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LETTER XLV (circa A.D. 1120)
To a Youth Named Fulk, Who Afterwards Was Archdeacon of Langres
He gravely warns Fulk, a Canon Regular, whom an uncle had by persuasions and promises drawn back to the world, to obey God and be faithful to Him rather than to his uncle.
To the honourable young man Fulk, Brother Bernard, a sinner, wishes such joy in youth as in old age he will not regret.
1. I do not wonder at your surprise; I should wonder if you were not suprised [sic] that I should write to you, a countryman to a citizen, a monk to a scholastic,7070 Either a canon holding a prebend of theology or simply a student—here probably the former. But see n. 7.—[E.] there being no apparent or pressing reason for so doing. But if you recall what is written—I am debtor both to the wise and to the unwise (Rom. i. 14), and that Charity seeketh not her own (1 Cor. xiii. 5)—perhaps you will understand that what it orders is not mere presumption. For it is Charity which compels me to reprove you; to condole with you, though you do not grieve; to pity you, though you do not think yourself pitiable. Nor shall it be unserviceable to you to hear patiently why you are compassionated. In feeling your pain you may get rid of its cause, and knowing your misery begin to cease to be miserable. O, Charity, good mother who both nourishest the weak, employest the vigorous, and blamest the restless, using various expedients with various people, as loving all her sons! She blames with gentleness, and with simplicity praises. It is she who is the mother of men and angels, and makes the peace not only of earth but of heaven. It is she who, rendering God favourable to man, has reconciled man to God; she, my Fulk, makes those brethren, with whom you once shared pleasant bread, to dwell in one manner of life in a house (Ps. lxviii. 6). Such and so honourable a parent complains of being injured, of being wounded by you.
2. But in what have I injured, you reply, or wounded her? In this, without doubt, that you whom she had taken in her maternal bosom and nourished with her milk, have untimely withdrawn yourself, and having known the sweetness of the milk which can train you up for salvation, have rejected and disdained it so quickly and carelessly. O, most foolish boy! boy more in understanding than in age! who has fascinated you to depart so quickly from a course so well begun? My uncle, you will say. So Adam once threw the blame of sin upon his wife, and his wife upon the serpent, to excuse themselves; yet each received the well-deserved sentence of their own fault. I am unwilling to accuse the dean; I am unwilling that you should excuse yourself by this means, for you are inexcusable. His fault does not excuse yours. But what did he do? Did he use violence? Did he take you by force? Nay, he begged, not insisted; attracted you by flatteries, not dragged you by violence. Who forced you to yield to his flatteries? He had not yet given up what was his own. What wonder that he should reclaim you, who wast his! If he demands a lamb from the flock, a calf from the herd, and no one disputes his right, who can wonder that having lost you, who are of more value in his sight than many lambs or calves, he should reclaim you? Probably he does not aim at that degree of perfection of which it is said, If any one has taken away thy goods, seek them not again (S. Luke vi. 30). But you, who had already rejected the world, what had you to do with following a man of the world? The timid sheep flies when the wolf approaches; the gentle dove when she sees the hawk; the mouse, though hungry, dares not leave his hole when the cat is prowling around; and yet you, when thou sawest a thief thou consentedst with him (Ps. l. 18). For what else than a thief shall I call him who has not hesitated to steal that most precious pearl of Christ, your soul?
3. I should wish, if it were possible, to pass over his fault, lest the truth should obtain for me only hatred and no result. But I am not able, I confess, to pass a man untouched, who up to this very day is found to have resisted the Holy Spirit with all his power. For he who does not hinder evil when he can, even although the evil purpose may be frustrated, is not clear of that purpose. Assuredly he tried to damp my fervour when it was new, but, thanks to God, he did not succeed. Another nephew of his, Guarike, your kinsman, he much opposed, but what harm did he do? On the contrary, he was of service. For the old man at length unwillingly desisted from persecution, and as the youth, his nephew, remained unsubdued, he was the more meritorious for his temptation. But, alas! how was he able to overcome you, who was not able to overcome him? Was he stronger or more prudent than you? Assuredly those who knew both before preferred Fulk to Guarike. But the event of the combat showed that men’s judgment had erred.
4. But what shall I say concerning the malice of an uncle who withdraws his own nephews from the Christian warfare to drag them with himself to perdition? Is it thus he is accustomed to benefit his friends? Those whom Christ calls to abide with Him for ever this uncle calls back to burn with him for evermore. I wonder if Christ is not reproving him when he says, How often would I have gathered thy nephews as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings and thou wouldest not? Behold thy house is left unto thee desolate (S. Matt. xxiii. 37). Christ says, Suffer the little children to come unto Me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven (S. Matt. xix. 14). This uncle says, Suffer my nephews to burn with me. Christ says, They are Mine; they ought to serve Me. But their uncle says, They ought to perish with me. Christ says, They are mine, I have redeemed them. But I, says the uncle, have brought them up. You, indeed, says Christ, have fed them, but with My bread, not thine; while I have redeemed them not with thy blood, but Mine own. Thus the uncle, according to the flesh, struggles against the Father of spirits for his nephews, whom he disinherits of heavenly possessions while he desires to load them with earthly. Yet Christ, not considering it robbery to draw to Himself those whom He has made and redeemed with His own blood, has done when they came to Him, what He had before promised, Him who cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out (S. John vi. 37). He opened gladly to Fulk, the first who knocked, and made him glad also. What more? he put off the old man and put on the new, and showed forth in his character and life the canonical function which had existed in name alone. The report of it flies abroad, to Christ, a sweet savour; and the novelty of the thing diffused on all sides brought it to the ears of his uncle.
5. What then did the carnal guardian, who lost the carnal solace of the flesh which he had brought up and loved after a carnal fashion? Although to others the event was a savour of life unto life (2 Cor. ii. 16), not so to him. Wherefore? Because the carnal man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him (1 Cor. ii. 14). For if he had the spirit of Christ he would not so greatly lament on account of the flesh that which he rejoiced over on account of the spirit. But because he relishes earthly things, not those which are above, he is sad and troubled, and reflects thus within himself: What do I hear? Woe is me! from what hope have I fallen! Ought he to do anything without my advice and permission? What right, what law, what justice, what reason is it, that him, whom I have nourished up from infancy, another person should have the good of when grown up? Now that my head is white, alas! I shall spend the remainder of my life in grief, because the staff of my old age has deserted me. Woe is me! if this night my soul is required of me, whose shall those things be which I have prepared? My storehouses are full, disgorging this one into that, my sheep fruitful, abounding in their goings forth; my oxen fat, and for whom shall these remain? My lands, my meadows, my houses, my vases of gold and of silver, for whom have they been amassed? Certain of the richer and more profitable honours of my Church I had acquired for myself; the rest, although I could not have them, I hoped that Fulk should. What then shall I do? Because of him shall I lose so much? For whatever I possess, without him, I reckon as lost. Rather than that I will both retain them, and recall him if I can. What is done cannot be undone; what is heard cannot be concealed. Fulk is a Canon Regular, and if he returns to the world will be remarked and disgraced. But it is better to hear that about him than to live without him. Let integrity yield to convenience, shame to necessity. I prefer not to spare the ingenuousness of a youth, rather than to undergo miserable melancholy.
6. Adopting then this counsel of the flesh, forgetful of reason and law, as it were a lion prepared for prey; and as a lioness robbed of her whelp, raging and roaring, not respecting holy things, he burst into the dwelling of the saints, in which Christ had hidden his young soldier from the strife of tongues, who was one day to be adjoined to the company of Angels. He demands that his nephew be restored to him; he loudly complains that by him he had been wrongly deserted; while Christ resists, saying, Unhappy man, what are you doing? Why do you rob? Why persecute Me? Is it not enough that you have taken away your own soul from Me, and the souls of many others by your example, but you must tear him also from My hand with impious daring? Do you not fear the coming judgment, or do you despise My terrors? Upon whom do you wage war? Upon the terrible One, who takes away the spirit of princes (Ps. lxxvi. 12). Madman, return to thyself. Remember thy last end and sin not, call to mind with salutary fear what you are. And thou, O youth, He says, if thou dost assent and agree to his wishes thou shaft die the death.7171 Bernard usually shows himself very doubtful of the salvation of those who, having been tailed by God to the religious state, had not yielded to their vocation, and much more of those who, having entered it, though not made profession, had returned to the world. See Letters 107 and 108. But Fulk had actually made profession. Remember that Lot’s wife was, indeed, delivered from Sodom because she believed God, but was transformed in the way because she looked back (Gen. xix. 26). Learn in the Gospel that he who has once put his hand to the plough to him it is not permitted to look back (Luke ix. 62). Your uncle, who has already lost his own soul, seeks yours. The words of his mouth are iniquity and guile. Do not learn, my son, to do evil (Ps. xxxvi. 4). Do not turn aside to vanities and falsehoods (Ps. xl. 4). Behold in the way in which you walk he hides snares—he has stretched nets. His discourses are smooth as butter, and yet they are sharp spears (Ps. lv. 21). See, my son, that you are not taken with lying lips and a deceitful tongue. Let divine fear transfix your flesh, that the desire of the flesh may not deceive you. It flatters, but under its tongue is suffering and sorrow; it weeps, but betrays; it betrays to catch the poor when it has attracted him (Ps. x. 9). Beware, I say, My son, that you do not confer with flesh and blood (Gal. i. 16), for My sword shall devour flesh (Deut. xxxii. 42). Despise entreaties and promises. He promises great things, but I greater; he offers more, but I most of all. Will you throw away heavenly things for earthly, eternal for temporal? Otherwise it behoves you to dissolve the vows which your lips have pronounced. He is rightly required to dissolve who was not forced to vow, for, although I did not repulse you when you knocked, I did not oblige you to enter. You cannot, therefore, put aside what you promised of your own accord. Behold each of you I warn, and to each give salutary counsel. Do not you, He says to the uncle, draw back a regular to the world, for in so doing you make him to apostatize. Do not you, a regular, follow the secular life, for in so doing you persecute Me. If you seduce a soul for which I died you make yourself an enemy of My cross. He who does not gather with Me scatters (S. Matt. xii. 30). How much more he who scatters what has been gathered? And you, if you consent to him you dissent from Me, for he who is not with Me is against Me (ibid.). How much more is he who was with Me against Me if he deserts? You, if you lead astray a boy who has come to Me, shall be adjudged a seducer and profaner, but you, if you destroy what you had built, shall make yourself a deceiver. Both of you must stand at My tribunal and by Me be judged—the one for his prevarication, the other for the leading astray; and if the one shall die in his iniquity his blood shall be required at the hand of his seducer (Ezek. iii. 18). These and similar warnings Thou, O Christ, didst invisibly thunder to each, I appeal to their conscience as witness. Thou didst knock at the doors of the mind of each with kindly terrors. Who would not fear them and recover wisdom in fearing, unless it were one like the deaf adder, that stoppeth her ear and refuseth to hear the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely (Ps. lviii. 4, 5), who either does not hear, or pretends that he hears not?
7. But how far do I draw out this letter, already too long, before speaking of a thing that is worthy only of silence? In what circuitous paths do I approach the truth, fearing to draw the veil from shame! I say with shame. That what is known to many I cannot conceal if I would. But why with shame? Why should I be ashamed to write what it did not shame them to do? If they are ashamed to hear what they shamelessly did, let them not be ashamed to amend what they were reluctant to hear. Alas! neither fear nor reason could keep back the one from seduction, nor shame or his profession the other from prevarication. What more? A deceitful tongue fits hasty words; it conceiveth sorrow, and brings forth iniquity. Your Church received its scholar, whom it had better have been without. So formerly Lyons recovered, without credit, by the zeal and pertinacity of its dean, its canon whom it had well lost, the nephew of the same dean. Just as the one snatched Fulk from S. Augustine, so the other Othbert from S. Benedict. How much more beautiful that a religious youth should draw to himself a worldly old man, and so each should be victorious, than that the worldly should draw back to himself the religious, in which each is vanquished! Oh, unhappy old man! Oh, cruel uncle! who, already decrepit and soon about to die, before dying have slain the soul of your nephew, whom you have deprived of the inheritance of Christ in order that you might have an heir of your sins. But he who is evil to himself, to whom is he good? He preferred to have a successor in his riches rather than an intercessor for his iniquities.
8. But what have I to do with Deans, who are our instructors, and have acquired authority in the Churches. They hold the key of knowledge, and take the highest seats in the synagogues. They judge their subjects at their will, they recall fugitives, and when they are recalled scatter them again as they choose. What have I to do with that? I confess that because of you, my Fulk, I have exceeded somewhat the degree proper to my humility in speaking of these, since I wished to be indulgent to your fault, and make your shame little in comparison. I pass over these that they may not have ground to rail, not at the blame, but at him who blames, for they would rather find fault with my presumption than occupy themselves with their own correction. At all events it is not a prince of the Church that I have undertaken to reprimand, but a young student, gentle and obedient. Unless, perhaps, you show yourself to be a child in sense, not in malice, and object to my boldness, saying, What has he to do with me? What do the faults which I commit matter to him? Am I a monk? And to this I confess I have nothing to answer, except that I counted, in addressing myself to you, on the sweetness of character with which you are endowed by nature, and that I was actuated by the love of God, to which I appealed in the first words of my letter. It was in zeal for Him that, pitying your error and your unhappiness, I was moved to interfere beyond my custom in order to save you, although you were not mine.7272 i.e., not owing me obedience as a monk. Your serious fall and miserable case has moved me thus to presume. For whom of your contemporaries have you seen me reprimand? To whom have I ever addressed even the briefest letter? Not that I regarded them as saints, nor had nothing to blame in them.
9. Why, then, you will say, do you blame me especially, when in others you see what you might, perhaps, more justly find fault with? To which I reply: Because of the excessiveness of your error, of the enormity of your fault, for although many others live loosely, without rule and discipline, yet they have not yet professed obedience to these. They are sinners indeed, but not apostates. But you, however honourably and quietly you may live, although you may conduct yourself chastely, soberly, and religiously, yet your piety is not acceptable to God, because it is rendered valueless by the violation of your vow. Therefore, beloved, do not compare yourself with your contemporaries, from whom the profession which you have made separates you, nor flatter yourself so much because of your self-restraint in comparison with men of the world, since the Lord says to you I would thou wert hot or cold (Apoc. iii. 15, 16). Here is plainly shown that you please God less, being lukewarm, than if you were even such as those are, entirely cold towards Him. For them God waits patiently until their cold shall pass into heat, but you He sees with displeasure to have fallen away to lukewarmness, after having been fervent in warmth. And because I have found thee lukewarm, He says, I will vomit thee from My mouth (ibid.) and deservedly, because you have returned to your vomit and rejected His grace!
10. Alas, how have you so soon grown weary of the Saviour, of whom it is written, Honey and milk are under His tongue (Cantic. iv. 11). I wonder that nourishment so sweet should be distasteful to you, if you have tasted how sweet the Lord is. Or perhaps you have not yet tasted and do not know how sweet is Christ, so that you do not desire what you have not tried; or if you have, then your taste is surely depraved. He is the Wisdom of God who says: He who eats of Me shall always hunger, and he who drinks of Me shall never cease to desire to drink again (Ecclus. xxiv. 29). But how can he hunger or thirst for Christ who is full of the husks of wine? You cannot drink of the cup of Christ and of the cup of demons (1 Cor. x. 21). The cup of demons is pride, detraction, envy, debauch, and drunkenness, with which when your mind and body are saturated, Christ will find in you no place. Do not wonder at what I say. In the house of your uncle you are not able you are not able to drink deep of the fulness of the house of God. Why, you say? Because it is a house of [carnal] delights. Now, as fire and water cannot be together, so the delights of the spirit and those of the flesh are incompatible. Christ will not deign to pour His wine, which is more sweet than honey and the honeycomb, into the soul of him whom He finds among his cups breathing forth the fumes of wine. Where there is delicate variety of food, where the richness and splendour of the service of the table delights equally the eyes and the stomach, the food of heaven is wanting to the soul. Rejoice, O, young man, in thy youth! but then, when temporal joy departs in time to come, everlasting sorrow will possess thee! May God preserve you, His child, from this: May He rather destroy the deceiving and perfidious lips of those who give you such advice, who say to you every day, Good, good! and who seek your soul! They are those with whom you are dwelling, and who corrupt the good manners of a young man by their evil communications (colloquia: otherwise counsels, consilia ).
11. But now how long before you will come out from their midst? What do you in the town who had chosen the cloister, or what have you to do with the world which you had renounced? The lines have fallen to you in pleasant places, and do you sigh after earthly riches? If you wish to have both together, it will be said to you soon, Remember, my son, that you have received your good things when you were in life (S. Luke xvi. 25). You have received, He said, not you have seized; so that you may not shelter yourself under the vain excuse, that you are content with what is your own, and do not seize what belongs to another. And, after all, what are those goods which you call yours? The benefices of the Church? Certainly; you do well in rising to keep vigil, in going to Mass, in assisting at the day and night offices, so you do not take the præbend of the Church without return. It is just that he who serves the Altar should live from the Altar. It is granted therefore to you that if you serve well at the Altar you should live from it, but not that you should live in luxury and splendour at its expense, that you should take its revenues to provide yourself with gilded reins, ornamented saddles, silver spurs, furs of all kinds, and purple ornaments to cover your hands and adorn your neck. Whatsoever you take from the Altar, in short, beyond necessary food and simple dress, is not yours, and it is rapine and even sacrilege. The Wise man prayed for necessary sustenance, not for things superfluous (Prov. xxx. 8). The Apostle says, having food and clothing (1 Tim. vi. 8), not food and magnificent dress. And a certain other saint says, if the Lord shall give me bread to eat and raiment to cover me (Gen. xxviii. 20). Take notice, to cover me. So then let us, too, be content with raiment to cover us, not with luxurious and costly clothing which is worn to please women, and wakes the wearers like them. But you say: Those with whom I associate do this; if I do not do as others, I shall be remarked for singularity. Wherefore I say, go forth from the midst of them; that you may not either live with singularity in the eyes of the town or perish by the example of others.
12. What do you do in the town at all, O effeminate soldier? Your fellow soldiers whom you have deserted by flight are fighting and overcoming; they knock and they enter in, they seize heaven and reign while you scour the streets and squares, sitting upon your ambling courser, and clad in purple and fine linen. These are the ornaments of peace, not the weapons of war. Or do you say, Peace, and there is no peace (Ezekiel xiii. 10). The purple tunic does not put to flight lust, and pride, and avarice, nor does it protect against other fiery darts of the enemy. Lastly, it does not ward off from you the fever which you more fear, nor secure you from death. Where are your warlike weapons, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the breast-plate of patience? Why do you tremble? There are more with us than with our enemies. Take your arms, recover your strength while yet the combat lasts; Angels are spectators and helpers, the Lord himself is your aid and your support, who will teach your hands to war and your fingers to fight (Psalm cxliv. 1). Let us come to the help of our brothers, lest if they fight without us they vanquish without us, and without us enter into heaven; lest, last of all, when the door has been shut it be replied from within to us knocking too late, Verily I say unto you, I know you not (S. Matthew xxv. 12). Make yourself known then and seen beforehand, lest you be unknown for glory and known only for punishment. If Christ recognizes you in the strife, He will recognize you in heaven, and as He has promised, will manifest Himself to you (S. John xiv. 21). If only you by repenting and returning will show yourself such as to be able to say with confidence Then shall I know even as also I am known (1 Corinthians xiii. 12). In the meantime I have by these admonitions knocked sufficiently at the heart of a young man modest and docile; and nothing remains for me now than to knock by my prayers also, for him, at the door of the Divine Mercy, that the Lord may finish my work if my remonstrances have found his heart ever so little softened, so that I may speedily rejoice over him with great joy.
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