Letters of St. Bernard

To Malachy.1141.[924]

(Epistle 341.)

To the venerable lord and most blessed father, Malachy, by the grace of God archbishop of the Irish, legate of the Apostolic See, Brother Bernard called to be abbot of Clairvaux, [desiring] to find grace with the Lord.

1. Amid the manifold anxieties and cares of my heart,[925] by the multitude of which my soul is sore vexed,[926] the brothers coming from a far country[927] that they may serve the Lord,[928] thy letter, and thy staff, they comfort me:[929] the letter, as a proof of good will; the staff, to support my weak body; the brothers, because they serve the Lord in a humble spirit.[930] We have received them all, we are pleased with all, all alike work together for good.[931] But as to the wish that you have expressed that two of the brothers[932] should be sent to look out a place for you beforehand, having taken counsel with the brothers, we have not thought it meet that they should be separated one from another[933] until Christ be more fully formed in them,[934] until they are wholly instructed in the battles of the Lord.[935] When therefore they have been taught in the school of the Holy Spirit, when they have been endued with power from on high,[936] then at length the sons shall return to their father that they may sing the Lord's song, not now in a strange land,[937] but in their own.

2. But do you yourselves in the mean time, according to the wisdom given you[938] by the Lord, look out beforehand and prepare beforehand a place for them,[939] like the places which you have seen here, apart from the commotions of the world. For the time is at hand[940] when, by the operation of the grace of God, we shall bring forth for you new men out of the old.[941] Blessed be the Name of the Lord for ever,[942] of whose only gift it cometh that[943] I have sons in common with you, whom your preaching planted and our exhortation watered, but God gave the increase.[944] We beseech your holiness to preach the word of the Lord[945] so that you may give knowledge of salvation unto His people.[946] For a double necessity is laid upon you,[947] both from your office as legate and your duty as bishop. Finally, since in many things we offend all,[948] and, being often thrown among the men of this age, we are much besmirched with the dust of the world, I commend myself to your prayers and to those of your companions, that in His fountain of mercy Jesus Christ, himself the fountain of pity, may deign to wash and cleanse us, who said to Peter, If I wash thee not, thou shalt have no part with me.[949] And, indeed, I not only earnestly entreat this of you, but also require it as in some sense the payment of a debt, since I cry to the Lord for you, if the prayer of a sinner can do anything. Farewell in the Lord.


To Malachy.1141 or 1142.[950]

(Epistle 356.)

To Malachy, by the grace of God bishop, legate of the Apostolic See, Brother Bernard, called to be abbot of Clairvaux, if the prayer of a sinner can do anything, and if the devotion of a poor man is of any advantage.

We have done what your holiness commanded, not perhaps as it was worthy to be done, yet as well as was possible considering the time in which we live. So great evil everywhere struts about among us that it was scarcely possible to do the little that has been done. We have sent only a few grains of seed,[951] as you see, to sow at least a small part of that field into which the true Isaac once went out to meditate, when Rebekah was first brought to him by Abraham's servant, to be happily joined to him in everlasting marriage.[952] And the seed is not to be despised concerning which we find that word fulfilled at this time in your regions,[953] Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodoma, and been made like unto Gomorrha.[954] I, therefore, have sown, do you water, and God shall give the increase.[955] All the saints who are with you we salute through you, humbly commending ourselves to their holy prayers and yours. Farewell.


To Malachy.1143 or 1144.[956]

(Epistle 357.)

To our most loving father and most revered lord, Malachy, by the grace of God bishop, legate of the Holy and Apostolic See, the servant of his holiness, Brother Bernard, called to be abbot of Clairvaux, health and our prayers, of whatever value they may be.

1. How sweet are thy words unto my taste,[957] my lord and father. How pleasant is the remembrance of thy holiness.[958] If there is any love, any devotedness, any good will in us, without doubt the charity of your belovedness claims it all as its due. There is no need for a multitude of words where affection blossoms abundantly. For I am confident that the Spirit which you have from God[959] bears witness with your spirit that[960] what we are,[961] however small it be, is yours.[962] You also, most loving and most longed-for father, deliver not to forgetfulness the soul of the poor man, which cleaves to thee with the bonds of charity, and forget not the soul of thy poor man for ever.[963] For neither, as it were anew, do we commend ourselves unto you[964] when now for a long time we glory in the Lord[965] that our littleness has been worthy to find grace in the sight of your holiness;[966] but we pray that our affection, no longer new, may advance with new accessions day by day. We commend to you our sons, yea also yours, and the more earnestly because they are so far removed from us. You know that, after God, all our trust was in you, in sending them, because it seemed to us wrong not to fulfil the prayers of your holiness. See, as becomes you, that with your whole heart of love you embrace them and cherish them. In no wise for any cause let your earnest care for them grow cold, nor let that perish which thy right hand hath planted.[967]

2. We have now indeed learned both from your letter and from the report of our brothers[968] that the house is making good progress, [and] is being enriched both in temporal and spiritual possessions.[969] Wherefore we rejoice greatly with you and give thanks with our whole heart to God and to your fatherly care. And because there is still need of great watchfulness, because the place is new, and the land unaccustomed to the monastic life, yea, without any experience of it, we beseech you in the Lord,[970] that you slack not your hand,[971] but perfectly accomplish that which you have well begun. Concerning our brothers who have returned from that place,[972] it had pleased us well if they had remained. But perhaps the brothers[973] of your country, whose characters are less disciplined and who have lent a less ready ear to advice in those observances, which were new to them, have been in some measure the reason for their return.

3. We have sent back to you Christian, our very dear son, and yours. We have instructed him more fully, as far as we could, in the things which belong to the [Cistercian] Order, and henceforth, as we hope, he will be more careful concerning its obligations.[974] Do not be surprised that we have not sent any other brothers with him; for we did not find competent brothers who were ready to assent to our wishes, and it was not our plan to compel the unwilling. Our much-loved brother, Robert,[975] assented on this occasion also to our prayers, as an obedient son.[976] It will be your part to assist him that your house may now be set forward, both in buildings and in other necessaries. This also we suggest to your fatherhood, that you persuade religious men and those who, you hope, will be useful to the monastery, to come into their Order, for this will be of the greatest advantage to the house, and to you they will pay the greater heed. May your holiness have good health, being always mindful of us in Christ.


To the Brothers in Ireland. November 1148.[977]

(Epistle 374.)

To the religious brothers who are in Ireland, and especially to those communities which Malachy the bishop, of blessed memory, founded, Brother Bernard, called to be abbot of Clairvaux, [wishing them] the consolation of the Comforter.[978]

1. If here we had a continuing city we should rightly mourn with most abundant tears that we had lost such a fellow-citizen. But if we rather seek one to come,[979] as befits us, it is nevertheless no small cause of grief that we are bereaved of a guide so indispensable. We ought, however, to regulate passion with knowledge and to mitigate grief with the confidence of hope.[980] Nor does it become any one to wonder if love compels groaning, if desolation draws forth tears: yet we must set a limit to these things, nay in no small measure be consoled while we gaze not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.[981] First, indeed, we ought to rejoice with the holy soul, lest he accuse us of want of charity, saying also himself what the Lord said to the apostles, "If ye loved me ye would rejoice because I go unto the Father."[982] The spirit of our father has gone before us to the Father of spirits,[983] and we are convicted, not only as wanting in charity, but even as guilty of ingratitude for all the benefits which came to us through him, if we do not rejoice with him who has departed from labour to rest, from danger to safety, from the world unto the Father.[984] Therefore, if it is an act of filial piety to weep for Malachy who is dead, yet more is it an act of piety to rejoice with Malachy who is alive. Is he not alive? Assuredly he is, and in bliss. In the eyes of the foolish he seemed to have died; but he is in peace.[985]

2. Hence even the thought of our own advantage provides us with another motive for great joy and gladness, because so powerful a patron, so faithful an advocate has gone before us to the heavenly court.[986] For his most fervent charity cannot forget his sons, and his approved holiness must secure favour with God.[987] For who would dare to suppose that this holy Malachy can now be less profitable [than before] or less loving to his own? Assuredly, if he was loved aforetime, now he receives from God surer proofs of His love, and having loved his own, he loved them unto the end.[988] Far be it from us, holy soul, to esteem thy prayer now less effectual, for now thou canst make supplication with more vigour in the presence of the Majesty[989] and thou no longer walkest in faith, but reignest in the sight of Him.[990] Far be it from us to count that laborious charity of thine as diminished, not to say made void, now that thou prostratest thyself at the very fountain of eternal charity, quaffing full draughts of that for the very drops of which thou didst thirst before. Charity, strong as death,[991] yea even stronger than death itself, could not yield to death. For even at the moment of his departure he was not unmindful of you, with exceptional affection commending you to God, and with his accustomed meekness and lowliness[992] praying our insignificance also that we should not forget you for ever.[993] Wherefore also we thought good to write to you that you may know that we are ready to bestow upon you all consolation with entire devotion, whether in spiritual things, if in them our insignificance can ever do anything by the merits of this our blessed father, or in temporal, if ever perchance opportunity should be given us.

3. And now also, dearly beloved, we are filled with heartfelt pity for this grievous bereavement of the Irish Church.[994] And we unite ourselves the more with you in suffering because we know that by this very thing we have become the more your debtors. For the Lord did great things for us[995] when He deigned to honour this place of ours by making it the scene of his blessed death, and to enrich it with the most costly treasure of his body.[996] But do not take it ill that he is buried among us; for God so ordered, according to the multitude of His mercies,[997] that you should possess him in life, and that it might be allowed to us to possess him, if only in death. And to us, indeed, in common with you, he was, and still is, father. For even in his death this testament was confirmed to us.[998] Wherefore as, for the sake of so great a father, we embrace you all as our true brothers, with the unstinted yearning of charity, so also concerning yourselves, spiritual kinship persuades us that you are like-minded.

4. But we exhort you, brothers, that you be always careful to walk in the steps of this our blessed father,[999] by so much the more zealously as by daily proofs his holy conversation[1000] was more certainly known to you. For in this you shall prove yourselves to be his true sons, if you manfully maintain the father's ordinances, and if, as you have seen in him, and heard from him how you ought to walk, you so walk that you may abound more and more:[1001] for the glory of a father is the wisdom of his sons.[1002] For even for us the example of so great perfection in our midst has begun in no slight degree both to expel our sloth and impel us to reverence. And would that he may in such wise draw us after him that he may draw us to the goal, running more eagerly and more quickly in the fragrance which his virtues have left so fresh behind them.[1003] May Christ guard all of you while you pray for us.[1004]


[924] When this letter was written certain brothers, sent by Malachy after his return from Rome (October 1140), had arrived at Clairvaux, and had spent some time there (see notes 5, 7); and the brothers left there on his return journey had had a considerable amount of instruction (n.7). The date is therefore not earlier than 1141. But it is evidently earlier than that of Letter ii.

[925] Cp. Hor., Sat. i.2.110.

[926] Ps. vi.3.

[927] Josh. ix.6.

[928] These were some of the brothers sent from Ireland (Life, Sec.39).

[929] Ps. xxiii.4.

[930] Song of Three Children, 16. -- They had evidently been a good while under St. Bernard's eye.

[931] Rom. viii.28.

[932] No doubt the four brothers who had been left at Clairvaux (Life, Sec.39).

[933] Matt. xxv.32.

[934] Gal. iv.19.

[935] 1 Sam. xxv.28.

[936] Luke xxiv.49.

[937] Ps. cxxxvii.4.

[938] 2 Pet. iii.15.

[939] John xiv.2.

[940] Rev. i.3; xxii.10.

[941] Cp. Rom. vi.6; Eph. ii.15; iv.22, 24.

[942] Dan. ii.20, etc.

[943] Coll. for 13th Sunday after Pentecost.

[944] 1 Cor. iii.6.

[945] Acts xv.36.

[946] Luke i.77.

[947] 1 Cor. ix.16.

[948] Jas. iii.2.

[949] John xiii.8 (inexact quotation).

[950] Mellifont was probably founded immediately after the brothers mentioned in the letter reached Ireland. The date is therefore in or before 1142. They would hardly have been sent till news had reached St. Bernard that the site had been chosen (Lett. i, Sec.2). Cp. p.75, n.4.

[951] The brothers sent from Clairvaux "sufficient in number for an abbey" (Life, Sec.39).

[952] Gen. xxiv.63 ff. -- Cp. De Cons. ii.13, where the same passage of Genesis is referred to. It is there (Sec.12) explained that the field is the world, which has been placed in charge of the Pope.

[953] Printed text patribus. I read partibus.

[954] Rom. ix.29 (inexact quotation).

[955] 1 Cor. iii.6.

[956] Mellifont had been founded a good while before the letter was written. Christian had returned to Clairvaux; and now after further instruction he was sent back, apparently as the bearer of the letter. The house had made good progress, but the buildings were still far from complete (Secs.2, 3).

[957] Ps. cxix.103.

[958] Ps. xxx.4.

[959] 1 Cor. ii.12.

[960] Rom. viii.16.

[961] 1 Cor xv.10.

[962] 1 Cor. iii.22.

[963] Ps. lxxiv.19 (vg.); Jer. xx.13.

[964] 2 Cor. v.12.

[965] 2 Cor. x.17; 1 Cor. i.31.

[966] 1 Sam. i.18, etc.

[967] Ps. lxxx.15.

[968] Apparently the returned brothers mentioned below.

[969] Cp. the passage quoted p.170.

[970] 1 Thess. iv.1.

[971] Josh. x.6.

[972] The monks of Clairvaux seem to have been reluctant to undertake work elsewhere, when St. Bernard desired them to do so (V.P. vii.52 f.); and we have one instance of an abbot of a daughter house -- Humbert of Igny -- who resigned his office and returned to Clairvaux against St. Bernard's will (Ep. 141).

[973] Printed text, fratrum. Read fratres.

[974] Evidently Christian did not prove a satisfactory abbot. This may in part account for the return of the monks who went with him to Ireland.

[975] Of this Robert, apparently the architect of Mellifont, we know nothing; for suggestions that he should be identified with one or other of the monks of Clairvaux who bore the same name are mere guesses.

[976] 1 Pet. i.14 (vg., inexact quotation).

[977] Clearly this letter must have been penned a few days after Malachy's death.

[978] Acts ix.31, combined with John xiv.26, etc.

[979] Heb. xiii.14.

[980] Cp. Heb. iii.6.

[981] 2 Cor. iv.18.

[982] John xiv.28.

[983] Heb. xii.9.

[984] John xiii.1. -- Cp. Serm. i. Sec.4 f., "It is the end of labours ... and the entrance to perfect safety. Let us rejoice therefore ... with our father"; Sec.8, "Threefold is the rejoicing of the man, since he is delivered from all sin and from labour and from danger"; and words ascribed to St. Bernard in V.P. vii.49, "Believe, my son, for now thou art about to pass from death to life, from temporal labour to eternal rest."

[985] Communio for All Saints' Day (from Wisd. iii.2, 3). -- For the last four sentences of the section cp. Serm. i. Sec.5, where an identical passage immediately follows the first parallel quoted in n.3.

[986] Serm. i. Sec.1 (end) is somewhat similar in expression, and Sec.8 (end) in thought. There is a closer, but not very striking, parallel in Serm. ii. Sec.5 (end).

[987] Luke ii.52.

[988] John xiii.1 (inexact quotation).

[989] Heb. i.3.

[990] 2 Cor. v.7 (inexact quotation).

[991] Cant. viii.6.

[992] Cp. Eph. iv.2.

[993] Ps. lxxiv, 19.

[994] Cp. Serm. i. Sec.3 (beginning).

[995] Ps. cxxvi.3.

[996] Cp. Serm. i. Sec.2, "Therefore we render thanks," etc.

[997] Ps. cvi.45.

[998] Heb. ix.17 (vg., inexact quotation).

[999] Rom. iv.12.

[1000] 2 Pet. iii.11.

[1001] 1 Thess. iv.1 (vg.).

[1002] Cp. Prov. x.1.

[1003] Cant. i.3, 4. -- Cp. Serm. i. Sec.8 (end).

[1004] Col. iv.3.

chapter viii departure from ireland
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