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From No Uncertain Sound, Sermons that Shaped the Pulpit Tradition, Edited, with an Introduction, by Ray C. Petry, Professor of Church History, Duke University, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1948; pp. 143-167.

(c. 1090-1153)


THIS preacher to the centuries has the instructive contradictions and the astonishing inconsistencies of one who is at the same time a mystic, man of affairs, monastic administrator, papal advisor, crusade instigator, persecutor of heretics, and humble expositor of the Scriptures. The treatises, sermons, and letters of Bernard are, in a real sense, a living composite of the twelfth century. Homiletic materials chosen show such diverse qualities as the mystic allegorizaton of his memorable Canticles, his pastoral fire reminiscent of On Consideration, and his appreciation of the evocative Christ and Gospel, as well as the typically Bernardine theory of the grades of love. MPL 183:90-94; 867-72; 1153-55; 1184-87. Translation by Ber.Cl.Els. III, 353-61; IV, 109-15; 471-74; 511-15.



SERMON XIII FOR THE ADVENT SEASON (II. For the Eve of the Nativity)

O Judah and Jerusalem, fear not; to-morrow ye shall go forth, and the Lord will be with you. II Chron. 20:17

1.  I am addressing those who are truly Jews, not in the letter, but in the spirit: the seed of Abraham, which is multiplied according to the promise that we read was made to him. For not the children of the flesh, but the children of the promise are counted for the seed, (Rom. 9:8). Similarly, I do not speak here of that Jerusalem which killed the Prophets. How, in fact could I be able to console her, over whom the Lord wept (Luke 19:41) and which has been given over to destruction? But I speak of that new Jerusalem, which descends from heaven. Fear not, O Judah and Jerusalem (II Chron. 20:17)! No, fear not at all, ye who are true confessors, who confess the Lord not only with your mouth, but with your whole being: who are clad with that confession as with a robe, yes, your whole inward natures confess the Lord, whose very bones say: Lord, who is like unto Thee (Ps. 35:10; D. 34:10), not like those who profess that they know God, but in works they deny Him (Titus 1:16). You confess Him truly, my brethren, if all your works are His works and confess Him. Let them confess Him in two ways, let them be clad, as it were in a double robe of confession, that is, of your own sins, and of the praise of God. For then you shall be true Jews [= confessors of Jehovah, Rev. 2:9] if your whole lives confess that you are sinners, and deserving of the greatest punishments: and that God is supremely good, who foregoes the eternal penalties which you have deserved, for these slight and transitory pains. For whosoever does not ardently desire penitence, seems to say by his actions, that he has no need of it, and thus does not confess his fault: or that penitence is of no service to him, and thus does not confess the Divine goodness. Do you then be true Jews and a true Jerusalem, that you may fear nothing. For Jerusalem is the Vision of peace; the Vision of it, not the possession; on whose borders the Lord hath established peace: but not at the setting out, nor at the midway thither. If then you have not perfect peace, which indeed you are not able to have in this world, at least behold it, look forward to it, meditate upon it and desire it. Fix upon 145 it in the eyes of your mind, let your intention direct itself towards peace, do all your actions with a view to attain that peace which passeth all understanding (Phil. 4:7) and in all you do propose to yourself no other end, than to be reconciled with God and have peace with Him.

2.  It is to those who do this that I say: Fear not. Those I console; and not those who have not known the way of peace. For if to them it is said, To-morrow ye shall go forth; that is not to console, but to threaten. In truth, only those who behold peace, and know that if the earthly house of their habitation was dissolved, they shall have another of God’s building; — it is only such that desire to be dissolved and depart: not such as are turned towards folly and delight in their chains. Of such as die in this disposition, it cannot be said that they go forth into light and liberty, but rather that they enter into darkness, into prison, into hell. But to you it is said; Fear not, to-morrow ye shall go forth: and there shall be no fear any longer in your borders. You have it is true, numerous enemies; the flesh, than which no enemy can be nearer to you: the present evil world which surrounds you on all sides: and lastly the princes of darkness, who are ambushed in the air to beset your road. Nevertheless fear not, to-morrow ye shall go forth; that is, in a short time: for to-morrow means in a short time. Thus also the holy Jacob said: In time to come my righteousness shall answer for me (Gen. 30:33). For there are three epochs, and of them we read: After two days He will revive us, and the third day He will raise us up (Hos. 6:2; D. 6:3). One is under Adam, another in Christ, the third with Christ. Wherefore also it is there added: We shall know, and shall follow to come to the knowledge of the Lord (Hos. 6:3), and as it is said here, To-morrow ye shall go forth and the Lord will be with you (II Chron. 20:17). For these words are addressed to those, who have divided their days, for whom the days in which they were born have perished: that is, the day of Adam, the day of sin, on which Jeremiah called down a malediction, saying: Cursed be the day on which I was born (Jer. 20:14). All of us were in fact, born in that day: would that in all of us too it might perish: that day of darkness and gloominess, of storm and tempest, which Adam has brought about for us, which is due to that enemy which said; Your eyes shall be opened. (Gen. 3:5)

3.  But behold the day of a new redemption for us has dawned, of 146 the ancient plan of renewal, of an eternal felicity. This is the day which the Lord hath made, let us rejoice and be glad in it (Ps. 118:24; D. 117:24), for to-morrow we shall go forth. And from whence? from our sojourn in this state of existence, from the prison-house of this body, from the fetters of necessity, of restless inquiringness, of vanity, of pleasures which entangle, in spite of ourselves, the feet of our desire. What is there really in common between our spirit and earthly things? Why does it not desire, and seek, and appreciate spiritual things? O my soul, since thou art from above, what has thou to do with these lower objects? Seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the Right Hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things upon the earth (Col. 3:1, 2). But the corruptible body presseth down the soul and the earthy tabernacle weigheth down the mind, that museth upon many things (Wisd. 9:15). Many unhappy necessities of the body hold us back. The wings of the world are clogged with carnal desire and delight, so that they cannot soar; and if even the mind is raised above the earth, it speedily falls back again. Yet fear not, to-morrow ye shall come forth from this abyss of misery, of foul slime; for the Lord, in order that He might draw you forth thence, has himself plunged into it: and ye shall come forth from a state of mortality and from every corruption of sin. Spend that day then in Christ, that ye may walk as He walked: for he that says that he abideth in Him, ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked (I John 2:6). Fear not, then, for to-morrow ye shall go forth and so ye shall be ever with the Lord. Perhaps those striking words and the Lord shall be with you, are to be understood thus; that while we are in the body, we are able to be with the Lord, that is, in unity of will with Him; but not He with us, in the sense that He should be at one with our will. For we would wish to be freed; we earnestly desire to be released and go forth, but hitherto for a certain cause, He delays to grant our wish. But to-morrow, we shall go forth, and the Lord shall be with us, so that whatever we wish He will wish with us, and His will and ours will be in complete accord.

4.  Therefore Judah and Jerusalem, fear not, if you are not yet able to obtain the perfection which you desire: but let the humility of confession of your imperfection supply what is wanting in your daily life; since that imperfection is not hidden from the eyes of 147 God. If He has commanded that His precepts should be diligently kept (Ps. 119:4; D. 118:4) it is in order that, seeing our constant imperfection and our inability to fulfil the duty which we ought to do, we may fly to His mercy, and say: Thy mercy is better than life (Ps. 63:3; D. 62:4) and that, not being able to appear clad in innocence or righteousness, we may be at least covered with the robe of confession. For confession and beauty are in the sight of the Lord (Ps. 96:6; 95:6. Vulg.) if only (as we have said) it proceeds not from our lips only, but from our whole nature; if all our bones say: Lord, who is like unto Thee, and that in the pure prospect of, and desire of reconciliation with God. For to such as feel thus is the saying: Fear not, O Judah and Jerusalem, to-morrow ye shall go forth; that is to say, speedily your soul shall go forth from the body; all its affections, all its desires, which now like so many bonds, hold it still fast to the things of the world, shall be dissolved; it shall go forth from this clogging hindrance; and the Lord shall be with thee. Perhaps the time may seem to you very long, if you have regard only to yourself, and not to those things which are in relation with you. For is not the whole world in such relation? The creation was made subject to vanity: and on the Fall of man, whom the Lord had set over His house as its ruler, and the prince of His whole possession, the whole heritage was infected with him. Thence are extremities of heat and cold in the atmosphere, the soil being cursed in the labours of Adam, and the subjection of all things to vanity.

5.  Nor indeed, will the heritage be re-established, until the heirs of it return to their first state. Wherefore, according to the testimony of the Apostle, it groaneth, and travaileth in pain together until now (Rom. 8:22). It is not to the eyes of this world alone, but to those of Angels and of men [departed] that we are made a spectacle. The righteous, saith the Psalmist, wait for me, until Thou shalt restore me (Ps. 142:7; 141:8. Vulg.) And thus the martyrs, when they earnestly besought the day of judgment, not as being desirous of vengeance, but because they longed for the perfection of blessedness, which they shall then obtain, received from God this response: Endure yet for a little while, until the number of your brethren be made up (Rev. 6:11). Each of them indeed received a white robe; but they will not be vested in a second, until we too shall be vested with them. We hold as pledges and hostages their very bodies, without which their 148 glory cannot be consummated, nor will they receive those until the time when we shall receive ours with them. Wherefore the Apostle says of the Patriarchs and Prophets: God reserving some better thing for us, that without us they might not be perfected (Heb. 11:40). O if we could comprehend with what earnest and eager desire they expect and await our coming! how anxiously they enquire about, and how willingly listen to, any good actions that we do!

6.  Yet why do I speak of these, who have learned compassion by the sufferings they have themselves endured, when our coming is desired by the holy Angels themselves? Is it not from such poor worms of the earth, and from such dust that the walls of the heavenly Jerusalem are to be raised again! Have you any idea of the ardour with which the citizens of that heavenly country desire the rebuilding of the ruins of their city? With what solicitude do they await the coming of the living stones, who are to be built in together with them? How they pass to and fro between us and God, bearing to Him most faithfully our groans and complaints, and bringing back to us His grace with admirable zeal! Unquestionably they will not disdain to have us for companions, whose helpers they have already become. For are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister unto those who shall be heirs of salvation (Heb. 1:14). Let us hasten then, beloved, I entreat you, let us hasten, since the whole multitude of the heavenly host awaits us. We cause the Angels to rejoice, when we have turned to penitence; let us come forwards now and hasten to fill them with joy on our behalf. Woe to you, whoever you are, who art meditating a return to the mire, and the vomit. Do you suppose that you will thus render favourable to you at the day of judgment, those whom you wish to deprive of a joy so great, and so much hoped for? They have been glad when we came to penitence, as over those whom they saw turning back from the very gates of hell. What will now be their affliction, if they see returning from the gates of paradise and taken the backward road, those who had already one foot within its threshold? For if our bodies are still below, yet our hearts are already in heaven.

7.  Hasten, then, my brethren, hasten; for not the Angels alone, but the Creator of the Angels awaits you. The marriage feast is prepared, but the house is not yet full of guests: those who shall fill the places at the feast are still being waited for. The Father awaits you 149 and desires your coming; not only because of the great love wherewith He loved you (wherefore also the only Begotten Son, who is in the Bosom of the Father, Himself declared the Father loveth you (John 16:27), but because of His Own Self, as He speaks by the Prophet: Because of my own Self I will do this, not because of you (Ezek. 36:22. Vulg.)

Who can doubt that the promise shall be fulfilled which He made to the Son, saying Ask of Me, and I will give Thee the nations for Thy inheritance (Ps. 2:8). And in another place: Sit thou on My Right Hand; until I shall make Thine enemies Thy footstool (Ps. 110:1; D. 109:1). Now all His enemies would not be subdued, as long as they shall continue to attack us who are His members. Nor will this promise be fulfilled, until the last enemy shall be destroyed, which is death. For who knows not, how greatly the Son longed for the fruit of His Incarnation, and of the whole Life which He lived in the flesh; in short, the fruit of His Cross and Passion, the price of His Precious Blood? Will he not hereafter give over to God the Father the Kingdom which He has acquired? Will He not bring back to communion with Him, His creatures, for whose sake the Father sent Him into the world? The Holy Spirit also awaits us. For He is that Charity and loving kindness, in which we have been predestinated from all eternity: nor is it doubtful, that He wills His predestination to be fulfilled.

8.  Since then the wedding feast is prepared, and all the hosts of the heavenly court are waiting for and desiring our coming: let us, my brethren, run our Christian course not as uncertainty, let us run with earnest desire, and striving after virtue. To set out, is to make progress. Let each of us say: Look upon me, and have mercy upon me, as Thou usest to do unto those who love Thy Name (Ps. 119-132; D. 118:132). Have mercy upon me, not as I have deserved, but as They have decreed. Let us say also: Let Thy will be, as it is done in heaven; or simply Thy will be done (Matt. 6:10). For we know that it is written: If God be for us, who can be against us? and again: Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? (Rom. 8:31, 33). Is it not lawful for Me, he says, to do what I will with Mine own? (Matt. 20:15). Let these words be our consolation, my dear brethren, until we go forth from this world, and may the Lord be with us to the end. May He, in His great mercy, bring us to that 150 blessed departure and to that glorious to-morrow; may He, in that to-morrow which is near each of us, deign to visit us and to be near to help us; so that those who find themselves perhaps entangled and held back by some temptation, by his mercy who comes to preach deliverance to the captives, may be able in that to-morrow to go forth free; let us, in the joy of salvation, accept the crown of our newborn King; by His help, Who with the Father and the Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth, God, for ever and ever. AMEN.


OF THE THREE WAYS IN WHICH WE LOVE GOD (Sermon XX on the Song of Songs)

Let this sermon take for a beginning the words of a master in the spiritual life: If anyone love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema (I Cor. 16:22). Without doubt He is altogether to be loved by whom I have my very existence, my life, and my reason; and I cannot be ungrateful without being unworthy of all these. He is plainly worthy of death who refuses to live for Thee, O Lord Jesus; and he is, in fact, dead, as he who does not devote his reason to Thy service is unreasonable, and he who cares to be anything except for Thee is good for nothing, and is nothing. Indeed, what is man, except that Thou hast taken knowledge of him (Ps. 144:3; D. 143:3)? It is for Thine own self, O my God, that Thou hast created all things; and he who desires to exist for himself, and not for Thee, begins to be as nothing among all things that are. What is it that the wise man says: Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole [duty of] man (Eccles. 12:13). If, then, this is the whole man, without this man is nothing. Incline towards Thyself, O my God, what Thou hast deigned to enable me to be, humble as it is; take wholly to Thyself, I entreat, the brief remainder of the years which pertain to my poor life; and for all the years which I have lost, because I have occupied them in losing myself, despise not, I entreat, an humble and contrite heart. My days have declined as a shadow, they have perished without fruit. It is impossible for me to recall them; make 151 me in Thy goodness, at least to meditate upon them before Thee in the bitterness of my soul. Thou seest that wisdom is the whole desire and purpose of my heart: if there were any in in me it is in Thy service I would employ it. But, O God, Thou knowest my simpleness; unless it be perhaps a beginning of wisdom to recognise my ignorance; and, indeed, this is by Thy gift. Augment it in me, I pray; I shall not be ungrateful for the least of Thy gifts, but shall strive to supply that which is lacking in me. It is, then, for these Thy benefits that I love Thee with all my feeble powers.

2.  But there is a fact which moves, and excites, and fires me much more than this. Above all things, it is the cup which Thou didst drink, O Jesu, merciful and kind, the great task of our redemption undertaken by Thee, which is a stronger motive than any other for love to Thee. It is this which easily draws to itself all the love I have to give, which attracts my affection more sweetly, which requires it more justly, which retains it by closer ties and a more vehement force. To this end the Saviour endured many and great things, nor in the making of the whole world did its Creator take upon Himself a task so laborious. For in that earlier work He spake, and it was done: He commanded, and it stood fast (Ps. 33:9; D. 32:9). But in the later one He had to bear with men who contradicted His words, met His actions with ill-natured criticism, insulted His sufferings and even revived His Death. Behold, then, how He loved us! Add to this that He loved us thus of His free gift, not to make return for any love which we had for Him. For who hath first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again (Rom. 11:35)? And St. John Evangelist says expressly: Not that we loved God, but that He [previously] loved us (I John 4:10). Indeed, He loved us while as yet we did not exist; He did even more, for He loved us when we were opposed to, and were resisting, Him, as St. Paul testifies: When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son (Rom. 5:10). In other words, if He had not loved us when enemies, He would not now have us for friends; just as, if He had not loved those who did not as yet exist, they would not be existing now for Him to love.

3.  In the next place, His love is tender, wise, and strong. I say that it is tender, since He has taken upon Him our flesh; wise, since He has held Himself free of all sin; and strong, since it reached to 152 the point of enduring death. For those whom He visited in the flesh yet He loved not in the flesh, but in the foreseeing wisdom of the Spirit. For the Lord Christ is a Spirit who hath made Himself visible to us (Lam. 4:20), being moved towards us with a zeal of God, not of man, and with a love wiser assuredly than the first Adam felt for his Eve. Therefore those whom He sought out in the flesh He loved in the spirit, and redeemed in His power and courage. It is a thing full of ineffable sweetness to behold the Creator of man as a Man. But while by His wisdom He separated [human] nature from sin, by His power He banished death from [that] nature. In taking flesh He condescended to me; in separating it from all stain of sin He consulted His own dignity; in submitting to death He made satisfaction to His Father, and thus showed Himself at once the kindest of Friends, a prudent Counsellor, and a powerful Helper. In Him with full confidence I trust, who was willing to save me, who knew the means, who had the power to carry them out. The soul whom He sought out, whom He also called by His grace, will He cast out when it comes to Him? But I do not fear that any violence or fraud will have the power to pluck me out of His Hand; for in vanquishing death He vanquished all enemies, and in deluding the old Serpent, the seducer of the world, by an artifice more holy than that he had employed, He was at once wiser than the one and more powerful than the other. He took upon Him human flesh in truth, but only the likeness of sin; in the former giving sweet consolation to weak and ailing man, and in the latter prudently concealing from the devil the snare by which he was deceived. Furthermore, that He might reconcile us with His Father, He bravely underwent death and overcame it, pouring forth His Blood as the price of our Redemption. If, then, that Sovereign Majesty had not tenderly loved me, He would not have sought for me in my prison. But to this affection He joined wisdom to circumvent our tyrant ,and patience to placate the just wrath of God His Father. These are the ways of loving which I promised to give you, but I have set them before you first as shown forth in Christ, that you might hold them in greater esteem.

4.  Learn, O Christian, from the example of Christ the manner in which you ought to love Christ. Learn to love Him tenderly, to love Him wisely, to love him with a mighty love. Tenderly, that you be not enticed away from Him; wisely, that you be not deceived, and so 153 drawn away; and strongly, that you be not separated from Him by any force. Delight yourself in Christ, who is Wisdom, beyond all else, in order that worldly glory or fleshly pleasures may not withdraw you from Him; and let Christ, who is the Truth, enlighten you, so that you may not be led away by the spirit of falsehood and error. That you may not be overcome by adversities, let Christ, who is the Power of God, strengthen you. Let charity render your zeal ardent, wisdom rule and direct it; let constancy make it enduring. Let it be free from lukewarmness, not timid, nor wanting in discretion. Are not those the three things prescribed to thee in the Law, when God said; Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy strength (Deut. 6:5)? It seems to me, if no other sense occurs to you better to give to that threefold distinction, that the love of the heart answers to the earnestness of affection; the love of the soul to the purpose or judgment of the reason; and love with the strength to the constancy and vigour of the mind. Love, then, the Lord thy God with the entire and full affection of the heart; love Him with all the vigilance and all the foresight of the reason; love Him with the full strength and vigour of the soul, so that for His love you would not fear even to die; as it is written in a later verse of this Canticle: Love is strong as death, jealousy as hard as hell (Cant. 8:6; Vulg. & D.). Let the Lord Jesus be to your heart sweet and pleasant, so as to destroy the false attractiveness of the carnal life; let His sweetness overcome the other, as one nail drives out another. To your understanding and your reason let Him be a wise leader and a guiding light, not only to enable you to avoid the snares of heretical fraud, and to preserve the purity of your faith from their cunning devices, but also to make you cautious to avoid excessive or indiscreet vehemence in your conduct. Let your love be intrepid and constant, neither yielding to fear nor exhausted by sufferings. Finally, let us love tenderly, wisely, ardently, knowing that the love of the heart, which we call tender, is indeed sweet, but easily led astray — at least, if it be not accompanied by the love of the soul; while the latter, again, though it be rational, yet is apt to be weak, unless courage and ardour go with it to strengthen it.

5.  And recognise in clear examples that what I say is true. When the disciples had heard with dismay their Master, shortly before His Ascension, speaking of His departure from them, they heard from 154 Him: If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said I go unto the Father (John 14:28). What then? Did they not love Him for whose departure they were grieving? In a certain sense they loved Him, and yet they did not really love Him. That is, they loved Him tenderly, but not wisely; they loved in a carnal way, not reasonably; finally, they loved with all their heart, but not with all their soul. Their love was against the interests of their salvation; wherefore He said to them also, It is expedient for you that I go away (John 16:7), blaming their deficiency in wisdom, not in affection. When, again, He was speaking of His coming death, Peter, as you remember, who loved Him, and desired to retain Him, replied, endeavouring to hinder Him; to whom He made answer, so reproving him as to show that it was his want of prudence only that He blamed. For what is the force of the words following, Thou savourest not the things which be of God (Mark 8:33), but, Thou lovest not wisely, as following the impulse of human affection against the design of God? And he even called him Satan, inasmuch as in seeking to hinder the Saviour from dying he was an adversary of salvation, though unknowingly. And, therefore, having been thus corrected, he no longer opposed himself to the Saviour’s death when the sad prophecy of it was again made by Him, but declared that he would die with Him. But that promise He did not fulfil, because he had not yet attained to the third degree of love, which consists in loving God with all our strength. He had learned to love [God] with all his soul, but he was still weak; he knew well what he ought to do, but was without the help which would enable him to perform it; he was not ignorant of the mystery [of salvation] but he shrank from martyrdom. That love was plainly not strong as death, which yielded to [the fear of] death; but afterwards it became so, when being, according to the promise of Jesus Christ, endued with power from on high, he began to love with courage so great that, having been forbidden in the council of the Jews to preach the adorable Name of Jesus, he replied firmly to those who forbade him, We ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). Then, indeed, he loved God at length with all his power, since he did not spare his own life for that love. For greater love hath no man that this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13); and he laid down his life at that time, though he did not actually give it up. To be not drawn away by flattery, nor seduced by artifices, nor 155 violently removed from it by injuries and outrages, that is to love God with all the mind, with all the soul, and with all the strength.

6.  And notice, that that love of the heart is in a manner carnal, with which the heart of man is affected towards Christ according to the flesh, and towards the actions which He did or commanded while in the flesh. A person who is filled with that love is easily touched with any discourse which dwells on that subject. There is nothing he listens to more willingly, reads more attentively, recalls oftener to memory, meditates upon with greater enjoyment. His sacrifices of prayer receive from it a new perfection, and resemble, as it were, victims as fat as they are beautiful. As often as he prays, the image of the GOD MAN arises before him, either in His Birth or His Infancy, either in His Teaching or His Death, His Resurrection, or His Ascension; and all these, or similar images, necessarily animate the soul to the love of holiness, drive away fleshly vices, put to flight temptations, and calm desires. I consider that a principal cause why God, who is Invisible, willed to render Himself visible in the Flesh, and to dwell as a Man among men, was to draw, in the first place, to the salutary love of His sacred Flesh all the affections of carnal men who were unable to love otherwise than in a carnal manner, and so by degrees to draw them to a pure and spiritual affection. Were not those, for instance, who said to Jesus, Behold, we have left all and followed Thee (Matt. 19:27), still in this [first] degree of love? They had left all things for the sole love of the bodily Presence of Jesus, so that they were not able even to listen with equanimity to the announcement of His salutary Passion and Death as near at hand, and even afterwards it touched them with a profound sadness to look up to the glory of His Ascension. For this reason it was that He said to them: Because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart (John 16:6). Thus in the meantime He had drawn them away, and kept them, from every carnal affection by the grace of His personal Presence in the Flesh.

7.  But He afterwards pointed out to them a higher degree of love, when He said: It is the Spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing (John 6:63; D. 6:64). I think that he who said, Though we have known Christ after the Flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more (II Cor. 5:16), and perhaps the Prophet also, notwithstanding [that he lived before Christ], when he said, The Spirit before our 156 face was Christ the Lord, stood upon this higher ground; for that which he adds, Under Thy shadow shall we live among the Gentiles (Lam. 4:20), it seems that he speaks in the name of those who are beginning to rest at least in the shadow, since they do not feel themselves to be capable of sustaining the heat of the sun; and being nourished with the sweetness of the flesh, are not as yet capable of perceiving the things which are of the Spirit of God. By the shadow of Christ I suppose to be meant His Flesh, with which Mary was overshadowed (Luke 1:35), so that it was to her as a veil to temper the heat and light of the Spirit. Let him be consoled then, with the devotion of the flesh who has not as yet the life-giving Spirit, or, at least, who has Him not in the manner of those who say: The Spirit before our face was Christ the Lord, and, Though we have known Christ after the Flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more (II Cor. 5:16). For it is assuredly not without the Spirit that Christ is loved, even in the Flesh, though He be not loved in His fulness [thus]. And of this devotion the measure is this, that the sweetness of it occupies the whole heart; draws it entirely to itself from all love of the flesh or of carnal things, and frees it from their temptations; this it is to love with all the heart. Otherwise, if I prefer to the Flesh of my Lord any ties of relationship, or any pleasure that I may receive — I mean in such a way as to be able to perform fewer of those good works which He has taught me by word and by example while He abode in the flesh — does it not plainly appear that I do not love Him with all my heart, since it is divided, and I seem to have given a part to the love of Him, and a part to the love of myself. For He Himself says: He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me (Matt. 10:37). Therefore, to express it briefly, to love Jesus with the whole heart is to prefer the love of His most sacred Flesh to all things which engage our affections or our vanity, either in our own self, or that of another; in which I equally comprehend the glory of the world also, because it is essentially carnal; and those who delight in it are, without doubt, carnally minded.

8.  But yet such devotion towards the Flesh of Christ is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and a great gift; yet I must call such love carnal, at least in comparison with that other affection, which has regard, not so much to the Word as Flesh, as to the Word as Wisdom, as 157 Righteousness, as Truth, as Holiness, Goodness, Virtue, and all other Perfections of whatever kind. For Christ is all these, inasmuch as by God He is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption (I Cor. 1:30). Does it appear to you that two persons have equal and similar love towards Christ, of whom the one sympathizes indeed piously with His sufferings, is moved to a lively sorrow by them, and easily softened by the memory of all that He endured; who feeds upon the sweetness of that devotion, and is strengthened thereby to all salutary, honourable, and pious actions; while the other, being always fired by a zeal for righteousness, having everywhere an ardent passion for truth, and earnestly desiring wisdom, prefers above all things sanctity of life, and a perfectly disciplined character; who is ashamed of ostentation, abhors detraction, knows not what it is to be envious, detests pride, and not only avoids, but dislikes and despises every kind of worldly glory; who vehemently hates and perseveres in destroying in himself every impurity of the heart and of the flesh; and lastly, who rejects, as if it were naturally, all that is evil, and embraces all that is good? If you compare these two types of affection, does it not appear to you that the second is plainly the superior? and that in comparison with it the former is in a manner carnal?

9.  Yet that love, by which a carnal life is shut out, and the world is contemned and overcome, is good, though it be carnal. In that type of affection it becomes rational as it makes progress, and it is perfected when it becomes spiritual. It is called rational when in all the sentiments cherished regarding Christ the proportion of the faith (ratio fidei) is so carefully observed that no deviation is made from the pure doctrine of the Church by any apparent similarity to truth, nor by any snare of heretical or diabolical deception. As also in our personal conduct this caution must be observed, that the bounds of discretion be not exceeded through the influence of superstition, or of levity, or of the zeal of an unregulated disposition. And this it is to love God with all the soul, as I have already said. If to this be added force so great, and an assistance so powerful, as that of the Holy Spirit, so that neither troubles nor sufferings, however, violent, nor even the fear of death, can ever cause the desertion of righteousness, then God is loved with all the strength, and that is spiritual love. And I think this name peculiarly suitable to such love, because of the fulness 158 of the Spirit which so particularly distinguishes it. But I think that these observations may suffice with regard to that saying of the Bride: Therefore have the virgins loved Thee beyond measure (cf. Cant. 1:3). May our Lord Jesus Christ, who is our Guardian, deign to open to us the treasures of His mercy, that we may be able to expound the words which follow. Who liveth and reigneth with the Father, in the Unity of the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. AMEN.



(Sermon LXXVI on the Song of Songs)

In the streets and in the broad ways I will seek Him whom my soul loveth. — Cant. 3:2

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7.  But someone says: ‘How shall she believe, without someone to instruct, since faith cometh by hearing, and hearing through the word of exhortation (Rom. 10:14, 17)?’ For this God will provide. And see how they are already at hand who present themselves to instruct that new Bride, that soul who is to be united to a heavenly Bridegroom, in the truths that she needs to know; to deliver to her the faith, to teach her the form of piety and of true religion. For listen to what she goes on to say: The watchmen that go about the city found me (Cant. 3:3). Who are these watchmen? They are those whom the Saviour pronounces blessed if He, when He shall come, shall find them watching (Luke 12:37). How good are the sentinels who watch while we sleep, as if to give an account of our souls! How good the guardians who are wakeful in spirit, and pass the night in prayer; 159 who seek out wisely the devices of the enemies, forestall the designs of the evil-disposed, lay bare their snares, escape their entanglements, shatter their nets, frustrate their plots! These are lovers of the brethren and of the people of Christ, who pray much for the people and for all the Holy City. These are they who, being careful and anxious for the sheep entrusted to them by the Lord, bear them on their heart at waking, when the day breaks, to the Lord who made them, and offer intercession for them in the presence of the Most High. And though they thus watch and thus intercede, they do it, as knowing their own insufficiency to keep the city safe, and being conscious that unless the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain (Ps. 127:1; D. 126:1).

8.  In fact, when the Lord thus instructs us, Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation (Mark 14:38), it is plain that without this twofold exercise [of vigilance and prayer] by the faithful, and of sympathetic care on the part of the watchers, the city cannot be kept in safety, nor the Bride, nor the sheep. Do you inquire what is the difference between these? They are but one and the same; a city because it is an assembly of the faithful, a Bride because beloved, and a flock of sheep because of the kindness and care shown to it. Why is this Bride said to be a city? I saw (it is said) the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of Heaven, prepared as a Bride adorned for her husband (Rev. 21:2). It will plainly appear to you that the Bride is similarly called a flock, if you remember how earnestly the Saviour warned that first pastor (I mean St. Peter) to tend it with love when the sheep of it were for the first time committed to his charge. This that wise bestower of the trust (creditor) would not have done with such great care if He had not felt, from the witness of His own inmost heart, that this was the Bride of which He was the Bridegroom. Take good heed of this, O friends of the Bridegroom, if you are in truth His friends. But I have said too little in calling you simply friends. For it behoves those upon whom is bestowed the privilege of such familiar intimacy to the very closest and dearest of friends to Him. It was not without a significant purpose that, when confiding the care of His sheep to St. Peter, He repeated so frequently, Lovest thou Me? (John 21:15-17). And I think that the significance of it was as if Jesus had said: ‘If your conscience does not bear you witness that you love Me, that you love 160 Me perfectly and entirely, that is to say, more than your own interests, more than your relatives, more even than your own self, so that the number of this threefold repetition of Mine may be fulfilled, then by no means do thou take upon thee this charge, nor in any wise presume to concern thyself with My sheep, for whom My blood was poured forth.’ An address which is indeed terrible, and capable of shaking the hearts of tyrants, however hardened.

9.  Wherefore be ye watchful, whosoever of you have been chosen and called to the work of this ministry; take watchful heed, I say, to yourselves, and to the precious deposit which has been entrusted to you. It is a city; watch, then, to maintain it in safety and concord. It is a Bride; study to present her to the Lord decked with the precious jewels of abundant virtues. It is a flock; study diligently to give it needful pasture. And perhaps we may not unfitly explain by these three elements of pastoral duty the threefold question which the Lord addressed to St. Peter. Now, that the watch and ward over the city may be effective, it must be of three kinds: against the violence of tyrants, against the deception from heretics, and against the temptations of evil spirits. Again, the ornaments of the Bride ought to be of three kinds: of good works, of a saintly character, of high and noble principles. And the needful nourishment of the sheep is ordinarily indeed in the good pastures of the Holy Scriptures as being the heritage of the Lord; but there is a distinction in these. For there are commandments which are imposed upon hard and carnal hearts, as a discipline and for the law of life; and there are miscellaneous masses of dispensations, which are appointed on account of pity to those that are weak and of little courage; and there are counsels strong and solid, which are proposed from the inmost recesses of wisdom to those who have health and strength, and senses trained to discern good from evil. For to those who are as children, or, so to speak, as little lambs, is given the milk of exhortation and encouragement, not strong meat. To this end, good and careful pastors do not cease to feed their flock to fatness with salutary and encouraging examples, and preferably with their own rather than with those of others. For if they offer only those of other people, and not their own, this is to their shame, and, also, their flock do not profit. For if, to give an instance, I, who appear to bear the charge of pastor among you, should set before you the meekness of Moses, the patience 161 of Job, the mercy of Samuel, the holiness of David, and other similar examples of various virtues, and be myself impatient and severe, unmerciful, and in no way holy, my discourse would, I fear, be void of all force and unction, nor would you care to listen to it. But this I leave to the Divine goodness, that it may supply what is wanting and correct what is amiss in my conduct towards you. The good pastor will also take care to have in himself that salt of which the Gospel speaks (Matt. 9:49), knowing that a discourse seasoned with salt is agreeable and also salutary. This is what I have for the present to say regarding the safe keeping of the city, the adorning of the Bride, and the nourishment of the flock.

10.  Yet I wish to set forth the same truths somewhat more in detail, and with respect to those who, while they thirst for honours with excessive desire, and engage rashly to bear the burden of duties to which they are unequal, expose themselves thereby to very great peril, so that they may know what they are entering upon, according to the question that is asked in the Scripture: Friend, wherefore art thou come? (Matt. 26:50). If I do not mistake, for the safe keeping of the city only, it is absolutely necessary that a man should be strong, faithful, and spiritually minded. He must be strong to repulse the assaults of its enemies, spiritually minded that he may discover their crafty devices, and faithful that he may not seek to advance his own interests. In the next place, for the elevation and training of souls (for this is what is signified and referred to in the adorning of the Bride), who does not at once perceive that a firm bond of discipline, as well as a sedulous diligence, is required? On that account everyone who is engaged in this ministry needs to burn with fervent zeal. It was with this that Apostle was fired who was so jealous for the glory of the Bride of the Lord, for he said: I am jealous over you with godly jealousy, for I have espoused you to one husband that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ (II Cor. 11:2). And, lastly, [a pastor must not be ignorant], for how can one who is so conduct the Lord’s flocks to the sweet pastures of the Divine oracles? But if he be a learned man, indeed, but not a good man, then it is to be feared that he will not so much nourish his flock by the abundance of his doctrine, as he will starve them by the barrenness of his life. Without having knowledge, then, and at the same time a good and praiseworthy life, it is mere rashness for anyone to take 162 upon him the burden of this office. But see, I am obliged to come to an end, though I have not finished what I have to say upon this subject. We are called to another matter, to which it is an unworthy thing that this should give way. I am pressed on all sides, and I know not which I ought to suffer the more impatiently, to be dragged in one direction, and repressed on another, though to endure the two together is worse than either separately. O servitude! O necessity! not what I desire, but what I hate, that I do. Notice, however, where we leave off, so that as soon as it shall be free to us to return to the subject, we may take it up from this point; in the Name of Him who is the Bridegroom of the Church, JESUS CHRIST our Lord, who is above all, God blessed for ever. AMEN.



(Sermon LXXXIV on the Song of Songs)

By night on my bed I sought Him whom my soul loveth. — (Cant. 3:1)

1.  It is a great good to seek God. I think that, among all the blessings of the soul, there is none greater than this. It is the first of the gifts of God; the last degree of the soul’s progress. By no virtue is it preceded; to none does it give place. To what virtue is that added which is not preceded by any? And to which should that give way which is the consummation of all virtues? For what virtue can be ascribed to him who is not seeking God, or what limit prescribed to one who is seeking Him? Seek His Face evermore (Ps. 105:4; D. 104:4), says the Psalmist; nor do I think that when a soul has found Him, it will cease from seeking. God is sought, not by the movement of the feet, but by the desires of the heart; and when a soul has been so happy as to find Him, that sacred desire is not extinguished, but, on the contrary, is increased. Is the consummation of the joy the 163 extinction of the desire? It is rather to it as oil poured upon a flame; for desire is, as it were, a flame. This is, indeed, the case. The joy will be fulfilled; but the fulfilment will not be the ending of the desire, nor therefore of the seeking. But think, if you can, of this earnest love of seeking God as being without any deprivation of Him, and of the desire for Him as without anxiety or trouble of mind. His Presence excludes the one, and the abundance of His graces prevents the other.

2.  But now observe why I have made these introductory remarks. It is that every soul among you which is seeking God should know that it has been anticipated by Him, and has been sought by Him before it began to seek Him. For without this knowledge it might be that out of a great blessing might arise great harm, if, when it has been filled with the good gifts of the Lord, it treats those gifts as if they had not been received from Him, and so does not render to God the glory of them. It is, doubtless, in this way that that some who appeared very great before men, because of the graces which had been conferred upon them, were counted as the least before God, inasmuch as they did not render back to Him the glory which was due on their account. But in saying this, I have used inadequate terms. To spare you, I have spoken of ‘greatest’ and of ‘least,’ but I have not thus expressed my thought in all its force. I will make clearer the distinction which I have tried to mark. I ought to have said that he who is the best of men becomes in this way the worst. For it is a thing certain and without doubt that such a person becomes as blameable as he before was praiseworthy, if he ascribe to himself the praise of that which was excellent in him. For this is one of he worst of crimes. Someone will perhaps say, ‘God forbid that I should be of that mind; I fully recognize that by the grace of God I am what I am; but suppose that a person should try to take for himself a little spark of glory for the grace that he has received, is he, therefore, a thief and a robber?’ Let one who speaks thus listen to the words: Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant (Luke 19:22). For what can be more wicked than the servant usurping to himself the glory which belongs to his Lord?

3.  By night on my bed I sought Him whom my soul loveth. The soul seeks the Word, but it had been previously sought by the Word. For otherwise, when it had been once driven out or cast forth from the 164 presence of the Word, it would have returned no more to obtain the sight of the good things it had lost if it had not been sought by the Word. Our soul, if abandoned to itself, is a spirit which goes to and fro, but does not return. Listen to a fugitive and wandering soul, and lean what it complains of, and what it seeks: I have gone astray like a lost sheep: seek Thy servant (Ps. 119:176; D. 118:176). O man, dost thou desire to return? But if that depends upon thy own will, why dost thou entreat help? Why dost thou ask for from another what thou hast in abundance in thy own self? It is plain that he does desire this, and is not able to perform it; he is a spirit which goes to and fro, and returns not; though he who has not even the wish to return is farther removed still. Yet I would not say that the soul which longs to return, and desires to be sought, is wholly exposed and abandoned. For from whence comes this willingness which is in it? It comes, if I do not mistake, from its having been already sought and visited by the Word; nor is that visitation fruitless, since it has so worked in the soul as to produce that good will, without which a return would not be possible. But it does not suffice to be sought once only, so great is the languor of the soul, and so great the difficulty of the return. What if the will of a soul is to return? The will lies inoperative, if it be not supported by the power to do so. For, to will is present with me says the Apostle, but how to perform that which is good I find not (Rom. 7:18). What is it, then, that the Psalmist seeks in the passage which I have quoted? He plainly seeks nothing else than to be sought: which he would not seek if he had not been sought; and yet again, which he would not seek if he had been sought sufficiently. This latter grace, indeed, is what he entreats: Seek Thy servant (Ps. 119:176; D. 118:176); that is, that what it has been granted to him to desire, it may be granted to him also perfectly to attain, according to the good pleasure of God.

4.  Yet it does not seem to me that the present passage is capable of being applied to a soul such as this, which has not attained the second grace, and, though desiring to approach Him whom she loves, has not the ability to do so. For how can the words which follow be made to apply to such a soul; namely, that she rises and goes about the city in the streets, and in the broad ways seeks her Beloved (Cant. 3:2), seeing that she herself needs to be sought? Let her do this as she is able; only let her remember that, as she was first beloved, so 165 she was first sought; and to that she owes it that she herself loves and is engaged in seeking. Let us, too, pray, beloved, that those mercies may speedily anticipate us, for we are brought into extreme need of them. But I do not say this of you all; for I know that very many of you are walking in the love wherewith Christ hath loved us, and are seeking Him in simplicity of heart. But there are some (I say it with sorrow) who have not yet given us any mark of this saving and preventing grace being in them, and therefore no sign of their salvation; they are men who love their own selves, not the Lord, and seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

5.  I have sought, says the Bride, Him whom my soul loveth. It is to this that the goodness of Him who has anticipated you in seeking you and loving you first, it is to this that His goodness is calling and arousing you. You would not seek Him at all, O soul, nor love Him at all, if you had not been first sought and first loved. You have been anticipated by a twofold benediction, that of love and of seeking. The love is the cause of the seeking; the seeking is the fruit and the clear proof of the love. You have been loved, so that you might not fear that you were sought for to be punished; you were sought for, that you might not complain that you were loved to no purpose. Each of these two great and unmistakable favours has given you courage, has removed shyness and timidity, had touched your feelings, and disposed you to return. Hence arises that zeal and ardour in seeking Him whom thy soul loveth; because, just as you were not able to seek Him, until you had first been sought, so now that you have been sought, you are not able to do otherwise than seek Him.

6.  Again, never forget whence it is that you have come hither. And that I may apply the better to myself what has been said (which is the safer course), is it not thou, O my soul, who, having left thy first Bridegroom, but whose side all had been well with thee, hast broken the faith first pledged to Him, and gone after others? And now that thou hast sinned with them to the full, and art perhaps fallen into contempt with them, dost thou impudently and with effrontery desire to return to Him, to whom thou hast behaved with so much pride and insolence? What? when thou art fit only to hide thyself, dost thou seek the light, and though more deserving of correction than favour, dare to run unto the Bridegroom? Wonderful it will be if you do not find a Judge to condemn you instead of a husband to 166 receive you. Happy is he who shall hear his soul replying to these reproaches: “I do not fear because I love, and also I am loved; nor could I have loved unless He had first loved me. Let those fear who have no love; but for the soul that loves there is nothing to be feared. How can those who have no love do otherwise than be under constant apprehension of injury? But because I love, I no more doubt that I am loved than I doubt of my own love; nor can I possibly fear His countenance, whose affection for me I have assuredly felt. In what have I felt it, do you inquire? In this: that not only has He sought me, unhappy as I am, but has caused me to seek Him, and to feel sure of succeeding in my search. Why should I not respond to Him in His search, to whom in His affection I respond? Why should He be angry at my seeking Him, who, when I showed contempt for Him, forgave it? He sought me when I contemned Him, why should He contemn me when I seek Him? Benign and gentle is the Spirit of the Word, and gentle is His greeting to me; He makes me aware of His kindness towards me, He whispers to me and convinces me of the earnest love of the Word for me, which cannot be hidden from Him. For He searcheth the deep things of God, and knows that the Divine thoughts are thoughts of peace and not purposes of vengeance. How can I be otherwise than encouraged to seek Him, who have had experience of His clemency, and am persuaded of His reconciliation with me?

7.  My brethren, to think seriously of these truths is to be sought by the Word; to be persuaded of them is to be found by Him. But not all are capable of receiving that Word. What shall we do for the little children among us, I mean those who are still in the stage of beginners (incipientes), and yet are far from being without understanding (insipientes), since they possess already the beginning of wisdom, being subject one to the other in the fear of Christ? How, I say, shall we cause them to believe that the spiritual life of the Bride is marked by such experiences as these, since they know nothing as yet of such feelings themselves? But I send them to one, to whom they cannot refuse credence. Let them read in a book [of Scripture] that which they fail to discern in the heart of a fellow man, and therefore will not believe. For it is written in one of the Prophets: If a man put away his wife, and she go from him, and become another man‘s, shall he return unto her again? shall not that 167 land be greatly polluted? but thou hast played the harlot with many lovers, yet return again to Me, saith the Lord (Jer. 3:1). They are the words of the Lord, and it is not permitted to doubt or hesitate. Let them believe what they have not experienced, that by the merit of their faith they may one day attain the fruit of experience. I think that now it has been sufficiently explained what it is to be sought by the Word, and how this is necessary, not for the Word, but for the soul, so that the soul which has experienced this knows Him both more fully and more happily. It remains to be treated of in the next discourse how souls that thirst for Christ seek Him by whom they have been sought; or rather that we should learn that from her, who is brought before us in these verses, as seeking Him whom her soul loveth, Him who is the Bridegroom of the soul, JESUS CHRIST our Lord, who is above all, God blessed for ever. AMEN.


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