Three Particular Herbs

From “On Obedience, Patience, and Wisdom” (ca. 1150)

Our seasoning consists of three particular herbs, for there need to be justice in our purpose, joy in our disposition, and humility in our consideration. Insipid to God, and unsalted (so to speak) is all our obedience, and even our patience, unless God is the final cause of everything we do and suffer.  For whatever we do, we are commanded to do for the glory of God, and we are blessed not just because we suffer but only when we suffer for the sake of justice. It is also necessary, moreover, to guard against faintheartedness and sadness in everything that we do and everything that we endure, because God loves a cheerful giver…

Finally, one must avoid haughtiness above all. For if anyone be high-minded, then both the persons works and his patience will taste of emptiness, an emptiness that is most serious and most contrary to the truth. Do you see how useful it is to recognize one’s humanity in order to be prepared to keep the commandments and endure scouring? May we therefore always press on! Since we cannot avoid toil or sorrow, then let us at least work and suffer in such a way that our toil is transformed into spiritual nourishment! “Obedience” indeed, “is better than sacrifice,” and “a patient man is better than a strong man.” Disobedience can cause death: we are all tested, and we die on account of disobedience. Impatience is the ruin of the soul, for the Lord says, “By patience you shall possess your souls.: Wisdom is likewise necessary, as we said, for salvation. Similarly, not only do we lack obedience because of our disobedience, and we might lack patience because of impatience, but if we also lack wisdom, then we perish in our folly…

As for our expectations about the reformation of our bodies and our conformity to the Lord’s glorious body, it shall be from an abundant and overflowing measure… Certainly our good works shall not be lacking, but we must do our good deeds now, not then, as it is written, “For their works follow them.” Certainly then, let us rejoice and give thanks to God for these works that we accomplish by God’s grace. However, we shall not give works first place but seat them around the table, so to speak.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) was one of the most influential preachers and spiritual writers of the Middle Ages. An important leader in the Cistercian reform, he was abbot at Clairvaux and an important advisor to other church leaders. His undated monastic sermons were preached to his monks in choir. St. Bernard’s feast day is August 20. This translation is by Daniel Griggs (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2016).


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