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Some Letters of Saint Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux
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LETTER XI (circa A.D. 1120)

The Abbot of Saint Nicasius at Rheims

1. How much I sympathize with your trouble only He knows who bore the griefs of all in His own body. How willingly would I advise you if I knew what to say, or help you if I were able, as efficaciously as I would wish that He who knows and can do all things should advise and assist me in all my necessities. If brother Drogo had consulted me about leaving your house I should by no means have agreed with him; and now that he has left, if he were to apply to enter into mine I should not receive him. All that I was able to do in those circumstances I have done for you, and have written, as you know, to the abbot who has received him. After this, reverend father, what is there more that I am able to do on your behalf? And as regards yourself, your Holiness knows well with me that men are accustomed to be perfected not only in hope, but also to glory in tribulation. The Scripture consoles them, saying: The furnace proveth the potter’s vessels, and temptation the righteous man (Ecclus. xxvii. 6, Vulg.); The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a contrite heart (Ps. xxxiv. 18); and We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God (Acts xiv. 21); and All who will live godly in Christ suffer persecution (2 Tim. iii. 12). Yet none the less ought we to sympathize with our friends whom we see placed in care and grief; because we do not know what will be the issue of such, and fear lest it may be for ill; since whilst, indeed, to saints and the elect tribulation worketh patience, patience experience, experience hope, and hope maketh not ashamed (Rom. v. 3–5), to the condemnable and reprobate, on the contrary, tribulation causes discouragement, and discouragement confusion, and confusion despair, which destroys them.

2. In order, then, that this dreadful tempest may not submerge you, nor the frightful abyss swallow you up, and the unfathomable pit shut her mouth upon you, employ all the efforts of your prudence not to be overcome of evil, but to overcome evil with good. You will overcome if you fix solidly your hope in God, and wait patiently the issue of the affair. If that monk shall return to a sense of his duty, whether for fear of you, or because of his own painful condition, well and good; but if not, it is good for you to humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, nor to wish uselessly to resist His supreme ordering; because if it is of God it cannot be undone. You should rather endeavour to repress the sparkles of your indignation, however just, by a reflection which a certain saint is said in a similar case to have uttered. For when some of his monks were mixing demands with bitter reproaches because he did not require back again a fugitive who had fled to another monastery in defiance of his authority, “By no means,” he said, “wheresoever he may be, if he is a good man, he is mine.”

3. I should be wrong to counsel you thus, if I did not oblige myself to act thus. For when one of my brethren, not only a professed religious, but also nearly akin to me,1111    This was Robert, to whom Letter I. was addressed. was received and retained at Cluny against my will, I was afflicted, indeed, but endured it in silence, praying both for them that they might be willing to return the fugitive, and for him, that he might be willing of his own accord to return; but if not, leaving the charge of my vengeance to Him who shall render judgment to the patient and contend in equity for the meek of the earth. Please to warn brother Hugo, of Lausanne, with your own mouth, and as from me, not to believe every spirit, and not to be induced rashly to desert the certain for the uncertain. Let him remember that perseverance alone is always attacked by the devil, because it is the only virtue which has the assurance of being crowned. It will be safer for him simply to persevere in the vocation wherein he is called than to renounce it under the pretext of a life more perfect, at the risk of not being found equal to that which he had the presumption to attempt.


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