TALKS

September 22nd 2017

It is likely that there was an initiative to found the Abbey of Cwmhir in 1143. This would have been in the lifetime of St.Bernard of Clairvaux who lived until 1153 so he may have been instrumental in it. Most scholars agree that the successful founding of Cwmhir occured in 1176 by Cadwallon ap Madog whose death on the 22nd September 1179 we remember today through this 'Founder Cadwallon Lecture'.

The Experience of St Bernard, founding abbot of the Cistercian Abbey of Clairvaux 1115.

Dr Hilary Knight,

 

Thank you for inviting me to talk on the occasion of your Founder’s Day. As Roger has told you, my PhD thesis at Lampeter university was on the subject of the religious experience of St Bernard of Clairvaux, an early founder of a Cistercian Abbey. Unlike the abbey of Cwmhir and its founder Cadwallon ap Madog, the history of St Bernard and the foundation of the abbey at Clairvaux is well documented. I need to emphasize I am not an historian, but will do my best to give you a bit of the history of the abbey at Clairvaux.

Part I History

The Cistercian order was started in 1098 at Cîteaux near Dijon in eastern France by Robert of Molesme. He led a group of monks who left the Benedictine monastery of Molesme as the order had become rather lax, and had accumulated much wealth, and the monks lived a life of luxury. Those who left Molesme founded the abbey at Cîteaux with the aim of following the Rule of Saint Benedict more faithfully. The first abbot was Robert of Molesme, but he was ordered to return to his own monastery by the pope Urban II. The second abbot, Alberic, returned the community to the original Benedictine ideal of manual work and prayer, and clothed the monks in white habits of undyed wool. The third abbot, after Alberic’s death, was Stephen Harding, an Englishman. (It’s useful to bear in mind that travel around European countries by monks was very widespread at that time, and you find all nationalities represented in all countries. Their common language was of course Latin which would have made things easier for them.)

Thus the Cistercian order was founded, officially in 1112. Stephen wrote the Carta Caritatis (Charter of Charity), a document setting out the Cistercian ideals of a simple life of work, love, prayer and self-denial. The order ended the practice of admitting child novices, and instead encouraged adults to choose the life for themselves. To help them with labour on the land, they received lay brothers, known as conversi; these were illiterate peasants who were also bound by vows of chastity and obedience to their abbot, but their rule of life was less demanding than that of the monks. Each abbey was to be run independently, but the abbots were to meet annually at Cîteaux – in mid-September! Daughter houses then began to be founded, and by the end of the twelfth century there were Cistercian abbeys throughout France and in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Eastern Europe. 2

 

1113 marked the arrival at Cîteaux of Bernard, bringing with him 35 relatives and friends! How he achieved this feat is well described in the first Life of St Bernard of Clairvaux and I will now digress to talk a bit about the Vitae, or lives of saints. The Vitae of Bernard, in his case aimed at his canonisation, are typical of Vitae writing. These hagiographical texts follow a pattern first seen in the Life of St Antony by Athanasius, written about 357 CE, and the Life of St Martin of Tours by Sulpicius Severus (early fifth century). Typically, the saint first has some miraculous happening connected with his or her birth, there is then an account of his or her miraculous acts and life of prayer and asceticism, and finally a perfect death.

There are several Lives of St Bernard, who lived from 1090 to 1153, many of which concentrate on miraculous happenings reported long after his death and which may be apochryphal. The Life which I shall quote from, the Vita Prima, being the first to be written, was by Bernard’s friend William of St Thierry, who pre-deceased Bernard and who used Bernard’s own accounts told to him personally: for example, William passed on Bernard’s observation that he had learned to understand the Holy Scriptures from meditating or praying in woodland or fell, having the oaks and beeches for masters.1 By sharing study of Solomon’s Song of Songs with William, Bernard taught him ‘the realities that can be learned only by experiencing them.’2

1 Cawley trans. Vita Prima, book 1, chapter 4, page 23.

2 Vita Prima, book 1, chapter 12, page 53.

3 VP, book 1, preface, p 2

In the introduction to the Life, written in 1147, William expressed his admiration for Bernard as follows:

But look at him! Vigorous still and valiant: the weaker his body, the stronger is he; the more capable too, and ceaselessly doing deeds worth recording, heaping feat upon feat; yet so reticent too that the achievements have themselves to clamour for a scribe!3

William explained that the work he was writing was not meant to be seen by Bernard and would not be published until after Bernard’s death, and indeed he already envisaged it would be used as evidence in the probable canonisation of Bernard as a saint. When they heard of William’s efforts, brothers in the monastery reported to him episodes at which they had been present and had seen and heard for themselves. Although William gave hints from time to time of Bernard’s personally held faith and immediate experience of God, he actually expressed regret that most of the Vita concentrated on external events. Luckily we have Bernard’s own writings to show us his deep devotion and understanding of the Christian faith. I shall introduce you to these later.

Bernard was born in Burgundy to godly parents: his father Tescelin was a knight serving under the duke of Burgundy, and his mother Aleth a model of godliness and motherly love. They had 6 sons and a daughter, all destined to become monks and a nun. Aleth was a good mother, for example she unusually refused to employ a wet-nurse, feeding all her babies 3

 

herself. Bernard was the third child, and his birth was heralded by miraculous signs with the result that Aleth loved him deeply and arranged for him to be dedicated to a life of service to God: he was educated at a school run by secular canons, where he excelled in the study of literature. He was a quiet, sensitive boy, ‘warm and gracious to all’. A boyhood vision influenced him greatly: (I have asked some of you to read passages which show Bernard’s own experience)

(Reader 1) It all happened on a Christmas night when all were getting ready for the usual solemn vigils, and there was some trifling delay in starting the night office. Bernard was sitting with the others and waiting, and his head drooped a little and he drowsed. Thereupon who should be on hand but the Boy Jesus, revealing himself and his holy Nativity to this chosen boy of his, instilling new instalments of tender faith and initiating in him the mysteries of divine contemplation..... So persuaded was Bernard’s mind at this hour that ever since he has confessed a belief that this was the very hour of the Lord’s coming to birth.4

4 VP Bk I ch 2, p 6

5 VP, bk 1, ch 3, p 7

6 VP Bk I ch 3, p 10

Bernard’s mother died when he was 19. His companions sought to lead him astray, and being an attractive young man he encountered many women who sought to deprive him of his chastity. William wrote:

His physique was elegant, his countenance gracious, his manners agreeably polished. So endowed was he with keenness of intellect and strong, winning eloquence, that he was spoke of widely as a lad of great hopes.5

Bernard now began to consider how to escape from the world and its temptations, which included the temptation to continue his literary studies. The memory of his saintly mother, and the feeling that she would have wanted him to serve God, drew him to thoughts of conversion (this being the term for entrance into religious life). The religious experience he then had is described as follows in the Vita Prima:

(Reader 2) Then it happened, on a journey he was making to his brothers: they were engaged with the Duke of Burgundy in a siege at the castle of Grancey, and en route his anxious thoughts reached their climax. He came upon a wayside church, stopped off, went inside and prayed. Shedding abundant tears, he stretched his hands to heaven, poured out his heart like water before the Lord his God. And from that day his heart’s intent grew firm. Far from deaf was the ear that caught then the voice that ever says, ‘Let him who hears say: Come.’ Just like a fire that consumes the forest, like a flame that burns up the mountains, striking first at what is nearest and moving later to what is afar, even so, from that moment on, was the fire the Lord was kindling is his servant’s heart, desiring that it blaze out.6

Bernard’s next actions were to persuade his brothers to join him, leaving only the youngest brother to care for their ageing father. Next he persuaded his uncle, and then many of his 4

 

former companions from the nobility, to leave their wives and castles and seek conversion with him. So in 1113 thirty five men approached Cîteaux, which was at that time a tiny flock, barely holding out under Abbot Stephen Harding.

Right from the beginning of his novitiate Bernard displayed obedience to the rigorous discipline with characteristic sweetness and grace. His life of contemplation began at this early stage in his religious life: so taken up was he that he was often unaware of his surroundings. In his studies he displayed great intellectual ability, but he put down his competence in the Scriptures to meditating or praying in woodland or field; he jokingly said he had no other masters for such lessons but the oaks and the beeches. He did of course study the commentaries of the Fathers, but found that the words of Scripture inspired him most.

So now it is time to follow the events occurring when abbot Stephen Harding sent Bernard off to found the daughter abbey of Clairvaux in 1115. The dozen or so monks who went with him were surprised he was nominated as abbot since he was still very young, only 25, whereas they had entered the monastic life as mature men of more experience of the world, and also Bernard was beginning to show signs of bodily infirmity brought on by severe fasting. The valley in which they arrived had been a den of robbers named Wormwood Vale. However Bernard renamed it Claire Vallée, or Valley of Light which became Clairvaux. They had no food to cook, and survived on leaves of beech trees and bread made from barley, millet and vetches. They had to clear thorns and briars and build huts to live in.

One night Bernard was given a dream which encouraged him:

(Reader 3) He had risen early for Lauds and so he stepped outside and did the rounds of the places near at hand. All the while he was praying that God would count his worship acceptable, and that of his brothers too. Full as ever of yearning for spiritual fruitfulness, he came to a halt, and closing his eyes a little in his prayer, he suddenly saw all around, coming down from the neighbouring hillsides to the valley below, a multitude of people, variously garbed and of various walks of life, and so numerous that the whole valley could not contain them. And what this signified has now become obvious to all!7

7 VP BkI ch 5, p 26

From William’s account, we get an interesting insight into Bernard’s preaching when he was young and inexperienced. His thoughts were so elevated by his assiduous study of Scriptures and by long periods of contemplation, that when he preached he scared away most of his monks. He would speak to them in an angelic tongue scarcely to be understood. Even more so when the topic was human conduct: he would put before them ideals so sublime and would demand of them such perfection, that the sermon would seem to them indeed a hard 5

 

saying. Also when they made their confession to him, he could not understand their human frailties. Realising what a gulf was developing between him and his monks, he vowed to devote himself to contemplation and withdraw from contact with them. However he received another vision in which a boy commanded him to speak out boldly whatever the Holy Spirit suggested to him at the moment he was to open his mouth. From then on it was the Holy Spirit who spoke in him, so his speech became more effective, adding grace and authority enjoyed by his hearers, and giving him an understanding of the needs of the poor and the sinners. As a result, when he preached the word of God he made every text he propounded so understandable and enjoyable, so forceful and moving, that everyone who heard him wondered at the words of grace which proceeded from his mouth.

Luckily Bernard gained the friendship of the Bishop of Châlons, which was to stand him in good stead. As I mentioned before, Bernard became very ill due to the terrible diet he had, and on a visit the Bishop took him in hand and ordered a year of convalescence: he was to live in a hut on his own without the responsibility of running the abbey, and he was to be fed nourishing food. In the event the hut was a poor one, and the ‘rustic fellow’ (as William called him) who was meant to take care of him, gave him entirely the wrong diet. But Bernard accepted all this and his health improved, largely because of the chance to spend more time in contemplation.

At this time (1119) William of St Thierry, his future biographer, met Bernard and the two immediately struck up a deep friendship. William was able to stay with Bernard and the two held many spiritual dialogues together, particularly on Solomon’s Song of Songs. In his biography, the first Life of St Bernard, William made several observations on the life of the abbey at Clairvaux, likening it to the ancient Egyptian monasteries, a golden age in monasticism: he saw men of virtue formerly wealthy and honoured in the world, but glorying now in the poverty of Christ. He observed that visitors recognised God in the simplicity of the buildings. None of the monks was idle, but worked in silence apart from the times of divine praise; the observance of this silence instilled reverence and reminded visitors of the original religious life instigated by St Benedict; there was a large number of monks but they noticeably lived in oneness of spirit.

I hope this has given you a good idea of the foundation of the particular abbey of Clairvaux and the problems encountered. Whether it was similar at Abbeycwmhir exactly thirty years later, and whether the initial impulse to found a monastery was delayed, I hope the researches of your Heritage Trust might eventually be able to tell.

Roger asked me whether Bernard would have visited Wales. There is no record of him ever visiting the British Isles, I’m afraid. However, he had several correspondents in these islands: Gilbert bishop of London, Alexander, bishop of Lincoln, Henry I, King of England, Henry de Blois, bishop of Winchester, David king of Scotland, Thurstan, archbishop of York, Stephen king of England, Mathilda, queen of England, the abbots of Rielvaux and Fountains, Ascelin, 6

 

bishop of Rochester and there is a letter to the English people urging them to join the Second Crusade in 1146. A close friend of Bernard’s was St Malachy, archbishop of Armagh in Ireland. Another close friend was Aelred abbot of Rievaulx, whom Bernard persuaded to write the treatises ‘The Mirror of Charity’ and ‘On Spiritual Friendship’. So Bernard had alot of influence in his time, especially when one of his monks became Pope – Pope Eugenius III, pope from 1145 to 1153. The 5 books of advice which Bernard wrote for him, De Consideratione: Advice to a Pope, is still given to popes to read today. Another way in which Bernard influenced the church through the ages is less well documented, namely the influence he had on Martin Luther and on Calvin. Both studied Bernard’s writings and Luther commented: ‘I love St Bernard as the one who among all writers preached Christ most charmingly’8. And Calvin said: ‘The abbot Bernard speaks in the language of truth itself.’9 When you consider Bernard’s emphasis on the importance of learning from one’s own experience, you can see his possible influence on later protestant ideas about relying on their own insights, and not only on what priests told them.

8 Sermon 23 in 1538

9 Quoted by Thomas Merton, no reference given

10 Hardy, The Spiritual Nature of Man, 18

11 Joachim Wach, ‘The Nature of Religious Experience’ in J.M. Kitagawa, ed., The Comparative Study of Religions, 27-58. (New York, 1958) Modified by Luke Timothy Johnson, Religious Experience in Earliest Christianity, 60.

Part II Religious Experience

My first studies at Lampeter University were for an MA in Religious Experience, based in the Religious Experience Research Centre there, which had been founded by Sir Alister Hardy at Oxford. In 1969, he asked for accounts from all who had been conscious of, and perhaps influenced by, a power outside themselves, whether they called it the power of God or not.10 He received over 3000 replies to this request, and from a study of these he derived the idea that a particular type of human experience, which he called religious experience, exists. Later writers have tried to define exactly what is meant by this, and a useful definition is as follows:

Religious experience is a response to that which is perceived as ultimate, involving the whole person, characterised by a peculiar intensity, and issuing in action.11

The intensity never fades. It is not like a dream which fades, but it remains fresh always. All religious experience has been found to display certain defining characteristics, some but not all of which are invariably present. Some characteristics were first described by William James in his book The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902): ineffability (words are inadequate to describe the experience), noetic quality (a sense of deep knowledge beyond the ordinary), transiency (the experience does not last long), and passivity (it is given by grace - you can’t make it happen). These four characteristics can be found in the whole 7

 

range of religious experience, plus one or more of the following: immediacy (no intermediary is involved), bliss, love, awe, light, burning, a sense of presence, going out of one’s self, union with God.12 The experience can be a momentary illumination in the course of everyday life, or a longer period of ecstasy.

12 James The Varieties, 380-381. The four characteristics were applied by James to mystical experience, but are now also applied to all religious experience.

13 John Cassian, trans. Boniface Ramsey, Conferences, conference 19.VII.

14 SC 3.1. In the footnotes SC will refer to Bernard’s Sermons on the Song of Songs, the first number indicating the sermon and the second number the paragraph.

15 Bernard McGinn, The Growth of Mysticism, 186, referring to Henri de Lubac, Medieval Exegesis, vol. I, 121-125.

16 SC 3.1. These sermons were started in 1135.

17 SC 4.1

Throughout his writings, Bernard emphasised the importance of learning from one’s own experience. John Cassian, in the fifth century, had described experience as a teacher,13 but Bernard introduced the idea of the ‘book’ of experience, liber experientiae.14 Traditionally, the books of Creation and of Scripture had been considered, by the Fathers before Bernard, to contain all that was needed for Christian teaching.15 But to these two books Bernard added this third liber experientiae. So at the beginning of his sermons on The Song of Songs, Bernard exclaimed:

Today the text we are to study is the book of our own experience. You must therefore turn your attention inwards, each one must take note of his own particular awareness of the things I am about to discuss.16

At the time of Bernard there was no separate category of ‘religious’ experience as all life was imbued with the holy. As I mentioned, many of his monks were mature, married men with experience of life as a knight, and family life, and they were encouraged to draw on all this. Bernard spoke fully and frequently of his own experience, thus making it accessible to his hearers and readers rather than the more theoretical theology of many of his predecessors. His allusions to his own experience are scattered throughout his writings, where they surprise and delight the reader. And on studying his accounts, I found that they displayed all the characteristics I listed above which have been found in modern studies on religious experience. I would like to give you examples of Bernard’s writings which show these characteristics in his own experience. These examples are taken from his Sermons on the Song of Songs - to focus the minds of his monks, he chose to preach on this book of the Bible: the Bridegroom (sponsus) is taken to represent the Lord Jesus Christ or the Word, and the Bride (sponsa) represents either the individual soul or the Church. He compared three kisses exchanged by the bridegroom and bride with the three stages of the soul’s advance toward perfection: the first kiss, of the feet, represents the forgiveness of sins, the second kiss, of the hands, grace given by the Lord, and the third, the kiss of the mouth, contemplative union with him.17 8

 

We can now look at some of Bernard’s experiences and I shall point out the characteristics which they display.

a) Ineffability

 

A religious experience defies description; no adequate account can ever be given of it. It can only be understood, and only in part, by someone who has also had religious experience, because the experience is associated with the feelings, or affect, or you could say the heart, rather than the intellect.18 For example, Bernard wrote:

18 James, The Varieties, 380. Bernard, SC 67.3,4, see below.

19 SC 9.3. Sed transeamus ad reliqua, quia id melius impressum quam expressum innotescit. SBOp, vol. I, 44, 12-13. ‘Better the experience than the description’.

20 SC 79.1. SBOp, vol. II, 272, 18.

21 SC 52.2. SBOp, vol. II, 91, 15.

22 SC 51.7. SBOp, vol. II, 88. 1-9.

Experience of the kiss tells more than any words.19

Bernard was attempting to pass on to his monks his own experience of the love of God, and was using the description of love in the Song of Song although, he pointed out, it is ineffable:

the sacred love which is the subject of the whole canticle cannot be described in the words of any language.20

The soul, represented by the bride in the embrace of the bridegroom Christ, ‘cannot fully express (exprimere)’ what she experiences.21

But that which is unchangeable is incomprehensible (incomprehensibile), and hence cannot be expressed in language (ineffabile)…. But we speak as well as we can of that which we do our best to understand, as the Holy Spirit reveals.22

Bernard illustrated the problem of ineffability by showing that the bride herself cannot express her overwhelming love; she simply cries out: ‘He is mine and I am his’ (Song of Songs 2:6)

(Reader 4) ‘He is mine and I am his.’

It is the affectus, not the intellect which has spoken, and it is not for the intellect to grasp…..when words ceased she could neither keep silence nor yet express what she felt….. A strong and burning love, particularly the love of God, does not stop to consider the order, the grammar, the flow or the number of the words it employs, when it cannot contain itself….. impelled by love she does not speak clearly, but bursts out with whatever comes into her mouth…..

Why should it be strange if she utters a cry rather than words; or, if she seems to form words, that they should be inarticulate, not polished or well-chosen?23 9

 

23 SC 67.3,4. Bernard quoted the Song of Songs, 2:16, Dilectus meus mihi et ego illi.

24 James, The Varieties, 380. ‘Noetic’ is a term derived from the Greek νοητίχός = intellectual. It was first used in 1653. Oxford English Dictionary (compact edition 1979). As can be seen from the definition given by James, he used it to refer to something ineffably deeper than discursive intellect.

25 SC 8.5

26 SC 28.9

27 SC 57.8. SBOp, vol. II, 124, 8-10.

28 SC 28.9. SBOp, vol. I, 198, 21-2. Quoting Ephesians 3:18 and I Cor 2:9.

29 SC 23.15. SBOp, vol I, 148, 20 and 149, 10-12.

30 SC 23.15. SBOp, vol. I, 148, 20.

31Daniel O’Donovan, trans,De Gratia et Libero Arbitrio, chapter 5.15. SBOp, vol. III, 177, 8.

b) Noetic Quality

 

Noetic quality means that in the experience there is a sense of perfect understanding and knowledge. William James defined this quality as ‘insight into depths of truth unplumbed by the discursive intellect.’24 Bernard showed that by faith one can experience ‘the light of knowledge’.25 Such noetic illumination is denied to ordinary thought processes, which he suggested are based on the senses.26 In his sermons, Bernard described how ‘the fire of love’ brings noetic understanding when considering some passages of Scripture:

(Reader 5) There follows an immediate and unaccustomed expansion of the mind, an infusion of light that illuminates the intellect to understand Scripture and comprehend the mysteries.27

In its deep and mystical breast, faith can grasp what is the length and breadth and height and depth. ‘What eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived,’ is borne within itself by faith, as if wrapped in a covering and kept under seal.28

“Happy is the man whose fault is forgiven, whose sin is blotted out.” (Ps 31:1) When I say these words I am suddenly inspired with so great a confidence, filled with such joy, that it surpasses the fear I experienced.29

c) Transience

 

Almost all religious experiences are fleeting, and Bernard often lamented this fact:

Alas! How rare the time, and how short the stay! 30

Those who are caught up in heavenly bliss through contemplation, do so ‘rarely and fleetingly’ (raro raptimque).31 Contemplation is the setting for other descriptions of the transience of a religious experience, including mystical experience. 10

 

(Reader 6) [The soul]….warms with the love of something conjectured rather than seen, momentarily, as if in the flash of a passing spark, and touched scantily and barely: a fleeting glimpse of the sparkling glory as it passes.32

32 SC 18.6. First translation by Cuthbert Butler, Western Mysticism, 120. Second translation by Kilian Walsh, Cistercian Fathers Series. SBOp, vol. I, 107, 18.

33 SC 41.3. SBOp, vol. II, 30, 21-22.

34 De Consideratione, book V.14.32. SBOp, vol. III, 493, 6-9.

35 Emero Stiegman (trans), On Loving God.De Diligendo Deo, 10.27. SBOp, vol. III, 142, 13-15.

36 Emero Stiegman Trans), On Loving God.De Diligendo Deo, 10.27. SBOp, vol. III, 142, 15.

37 The Song of Songs 1:3

38 SC 21.4. SBOp, vol. I, 124, 9-20.

39 SC 52.2 and 52.6. As discussed above, when Bernard wrote about the bride he was referring to the soul or the Church, but all based on his own experience.

a vision of God that suddenly shines into the mind with the swiftness of a lightning-flash……33

sometimes this contemplation holds the onlooker suspended in astonishment and ecstasy, if only for a brief moment……34

I would say that man is blessed and holy to whom it is given to experience something of this sort, so rare in life, even if it be but once and for the space of a moment.35

d) Passivity

 

Although a person may be seen to prepare for a religious experience by contemplation or meditation, by chanting the liturgy or by ascetic practices, the experience is always seen as given by grace and is thus passive. Bernard stated this very specifically, by stating : ‘to experience is given.’36

He illustrated the passivity of the Bride by using the words from the Song: ‘Draw me after you. (Trahe me post te)’.37 He explained that ‘it is indeed necessary that we be drawn’, (propterea opus habeo trahi) because the influence of grace is needed and the guidance of the Spirit for the soul to experience God.38

Whenever the experience of rapture was spoken about, Bernard emphasised that the activity was entirely carried out by God and the soul was passive, as in the following two examples:

(Reader 7) Now [the bride] is favoured with an intimacy so great as to feel herself embraced by the arms of God…… she sweetly sleeps within the arms of her bridegroom….39 11

 

Yet to the third degree [of truth] we are not led, but snatched up in the rapture of contemplation….. the soul is led into the chamber of the King.40

40 De Gradibus Humilitatis et Superbiae, section 6.19 and 7.21

41 Probably referring to II Cor 11:1 and 12:1. This demonstrates the humility of the experiencer.

42 See Conclusion, 6.1.3. The Word is always present but we are usually unaware of his presence. Mystical experience is when the veil is lifted and we become aware.

43 Bernard alluded to the Song of Songs 4:9

44 SC 74.5 and 6

There are many, many other examples displaying these and other characteristics of religious experience in Bernard’s writings, but I would like to end with a passage in which Bernard describes the visit of the Word of God to his soul:

(Reader 8) Now bear with my foolishness for a little. I want to tell you of my own experience, as I promised. Not that it is of any importance. But I make this disclosure only to help you, and if you derive any profit from it I shall be consoled for my foolishness; if not, my foolishness will be revealed.41 I admit that the Word has also come to me – I speak as a fool – and has come many times. But although he has come to me, I have never been conscious of the moment of his coming.42 I perceived his presence, I remembered afterwards that he had been with me; sometimes I had a presentiment that he would come, but I was never conscious of his coming or his going………In my curiosity I have descended to explore my lowest depths, yet I found him even deeper. If I looked outside myself, I saw him stretching beyond the furthest I could see………….

You ask then how I knew he was present, when his ways can in no way be traced?…….he awakens my slumbering soul……he stirs and soothes and pierces my heart.43…… So when the Bridegroom, the Word, came to me, he never made known his coming by any signs, not by sight, not by sound, not by touch. It was not by any movement of him that I recognised his coming; it was not by any of my senses that I perceived that he had penetrated to the depths of my being. Only by the movement of my heart, as I have told you, did I perceive his presence……..I am filled with awe and wonder at his manifold greatness.’44

Thank you to all who have read passages for us. Thanks to St Bernard himself! 12

 

A hymn of St Bernard:

Jesu, the very thought of thee / With sweetness fills my breast; But sweeter far thy face to see, / And in thy presence rest!

Nor voice can sing, nor heart can frame, / Nor can the memory find A sweeter sound than thy blest name, / O Saviour of mankind!

O hope of every contrite heart! / O joy of all the meek! To those who fall how kind thou art, / How good to those who seek!

But what to those who find? Ah, this / Nor tongue nor pen can show: The love of Jesus, what it is, / None but his lovers know.

O Jesu, light of all below! / Thou Fount of life and fire! Surpassing all the joys we know, / And all we can desire!

www.studyspiritualexperiences.org

This is the web site of the Alister Hardy Trust

Books by St Bernard available in English Translation:

Homilies in Praise of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Five Books on Consideration: advice to a Pope

The Steps of Humility and Pride

Sermons on the Song of Songs (4 volumes)

On Precept and Dispensation

Sermons on Christmas eve to Epiphany

The Letters of St Bernard of Clairvaux

Sermons for the summer season

The Life and death of St Malachy

On Grace and Free Choice

In Praise of the new Knighthood

On Loving God