Just yesterday I was reading once again Jean Leclercq’s introduction to Bernard of Clairvaux’s Selected Works (in the Paulist Press Classics of Western Spirituality series), and I came across this summary of St. Bernard’s approach to conversion and holiness:
Man’s end is to recognize truth, which is God. To do this he must be aware that his relationship with God is based on need. The obstacle to the relationship is pride; the remedy is humility. Grace is the condition for meeting God in Christ. The result is the esteem man places on his dignity, rediscovered in God’s image. While self-ignorance and pride lessen man’s worth, humility, which recognizes man’s need as well as his capacity for God, reveals man to himself. In this way, he emerges from himself and ascends; he grows and reaches new dimensions of love, both for God and for neighbor. (pp. 38-39)
This is a remarkable summary of both what it means to be human and what it means to be a Christian. Leclercq (1911-1993) was no doubt assisted here by living exactly such a spirituality himself as a Benedictine monk. In fact, he had an enormous reputation in his own right as a spiritually insightful commentator and historian. Perhaps his most famous work is The Love of Learning and the Desire for God: A Study of Monastic Culture. Providentially, this book was assigned to me over forty years ago in a medieval history class at, of all places, a secular university.
What we have here is Jean Leclercq, OSB writing on the Cistercian Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. The result is the spiritual life in a nutshell. I think it worth passing on.
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