Addendum 4, Bernard

St. Bernard on Love
There are two key texts for understanding Bernard’s teaching on love His sermons on the Song of Songs His book On Loving God 1. Song of Songs A. Love relationship between God and his bride. While he occasionally refers to the individual believer, Bernard primarily focuses on the Church. “Take heed that you bring chaste ears to this discourse of love; and when you think of these two loves, remember always that not a man and a woman are to be thought of, but the Word of God and the soul. And if I shall speak of Christ and the Church, the sense is the same, except that under the name of the Church is specified not one soul only, but the united souls of many, or rather their unanimity.” B. In his commentary on the Song of Songs, he speaks of the bride kissing the feet, the hand and the mouth. 1. Kissing Feet – Falling prostrate. Repentance (Purgation) As we approach the altar, we begin praying in a lukewarm state, and his spirit kindles our heart. We are helpless before the Lord. We weep over his feet as the women did who bathed his feet in her tears. We cannot stand under our own power. We can only stand as He forgives and gives us power to stand. He reaches down and lifts us up to Himself. This action of him lifting us up, is the gift of His hand. Thus we kiss the hand. 2. Kissing Hand – Transformation (Illumination). Kissing the hand is rejoicing in His forgiving and sanctifying power. It is the light of His glory that raises us up. 3. Kissing Lips – Intimacy (rarely and fleeting; a foretaste of heaven) (Union). He gives his Holy Spirit to fill us with His love and give us the capacity to love Him back. While Bernard speaks of the individual soul at times, he primarily means the church is the bride who kisses Christ. While we experiences glimpses of this now, it is fully consummated in the marriage supper of the Lamb. Thus every expression of devotion and every encounter with His love is but a foretaste of the glory that is to come. 2. On Loving God A. We love God for God alone. We love God without thought of reward and yet love rewards us in bring us the thing we love. Thus we cannot love something for another reason. We cannot love God for any other reason
Contemplation Retreat, Trinity Chapel, February 18, 2006, Doug Floyd - 25-

Addendum 4, Bernard than for God Himself. Otherwise, what we truly desire is that thing and not God. Bernard talks extensively about the futility of loving and pursuing other things instead of God. “It is a crooked road and an endless maze, to wish to attain all things first (i.e. before attaining God).” “I said above: The cause of loving God is God. I spoke the truth, for He is both the efficient and final Cause. It is He who gives the occasion, it is He who creates the affection, He consummates the desire. It is He who wrought, or rather, was made (i.e. is what He is) in order that He might be loved; He it is hoped, will be so fruitfully love as not to be loved in vain. His love makes our love ready and rewards it. He goes before more graciously than any other, He is repaid more justly, He is awaited more sweetly. He is rich unto all who call upon Him, still He has nothing better than Himself to give. He gave Himself to merit for us, He retains Himself to be our reward, He offers Himself as the food of saintly souls, He gives Himself as the price of the redemption of those (i.e. of every individual soul) in captivity. You are good, O Lord, to the soul that seeketh Thee: what, then, to one who finds? But in this is the wonder that no one can seek Thee save him who has first found Thee. Therefore You wish to be found in order that You may be sought, to be sought in order that You may be found. You can, indeed, be sought and found but not prevent. For although we say, in the morning my prayer shall prevent thee, there can be no doubt however, that every prayer is lukewarm which inspiration has not prevented. We must now state when our love has its beginning, since we have already told where it has consummation.” B. Love is a sting or wound that draws us to the Lord. The Church says, “I am wounded by charity.” The soul that has bee wounded by charity cannot find consolation in wealth or any other worldly things. Bernard sees love as the unsatisfied longing of the heart. He writes: “The whole life of the good Christian is a holy longing. What you long for as yet you do not see…by withholding of the vision God extends the longings, He extends the soul, by extending it, He makes room in it…so, brethren, let us long, because we are to be filled…that is our life, to be exercised by longing.” C. Every step in love is a divine initiative. God’s love is always the initiative for love in us. He loves not out of necessity but in choice. In other words, His love is complete in itself. It does not need us to complete or realize it. And yet God is moved from within, by His own will He chooses to love His creatures and invite them to share in His life of love. God creates. God ordains. God redeems.

Contemplation Retreat, Trinity Chapel, February 18, 2006, Doug Floyd - 26-

Addendum 4, Bernard “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8-9 God glorifies. The memory of God’s Presence brings joy but not complete satisfaction. It makes us hunger for more of God’s Presence. “As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness.” Psalms 17:15 Bernard pictures the resurrection as a place where the Bride is inebriated with God’s love. “This is inebriation without drunkenness. Filled with truth not strong drink; not drenched with wine but on fire with God.” C. True knowledge begins in humility, and the end of true knowledge is love. Benedictine school of love. Learning is subordinated to the search for God. All things serve this search. The danger of learning for love vs learning for curiosity. We substitute knowing for living and loving. “There is a danger in knowing more than we can love.” James M. Houston With this in mind, we can begin to understand Bernard’s approach to knowledge. Knowledge is begins in humility. True knowledge is a realization of our absolute dependence upon God. Intellect can block the soul’s progress in love through pride. When our ideas, our systems, our methods overshadow God’s love. All that we know is submitted to the cross. Intellect in its proper use works by grace to lead us deeper and deeper into love. God begins illumination by penetrating the mind. And in the journey toward God, he brings knowledge to completion in perfect love. D. We cultivate a life of love by meditating upon the life Jesus. Bernard emphasizes that redemption begins on a carnal plane, thus the incarnation. Jesus comes to us. Just as Jesus comes to man, in the flesh of humankind, he comes to each individual soul and meets them at their weakest point. He loves us at the level we can experience that love and yet his love is drawing toward Himself. Which means that love is a force that moves from flesh to spirit. At one point he use the key points in Jesus’ life to explain the transforming nature of love in the life of the soul: 1. Love enters our world as both carnal and spiritual like the baby Jesus bearing the God man nature.
Contemplation Retreat, Trinity Chapel, February 18, 2006, Doug Floyd - 27-

Addendum 4, Bernard 2. Love leads us to the sorrow of Jesus’ suffering and death for our sins. 3. Love awakens a spiritual insight as we realize his broken flesh brings salvation to our body and soul. 4. Love leads us to identify with Christ in His resurrection and ascension as we move from glory to glory. Bernard recommends meditating upon every aspect of Jesus’ life. Thus he makes a big deal of the following the rhythms of the liturgical year and using them to help us cultivate meditation upon every aspect of Jesus’ life on earth. E. As love transforms our life, we grow step-by-step. Four degrees of love 1. A man loves himself for his own sake; for he is flesh and he can have no taste for anything except in relation to himself. 2. A man loves God for himself. When he realizes that he cannot subsist in himself alone, he turns to God as something to meet his need. 3. A man loves God for God’s sake. Once he has tasted the love of God, man begins to change. The love of God is sweet to the soul and purifies his desire, so that eventually he loves God for nothing but because God is worthy to be loved. 4. A man loves himself for God’s sake. This stage may not be fully realized in this life. At this stage man is completely free from all desire except God. All that he desires for himself is only because the Father has prompted it. We taste glimpses of this now. The path of love is a path that the Holy Spirit leads us upon—step-by-step. We cannot charge ahead but must follow His guidance and trust in His strength. He will lead us through the cross. Love lays down its life and God lifts it up again. As the soul progresses, it enlarges, making room for love. F. The sign of authenticity is not simply our spiritual experience (though important) but the effect the Word has to kindle in us reforming love. The soul’s journey into perfect love is the gradual awakening of the spiritual senses. Bernard suggests that Christianity must be experiential and uses five senses to describe our experience (assuring that we do not have a purely intellectual faith), and yet he also warns that our experiences can deceive us—thus we rest in the Word of God and the tradition of the Fathers. As the five senses our kindled, we express love in all that we say and do. G. Bernard’s vision of the transforming life might be viewed in a cyclical way.
Contemplation Retreat, Trinity Chapel, February 18, 2006, Doug Floyd - 28-

Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Special offer for students: Only $4.99/month.

Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Cancel anytime.