"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)


St. Bernard of Clairvaux: "The Last Of The Church Fathers"

"Christ Embracing St Bernard" (c.1625)
by Francisco Ribalta (1565-1628),
Museo del Prado, Madrid.
The encyclical Doctor Mellifluus of 24 May 1953 was issued in commemoration of the eight centenary of the death of Bernard of Clairvaux. Pius XII, quoting Jean Mabillon, called Bernard, "the last of the Fathers, but certainly not inferior to the earlier ones." Thomas Merton hailed Doctor Mellifluus thus, "I never saw anything so strong on the mystical life. It was a great inspiration to me..."

The Three Loves of St. Bernard of Clairvaux
I gathered these three from the same encyclical Doctor Mellifluus.

1. A significant theme of the encyclical is St. Bernard's teachings on the love of God. He taught that "God wants to be loved by men rather than feared and honored." He eloquently expressed his great reverence for the name of Jesus e.g., "What can so enrich the soul that reflects upon it? What can… strengthen the virtues, beget good and honorable dispositions, foster holy affections? Dry is every kind of spiritual food which this oil does not moisten. Tasteless, whatever this salt does not season. If thou writest, thy composition has no charms for me, unless I read there the name of Jesus. If thou dost debate or converse, I find no pleasure in thy words, unless I hear there the name of Jesus. Jesus is honey on the lips, melody in the ear, joy in the heart. Yet not alone is that name light and food. It is also a remedy. Is any one amongst you sad? Let the name of Jesus enter his heart; let it leap thence to his mouth; and lo! the light shining from that name shall scatter every cloud and restore peace. Has some one perpetrated a crime, and then misled, moved despairingly towards the snare of death? Let him but invoke this life-giving name, and straightway he shall find courage once more… Whoever, all a-tremble in the presence of danger, has not immediately felt his spirits revive and his fears depart as soon as he called upon this name of power? There is nothing so powerful as the name of Jesus to check anger, reduce the swelling of pride, heal the smarting wound of envy...."

2. St. Bernard’s second love is the Church as mother. On many occasions, he brought peace to the Church throughout its quarrels. One of such occasions when Peter Abelard who was "the keenest thinker and boldest theologian of the 12th century" was embroiled in a heresy. St. Bernard helped him clear his name. Abelard and St. Bernard were supposed to debate in front of the Bishops, but due to Bernard’s eloquence, Abelard decided to step down after the opening statement. His mother died when he was just 19. Soon after he entered the monastery together with 30 young friends and relatives. The reputation of his holiness soon attracted 130 new monks, including his own father and also all his five brothers. They entered Clairvaux to pursue religious life, leaving only his sister Humbeline; however, with the consent of her husband, she also entered the Benedictine nunnery. The other monasteries became jealous of his popularity that they decried his rule as unrealizable. To the Abbot Peter of Cluny he wrote in response, "And I glory in tribulations if I have been counted worthy to endure any for the sake of the Church. This, truly, is my glory and the lifting up of my head: the triumph of the Church. For if we have been sharers of her troubles, we shall be also of her consolation. We must work and suffer with our mother."

3. St. Bernard’s third burning love is of Mary who taught him to burn with the same fire of love. He specifically wrote about Mary the star of the sea [Stella Maris]. He wrote much about her as Mediatrix of all graces. Again due to his eloquence, his Marian writings are considered some of the most beautiful to date e.g., “Oh, whosoever thou art that perceiveth thyself during this mortal existence to be rather drifting in treacherous waters, at the mercy of the winds and the waves, than walking on firm ground, turn not away thine eyes from the splendor of this guiding star, unless thou wish to be submerged by the storm! When the storms to temptation burst upon thee, when thou seest thyself driven upon the rocks of tribulation, look at the star, call upon Mary. When buffeted by the billows of pride, or ambition, or hatred, or jealousy, look at the star, call upon Mary. Should anger, or avarice, or fleshly desire violently assail the frail vessel of thy soul, look at the star, call upon Mary. If troubled on account of the heinousness of thy sins, distressed at the filthy state of thy conscience, and terrified at the thought of the awful judgment to come, thou art beginning to sink into the bottomless gulf of sadness and to be swallowed in the abyss of despair, then think of Mary. In dangers, in doubts, in difficulties, think of Mary, call upon Mary. Let not her name leave thy lips, never suffer it to leave thy heart....”  Fr. JM Manzano, SJ

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