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  • Honey and Salt
  • Written by St. Bernard
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9780375725654
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Honey and Salt

Selected Spiritual Writings of Bernard of Clairvaux

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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Bernard of Clairvaux, the twelfth-century monk who wrote that "Jesus is honey in the mouth, melody in the ear, a cry of joy in the heart," was both a mystic and a reformer. His writings reveal a mystical theology that Thomas Merton, a monastic heir to Bernard’s Cistercian reform, says "explains what it means to be united to God in Christ but (also) shows the meaning of the whole economy of our redemption in Christ." Critical of the monastic opulence of his times, Bernard exhorted his monks to consider that "Salt with hunger is seasoning enough for a man living soberly and wisely." Martin Luther believed that Bernard was "the best monk that ever lived, whom I admire beyond all the rest put together."

Bernard's zeal and charisma led to the reform of Christian life in medieval Europe. Today it is reported that Pope Benedict XVI keeps Bernard's treatise Advice to a Pope close at hand for spiritual support. Honey and Salt is an original selection for the general reader of Bernard’s sermons, treatises, and letters.

Excerpt

Chapter 1

Why we should love god and the measure of that love

You want me to tell you why God is to be loved and how much. I answer, the reason for loving God is God Himself; and the measure of love due to Him is immeasurable love. Is this plain? Doubtless, to a thoughtful man; but I am debtor to the unwise also. A word to the wise is sufficient; but I must consider simple folk too. Therefore I set myself joyfully to explain more in detail what is meant above.

We are to love God for Himself, because of a twofold reason; nothing is more reasonable, nothing more profitable. When one asks, Why should I love God?, he may mean, What is lovely in God? or What shall I gain by loving God? In either case, the same sufficient cause of love exists, namely, God Himself.

And first, of His title to our love. Could any title be greater than this, that He gave Himself for us unworthy wretches? And being God, what better gift could He offer than Himself? Hence, if one seeks for God's claim upon our love here is the chiefest: Because He first loved us.

Ought He not to be loved in return, when we think who loved, whom He loved, and how much He loved? For who is He that loved? The same of whom every spirit testifies: "You are my God: my goods are nothing unto You." And is not His love that wonderful charity which "seeks not her own"? But for whom was such unutterable love made manifest? The apostle tells us: "When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son." So it was God who loved us, loved us freely, and loved us while yet we were enemies. And how great was this love of His? St. John answers: "God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." St. Paul adds: "He spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all"; and the Son says of Himself, "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

This is the claim which God the holy, the supreme, the omnipotent, has upon men, defiled and base and weak. Someone may urge that this is true of mankind, but not of angels. True, since for angels it was not needful. He who succored men in their time of need, preserved angels from such need; and even as His love for sinful men wrought wondrously in them so that they should not remain sinful, so that same love which in equal measure He poured out upon angels kept them altogether free from sin.

Chapter II

On loving god. how much god deserves love from man in recognition of his gifts, both material and spiritual, and how these gifts should be cherished without neglect of the giver

Those who admit the truth of what I have said know, I am sure, why we are bound to love God. But if unbelievers will not grant it, their ingratitude is at once confounded by His innumerable benefits, lavished on our race, and plainly discerned by the senses. Who is it that gives food to all flesh, light to every eye, air to all that breathe? It would be foolish to begin a catalog, since I have just called them innumerable: but I name, as notable instances, food, sunlight, and air; not because they are God's best gifts, but because they are essential to bodily life. Man must seek in his own higher nature for the highest gifts; and these are dignity, wisdom, and virtue. By dignity I mean free will, whereby he not only excels all other earthly creatures, but has dominion over them. Wisdom is the power whereby he recognizes this dignity, and perceives also that it is no accomplishment of his own. And virtue impels man to seek eagerly for Him who is man's Source, and to lay fast hold on Him when He has been found.

Now, these three best gifts have each a twofold character. Dignity appears not only as the prerogative of human nature, but also as the cause of that fear and dread of man which is upon every beast of the earth. Wisdom perceives this distinction, but owns that though in us, it is, like all good qualities, not of us. And last, virtue moves us to search eagerly for an Author, and, when we have found Him, teaches us to cling to Him yet more eagerly. Consider too that dignity without wisdom is worth nothing; and wisdom is harmful without virtue, as this argument following shows: There is no glory in having a gift without knowing it. But to know only that you have it, without knowing that it is not of yourself that you have it, means self-glorying, but no true glory in God. And so the apostle says to men in such cases, "What have you that you did not receive? Now, if you did receive it, why do you glory as if you had not received it?" He asks, Why do you glory? but goes on, as if you had not received it, showing that the guilt is not in glorying over a possession, but in glorying as though it had not been received. And rightly such glorying is called vainglory, since it has not the solid foundation of truth. The apostle shows how to discern the true glory from the false, when he says, "He that glories, let him glory in the Lord, that is, in the Truth, since our Lord is Truth."

We must know, then, what we are, and that it is not of ourselves that we are what we are. Unless we know this thoroughly, either we shall not glory at all, or our glorying will be vain. Finally, it is written, "If you know not, go your way forth by the footsteps of the flock." And this is right. For man, being in honor, if he know not his own honor, may fitly be compared, because of such ignorance, to the beasts that perish. Not knowing himself as the creature that is distinguished from the irrational brutes by the possession of reason, he commences to be confounded with them because, ignorant of his own true glory which is within, he is led captive by his curiosity, and concerns himself with external, sensual things. So he is made to resemble the lower orders by not knowing that he has been more highly endowed than they.

We must be on our guard against this ignorance. We must not rank ourselves too low; and with still greater care we must see that we do not think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, as happens when we foolishly impute to ourselves whatever good may be in us. But far more than either of these kinds of ignorance, we must hate and shun that presumption which would lead us to glory in goods not our own, knowing that they are not of ourselves but of God, and yet not fearing to rob God of the honor due unto Him. For mere ignorance, as in the first instance, does not glory at all; and mere wisdom, as in the second, while it has a kind of glory, yet does not glory in the Lord. In the third evil case, however, man sins not in ignorance but deliberately, usurping the glory which belongs to God. And this arrogance is a more grievous and deadly fault than the ignorance of the second, since it contemns God, while the other knows Him not. Ignorance is brutal, arrogance is devilish. Pride only, the chief of all iniquities, can make us treat gifts as if they were rightful attributes of our nature, and, while receiving benefits, rob our Benefactor of His due glory.

Wherefore to dignity and wisdom we must add virtue, the proper fruit of them both. Virtue seeks and finds Him who is the Author and Giver of all good, and who must be in all things glorified; otherwise, one who knows what is right yet fails to perform it will be beaten with many stripes. Why? you may ask. Because he has failed to put his knowledge to good effect, but rather has imagined mischief upon his bed; like a wicked servant, he has turned aside to seize the glory which, his own knowledge assured him, belonged only to his good Lord and Master. It is plain, therefore, that dignity without wisdom is useless and that wisdom without virtue is accursed. But when one possesses virtue, then wisdom and dignity are not dangerous but blessed. Such a man calls on God and lauds Him, confessing from a full heart, "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Your name give glory." Which is to say, "O Lord, we claim no knowledge, no distinction for ourselves; all is Yours, since from You all things do come."

But we have digressed too far in the wish to prove that even those who know not Christ are sufficiently admonished by the natural law, and by their own endowments of soul and body, to love God for God's own sake. To sum up: what infidel does not know that he has received light, air, food--all things necessary for his own body's life--from Him alone who gives food to all flesh, who makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. Who is so impious as to attribute the peculiar eminence of humanity to any other except to Him who says, in Genesis, "Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness"? Who else could be the Bestower of wisdom, but He that teaches man knowledge? Who else could bestow virtue except the Lord of virtue? Therefore even the infidel who knows not Christ but does at least know himself, is bound to love God for God's own sake. He is unpardonable if he does not love the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind; for his own innate justice and common sense cry out from within that he is bound wholly to love God, from whom he has received all things. But it is hard, nay rather, impossible, for a man by his own strength or in the power of free will to render all things to God from whom they came, without rather turning them aside, each to his own account, even as it is written, "For all seek their own"; and again, "The imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth."

Chapter III

What greater incentives christians have, more than the heathen,to love god

The faithful know how much need they have of Jesus and Him crucified; but though they wonder and rejoice at the ineffable love made manifest in Him, they are not daunted at having no more than their own poor souls to give in return for such great and condescending charity. They love all the more, because they know themselves to be loved so exceedingly; but to whom little is given the same loves little. Neither Jew nor pagan feels the pangs of love as doth the Church, which says, "Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples; for I am sick of love." She beholds King Solomon, with the crown wherewith his mother crowned him in the day of his espousals; she sees the Sole-begotten of the Father bearing the heavy burden of His Cross; she sees the Lord of all power and might bruised and spat upon, the Author of life and glory transfixed with nails, smitten by the lance, overwhelmed with mockery, and at last laying down His precious life for His friends. Contemplating this, the sword of love pierces through her own soul also and she cries aloud, "Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples; for I am sick of love." The fruits, which the Spouse gathers from the Tree of Life in the midst of the garden of her Beloved, are pomegranates, borrowing their taste from the Bread of heaven, and their color from the Blood of Christ. She sees death dying and its author overthrown: she beholds captivity led captive from hell to earth, from earth to heaven, so "that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things in earth and things under the earth." The earth under the ancient curse brought forth thorns and thistles; but now the Church beholds it laughing with flowers and restored by the grace of a new benediction. Mindful of the verse, "My heart dances for joy, and in my song will I praise Him," she refreshes herself with the fruits of His Passion which she gathers from the Tree of the Cross, and with the flowers of His Resurrection whose fragrance invites the frequent visits of her Spouse.

Then it is that He exclaims, "Behold you are fair, My beloved, yes pleasant: also our bed is green." She shows her desire for His coming and whence she hopes to obtain it; not because of her own merits but because of the flowers of that field which God has blessed. Christ who willed to be conceived and brought up in Nazareth, that is, the town of branches, delights in such blossoms. Pleased by such heavenly fragrance the Bridegroom rejoices to revisit the heart's chamber when He finds it adorned with fruits and decked with flowers--that is, meditating on the mystery of His Passion or on the glory of His Resurrection.

The tokens of the Passion we recognize as the fruitage of the ages of the past, appearing in the fullness of time during the reign of sin and death. But it is the glory of the Resurrection, in the new springtime of regenerating grace, that the fresh flowers of the later age come forth, whose fruit shall be given without measure at the general resurrection, when time shall be no more. And so it is written, "The winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the flowers appear on the earth"; signifying that summer has come back with Him who dissolves icy death into the spring of a new life and says, "Behold, I make all things new." His Body sown in the grave has blossomed in the Resurrection; and in like manner our valleys and fields which were barren or frozen, as if dead, glow with reviving life and warmth.
St. Bernard

About St. Bernard

St. Bernard - Honey and Salt
St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) was born in Burgundy, France. He founded hundreds of monasteries and was canonized soon after his death.

John F. Thornton is a literary agent, former publishing execuitve, and the coeditor, with Katharine Washburn, of Dumbing Down (1996) and Tongues of Angels, Tongues of Men: A Book of Sermons (1999). He lives in New York City.

Susan B. Varenne is a New York City teacher with a strong avocational interest in and wide experience of spiritual literature. She holds an M.A. from the University of Chicago Divinity School and a Ph.D. from Columbia University.

James J. O’Donnell is a professor of classics and provost of Georgetown University. He has served as president of the American Philological Association and is a Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America. He has published widely on the cultural history of the late antique Mediterranean world. His most recent book is Augustine: A New Biography (2005).

  • Honey and Salt by Saint Bernard
  • May 01, 2007
  • Religion - Spirituality
  • Vintage
  • $13.95
  • 9780375725654

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