Online) -- St. Bernard was born in his father's castle in 1090, at Fountaines les Dijon, France. He was the third son in a family of seven children, consisting of six boys and one girl. Both his parents belonged to nobility and were devoutly Catholic, thus Bernard received a religious upbringing within the ecclesia domestica, the womb of the domestic church that was his family. His mother, Aleth, was a woman especially devoted to God who, with hand raised in the air as she traced the sign of the cross, died a good and holy Catholic death.

St. Bernard's personality is often described as warm and charming: he was a man of strong and affectionate friendships, as is evidenced by his appearance with thirty of his friends at Citeaux, the original Cistercian abbey, in order to gain admittance at the age of about twenty-three. Although his zeal for the fullness of truth and the holy Catholic Church often gave an incorrect impression of anger, those who knew St. Bernard understood it was the fiery charity within his heart, borne of the love of God, which moved him to speak and write in an often direct and piercing manner.

It would be an error to characterize St. Bernard as a man who emphasized quietude, for his life was filled with prodigious activity; yet, even so, he is known as one of the greatest contemplatives who ever lived. He would often nourish his soul by sitting outdoors and meditating on Sacred Scripture so that he could also gaze upon the astounding material beauty of God's creation. In this way, he was fed with both the supernatural revelation of the Word of God and the natural revelation of God's handiwork.

Called to Love by Love Itself

It was through contemplative prayer, which is a gift from God that can only be accepted in humility, and in which the soul seeks Jesus and the Father through the prompting of the Holy Spirit (see CCC 2709 ff.), that St. Bernard was enabled to speak and write with revealing accuracy of such sublime truths as love:

"Love is sufficient of itself, it gives pleasure by itself and because of itself. It is its own merit, its own reward. Love looks for no cause outside itself, no effect beyond itself. Its profit lies in its practice. I love because I love, I love that I may love. Love is a great thing so long as it continually returns to its fountainhead, flows back to its source, always drawing from there the water which constantly replenishes it.

"Of all the movements, sensations and feelings of the soul, love is the only one in which the creature can respond to the Creator and make some sort of similar return however unequal though it be. For when God loves, all he desires is to be loved in return; the soul purpose of his love is to be loved, in the knowledge that those who love him are made happy by their love of him."

Love of God: Called to Love The Mother of God

It was also through contemplative prayer that, held deeply in the loving embrace of Christ, St. Bernard was moved to such great love for the Mother of God: he was enabled to clearly recognize the honor and veneration due the sweet Virgin who ushered salvation into the world. It was Theotokos (God-bearer) whose fiat brought about the supreme pivotal moment in human history: the Incarnation of the Son of God. She nurtured our Savior in the tabernacle of her holy womb, gave birth to the Child in Bethlehem, and unwaveringly followed her Son as the disciple par excellence to the very end. In his letter to the canons of Lyons, St. Bernard wonderfully articulates the importance and beauty of the Virgin Mary:

"Let us honor her for the purity of her body, the holiness of her life. Let us marvel at her fruitful virginity, and venerate her divine Son. Let us extol her freedom from concupiscence in conceiving and from all pain in bearing. Let us proclaim her to be reverenced by the Angels, desired by the nations, foretold by the patriarchs and prophets, chosen out of all and preferred before all. Let us magnify her as the channel of grace, the mediatrix of salvation, the restorer of the ages, and as exalted above the choirs of angels to the very heights of Heaven."

Love of God: Called to Love The Holy Catholic Church

The following inscription from one of St. Bernard's literary works reveals his love for the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church: "Who, bearing a heart of universal love, called against his will from the cloister, never ceased to defend, ardently, patiently, and humbly, the one and immaculate Church" (qtd. from The 33 Doctors Of The Church 299).

St. Bernard understood the necessity of the Catholic Church as a specific and definite, divine and human institution willed to exist by God in order that the fullness of revealed truth may be known to all men. The Church does not simply promulgate data or helpful things which we might ought to notice, but rather transmits to humankind the highest and most vital truth: God's own self-disclosure. Therefore the answer to the world's spiritual and moral illnesses, which are nearly always the result of incomplete or impoverished truth, is found in the bosom of the Church. It is here, in the arms of mother Church that, as minister of salvation, God's children are guided safely across the seas of life toward their eternal beatitude.

Perhaps one thing which led St. Bernard to understand the vital truth of the Catholic Church so deeply, is reflecting on both God's mercy and God's judgment. For instance, few devout Catholics would argue against the fact that there exists widespread presumption of God's mercy in contemporary society. In a word, we presume on mercy without repentance. This problem, of course, is directly related to the loss of the sense of the seriousness of sin. If we reflect on God's mercy as it relates to the Church, it is easy to see that the Church was founded by Jesus as an institution of mercy. After all, it is through the Church that we receive Baptism, the sacrament which incorporates us into Christ, opens the door to salvation, and grants us a share in the divine life of God. Is that not mercy?

It is also through the Church that we receive Penance and Reconciliation, the sacrament in which we experience a "new resurrection" from death into life, since through it we are restored to God's grace after having fallen due to our own disordered choices. Is this, too, not mercy?

Further, it is also through the Church that we receive the Eucharist: the sacrament of sacraments in which we partake of the true body, blood, soul and divinity of the Risen Lord. As we receive this incomparable gift, we are lifted to the immeasurable heights of Love Itself -- even though we are undeserving, finite men whose existence is rife with failure. Is this, also, not mercy?

On the other hand, if we reflect on God's judgment, we clearly see both the danger and the error of relegating the Church to "one institution among others." The Church flowed forth from our Savior's pierced side on the cross. Therefore the Church's life was gained at the cost of the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here the light begins to flood in, the mist clears, and the Church becomes for us a gift of unimaginable significance.

Fr. Christopher Rengers wrote that if St. Bernard thought of "God's judgments too long, he grew fearful, and if he thought too long of God's mercy, he grew lax" (Ibid.). Thus, St. Bernard adopted a balanced approach in reflecting on these two attributes of God. "And this experience has taught me to sing not alone the mercies of the Lord, and not alone His judgments, but judgment and mercy united in one embrace" (Life of St. Bernard 232).

It is really all about love and gift and Gift and Love. God has first loved us. It is through the gift of grace that we are moved to faith; through faith we are made docile to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, who thus leads us to Christ: God's only Son, sent into the vineyard of the world to convince us of his love. Through the Church, we are sacramentally swept up in his divine arms, led across the sea of life, and ushered toward our final end, which is Love Itself.

"The reason for loving God is God Himself. The measure is to love Him beyond measure" -- St. Bernard of Clairvaux

-----

F. K. Bartels is a Catholic writer who knows his Catholic Faith is one of the greatest gifts a man could ever receive. He is a contributing writer for Catholic Online. Visit him also at his blog entitled joy in truth

---


Pope Francis calls for your 'Prayer and Action'


© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for March 2014
Respect for Women:
That all cultures may respect the rights and dignity of women.
Vocations: That many young people may accept the Lordís invitation to consecrate their lives to proclaiming the Gospel.



Comments


More Christian Saints & Heroes

Duc in Altum: Men, Put Out Into the Deep on the Feast of St Joseph Watch

Image of

By Rev. Peter M. J. Stravinskas, Ph.D., S.T.D.

This model of Christian manliness recommends himself to us not for any strange or exciting things he did (because he really didn't) but for the daily listening to and heeding the voice of Almighty God - in the home, in the synagogue and Temple, in the ... continue reading


Feast of Joseph, Husband of Mary: Time for Christian Men to Follow His Example Watch

Image of St. Joseph is our teacher and shows us the way to love and follow Jesus Christ. he shows us how to be faithful husbands, fathers and servants of the Lord. Joseph is a true 'man's man' calling all men to follow Jesus.

By Deacon Keith Fournier

He still gives His message and His mission to men who, like Joseph, cultivate ears to hear and then choose to exercise authentic manly virtue and act out of courage. He still invites men to turn the ordinary into extraordinary through cooperation and ... continue reading


Is St. Joseph worthy of commemoration?

Image of Saint Joseph's love for Jesus is worth of commemoration.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Today is the feast day of St. Joseph, which means this is the perfect time to check out our offerings of St. Joseph medals, prayer cards and the many other religious products we have at Catholic Shopping .com. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Catholic Shopping .com ... continue reading


After the Corned Beef: St. Patrick Challenges Modern Christians to be Missionaries

Image of

By Deacon Keith Fournier

We need to learn a lesson from this great missionary. He saw what was good in the culture and "baptized" what could be redeemed. He respected the civil order, but never compromised the faith. Then, he went for the next generation with all his efforts, preaching the ... continue reading


Who was the man named Saint Patrick?

Image of Saint Patrick not the first to bring Christianity to Ireland, but it is Patrick who is said to have encountered the Druids at Tara and abolished their pagan rites.

By Catholic Online

Saint Patrick - remembered with parades, the wearing of green and feasts throughout the world wherever there are people of Irish descent, or wish to be -- was the patron saint and national apostle of Ireland who is credited with bringing Christianity to the country. ... continue reading


Bet you didn't know these 10 things about St. Patrick and Ireland!

Image of Saint Patrick in blue vestments.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The most kids know of St. Patrick 's Day is that you must wear green or you'll get a pinch from your friends. Adults see the day as an occasion to celebrate, sometimes with green beer and other assorted alcoholic beverages. However, few really know what they are ... continue reading


Thomas Aquinas: An Example for a New Generation of Apologists Watch

Image of If you seek patience, you will find no better example than the cross- St Thomas Aquinas

By Deacon Keith Fournier

St. Thomas Aquinas knew that all truth finds its source - and its fulfillment - in the One who is Truth Incarnate, Jesus the Christ. In this way, he was a pioneer of a New Evangelization during the second millennium and a model for our efforts to in the Third.He ... continue reading


Feast of the Deacon St Vincent Calls the Church and her Deacons to Heroic Virtue

Image of Vincent was born in the Third Century in Huesca, Spain and born again to eternal life only four days into the fourth century. He lived in Saragossa where he served the holy Bishop Valerius as a Deacon.He was one of the scores of Christians who suffered brutal persecution under the evil Roman emperor named Diocletian. Diocletian is associated with the last of the ten persecutions of the nascent undivided Christian Church of the first millennium of our history.  Like many early deacons of the undivided Church such as Stephen, Lawrence and Ephrem, the hagiography which has been passed down through the Church records his holiness of life and heroic virtue. He lived the way he died, as a sign of the power of the Gospel and the truth of the presence of the Risen Jesus Christ in our midst.

By Deacon Keith Fournier

Vincent was a man like us who encountered the same Risen Lord Jesus whom we have encountered. He struggled with the choices which always accompany living the Christian life in the midst of a culture which has squeezed God and His truth out of the center of its ... continue reading


Hallelujah! Pierre Favre recognized as a saint Watch

Image of Pierre Favre was the first Jesuit after Ignatius of Loyola. Icon of Pierre Favre by Fr. William McNichols

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Pope Francis has named his favorite Jesuit a saint, bypassing traditional rules for sainthood. On his birthday last Tuesday, Pope Francis recognized 16th century Jesuit Pierre Favre as a saint. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Saint Pierre Favre is a favorite of ... continue reading


A Letter From St Francis of Assisi to All the Faithful: We Must be Simple, Humble and Pure Watch

Image of St. Francis of Assisi

By St. Francis of Assisi

We must not be wise and prudent according to the flesh. Rather we must be simple, humble and pure. We should never desire to be over others. Instead, we ought to be servants who are submissive to every human being for God's sake. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on all ... continue reading


All Christian Saints & Heroes News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Isaiah 61:1-3, 6, 8-9
1 The spirit of Lord Yahweh is on me for Yahweh has ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 89:21-22, 25, 27
21 My hand will always be with him, my arm will make ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 4:16-21
16 He came to Nazara, where he had been brought up, ... Read More

Reading 2, Revelation 1:5-8
5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for April 17th, 2014 Image

St. Anicetus
April 17: Anicetus was a Syrian from Emesa. He became pope about 155 and ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter