Friday, June 5, 2015

St. Bernard on the Final Struggle of the Church

[405] 14. Consider, then, the primitive Church, and see if it was not pervaded and most fiercely assailed by the  "terror of the night." For then surely it was night, when everyone who slew the saints thought he was doing a service to God. But when this temptation had been overcome and the tempest had passed over, the Church appeared [406] in glory, and, according to the promise made to it, soon occupied the place of pre-eminence in the world. Then the enemy, enraged by his previous disappointment, cunningly exchanged the "terror of the night" for the "arrow that flieth in the day," and with it, as St. Paul speaks, wounded "some of the Church." For there arose vain men, who hungered after earthly glory and sought to make a name for themselves. Going forth from the Christian body, they began to afflict their holy mother by teaching diverse and perverse doctrines. But this second plague found a remedy in the wisdom of the doctors, as did the first in the patience of the martyrs.

15. The present generation, my brethren, is, through the mercy of God, free from both of these dangers. But it is manifestly corrupted by the "business that walketh about in the dark." Woe to this generation by reason of the leaven of the Pharisees! I mean, because of its hypocrisy, if indeed that ought to be called hypocrisy which is now too prevalent to lie concealed and too impudent to seek concealment. To-day the foul disease has spread itself throughout the whole body of Christ's mystical Bride, the more incurable in proportion as it is widely extended, and the more deadly the more deeply it penetrates. Were one to rise up against holy mother Church, teaching open heresy, he would be cut off like an infected member, and cast forth to rot. Were a persecuting enemy to appear against her, she might perhaps hide herself from his violence. But now whom shall she cast forth, and from whom shall she hide herself? All are her friends and nevertheless all are her enemies. All are her children and, at the same time, all are her adversaries. All are her domestics, yet none [407] give her peace. All are her neighbours [sic], whilst all seek the things that are their own. They are Christ's ministers, but they serve Antichrist. Honoured [sic] with the goods of the Lord, they refuse to render due honour to the Lord. Hence that worldly ornamentation which daily meets our eyes, that showy style of dress, more befitting a stage-player than a Christian cleric, that splendour [sic] of appointment which even kings might envy. Hence the gold mountings on bridles, saddles, and spurs; for such trappings are more carefully embellished than the altars of God. Hence the splended tables, furnished with costly plate and delicate viands. Hence the "drunkenness and revellings" [sic]. Hence the music of the harp and the lyre and the flute. Hencce the brimming winepresses, and the "storehouses full, flowing out of this into that." Hence the phials of sweet perfumes. Hence the well-filled coffers. It is for the sake of such things that they desire to be, and do actually become provosts of churches, deans, archdeacons, bishops, archbishops. For these dignities are not now bestowed upon merit, but are given to that "business that walketh about in the dark," namely, to ambition.

16. It was said of old, and now we see the fulfillment of the prediction, "Behold in peace is my bitterness most bitter" (Is. 38:17). Bitter was the bitterness of holy mother Church in the early ages whilst the martyrs were being slaughtered; it was more bitter during her struggle with heresy; but it is now become most bitter owing to the corrupt morals of her own children. These she can neither drive away nor flee from, so powerful have they grown, and "they are multiplied beyond number" (Gen. 22:17; Heb. 6:14). She is now attacked by an internal and incurable distemper [408], and therefore "in peace is her bitterness most bitter." But in what peace? There is peace and there is no peace. There is peace from infidels and peace from heretics, but she has no peace from her children. "I have brought up children and exalted them, but they have despised me" (Is. 1:2). Such is her plaintive cry in our day. "They have heaped contempt and dishonour [sic] on me by their shameful lives, by their shameful love of lucre [i.e. money], by their shameful traffic, by their devotion to the 'business that walketh about in the dark.'" It only remains now for the "noon-day devil" to make his appearance in order to seduce, if he can, the remnant who still abide in Christ, persevering in their simplicity. For he has already swallowed up the "rivers" of the wise and the "torrents" of the powerful, "and he trusteth that the Jordan—that is to say, the simple and humble children of the Church—may run into his mouth." This is Antichrist [1] who simulates the day, yeah, and the Meridian, "and is lifted up above all that is called God, or that is worshipped" [sic]. Him may the Lord Jesus slay "with the Spirit of His Mouth and with the brightness of His coming," as the truth and never-fading Meridian, the Bridgroom and Advocate of the Church, Who is over all things, God be blessed for ever. Amen.



1. From the translator: It may be of interest to observe that in St. Bernard's own day the coming of Antichrist was believed to be at hand. St. Norbert, Founder of the Premonstratensians, claimed to have received a revelation to that effect. He was visited by the Abbot of Clairvaux, who has left us an account of the interview in his 56th Epistle: "He declared that he knew for certain that Antichrist was to be revealed in the present generation and that he himself would live to see a general persecution. Still I was not convinced."


Source: St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermons on the Canticle of Canticles, trans. by a priest of Mount Melleray (Dublin: Browne and Nolan, Limited, 1920), 405–408, Sermon 33: "On the Three Objects of the Devout Soul's Quest, On the Mystical Meridian, and the Four Kinds of Temptation" or "Ends to Be Pursued—The Mystical Noontide; Temptations to Be Avoided," nn. 14–16.


For the last temptations of the Church, St. Bernard seems to give no indication of a solution except Christ's own second coming as when he says, "Him [i.e. the devil or Antichrist] may the Lord Jesus slay 'with the Spirit of His Mouth and the with the brightness of His coming'."

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