Bernard’s Memoria

“Preserve without fail the memory of all those bitter things he endured for you, persevere in meditating on him and you in turn will be able to say: ‘My beloved is to me a little bunch of myrrh that lies between my breasts.’ ” Bernard of Clairvaux, “Sermon 43,” trans. Kilian Walsh, On the Song of Songs II (Kalamazoo 1983), p. 221. [Emphasis added]

Bernard of Clairvaux (d. August 20, 1153) led the Cistercian monastic movement in the first half of the 12th century.  He influenced popes, kings, church councils, and many other monks.  His preaching and writing (and those attributed to him) shaped the piety and faith of the later Middle Ages and the early modern period.  This quote derives from Bernard’s sermon on Song of Songs 1:12 (Vulgate), but 1:13 in ESV, KJV.

In this sermon Bernard exhorts his fellow monks (and later readers) to remember Christ’s sufferings on their behalf through meditation.  He states that he has done this since his conversion to the monastic life.  Then, Bernard describes the incarnate life of Christ from his birth to burial.  He concludes, “As long as I live I shall proclaim the memory of the abounding goodness contained in these events; through eternity I shall not forget these mercies, for in them I have found life.” Ibid., 222. [Emphasis added]

Bernard seeks wisdom through remembering and meditating on Christ’s suffering specifically.  The knowledge of these events supports him in tribulation and guides him through happy times.  Christ not only forgives sins, but gives an example to follow.  Therefore, Bernard proclaims, “Hence as you well know, these sentiments are often on my lips, and God knows they are always in my heart.  They are a familiar theme in my writings, as is evident.  This is my philosophy, one more refined and interior, to know Jesus and him crucified.” Ibid., 223.

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