Saints and Heroes: Saint Bernard of Clairvaux Reminds Us that 'Love Is Sufficient of Itself'
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
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 ...
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