To Rainald, Abbot of Foigny
Bernard declares to him how little he loves praise; that the yoke of Christ is light; that he declines the name of father, and is content with that of brother.
1. In the first place, do not wonder if titles of honour affright me, when I feel myself so unworthy of the honours themselves; and if it is fitting that you should give them to me, it is not expedient for me to accept them. For if you think that you ought to observe that saying, In honour preferring one another (Rom. xii.10), and: Submit yourselves one to another in the fear of God (Eph. v.21), yet the terms one another, one to another, are not used at random, and concern me as well as you. Again, if you think that the declaration of the Rule is to be observed, |Let the younger honour their elders, I remember what the Truth has ruled: The last shall be first, and the first last (S. Matt. xx.16), and, He that is the greater among you, let him be as the younger (S. Luke xxii.26), and The greater thou art, the more humble thyself (Ecclus. iii.18), and Not because we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy (2 Cor. i.24), and, Have they made thee the master? Be then among them as one of them (Ecclus. xxxii.1), and Be ye not called Rabbi; and Call no man your father upon the earth (S. Matt. xxiii.8, 9). As much, then, as I am carried away by your compliments, so much am I restrained by the weight of these texts. Wherefore I rightly, I do not say sing, but mourn; While I suffer Thy terrors I am distracted (Ps. lxxxviii.15), and Thou hast lifted me up and cast me down (Ps. cii.10). But I should, perhaps, represent more truly what I feel if I say that he who exalts me really humiliates me; and he who humiliates me, exalts. You, therefore, rather depress me in heaping me with terms of honour, and exalt me by humbling. But that you may not humble so as to crush me, these and similar testimonies of the Truth console me, which wonderfully raise up those whom they make humble, instruct while they humiliate. Thus this same Hand that casts me down raises me up again and makes me sing with joy. It was good for me, O Lord, that I was afflicted, that I might learn Thy statutes; the law of Thy mouth is good unto me, above thousands of gold and silver (Ps. cxix.71, 72). This marvel the word of God, living and efficacious, produces. This, that Word by which all things are done, gently and powerfully brings to pass; this, in short, is the work of the easy yoke and light burden of Christ (S. Matt. xi.30).
2. We cannot but wonder how light is the burden of Truth. Is not that truly light which does not burden, but relieves him who bears it? What lighter than that weight, which not only does not burden, but even bears every one upon whom it is laid to bear? This weight was able to render fruitful the Virgin's womb, but not to burden it. This weight sustained the very arms of the aged Simeon, in which He was received. This caught up Paul, though with weighty and corruptible body, into the third heaven. I seek in all things to find if possible something like to this weight which bears them who bear it, and I find nothing but the wings of birds which in any degree resembles it, for these in a certain singular manner render the body of birds at once more weighty and more easily moved. Wonderful work of nature! that at the same time increases the material and lightens the burden, and while the mass is greater the burden is in the same degree less. Thus plainly in the wings is expressed the likeness of the burden of Christ, because they themselves bear that by which they are borne. What shall I say of a chariot? This, too, increases the load of the horse by which it is drawn, but at the same time renders capable of being drawn a load which without it could not be moved. Load is added to load, yet the whole is lighter. See also how the Chariot of the Gospel comes to the weighty load of the Law, and helps to carry it on to perfection, while decreasing the difficulty. His word, it is said, runneth very swiftly (Ps. cxlvii.15). His word, before known only in Judea, and not able, because of its weightiness, to extend beyond, which burdened and weighed down the hands of Moses himself, when lightened by Grace, and placed upon the wheels of the Gospel, ran swiftly over the whole earth, and reached in its rapid flight the confines of the world.
3. Do you, therefore, my very dear friend, cease from overwhelming me rather than raising with undeserved honours; otherwise you range yourself, though with a friendly intention, in the company of my enemies. These are they of whom I am in the habit of thus complaining to God alone in my prayers. Those who praised me were sworn against me (Ps. cii.8, Vulg.). To this, my complaint, I hear God soon replying, and bearing witness to the truth of my words: Truly they which bless thee lead thee into error (Is. ix.16, cited from memory). Then I reply, Let them be soon brought to shame who say unto me, There, There! (Ps. lxx.3). But I ought to explain in what manner I understand these words, that it may not be thought I launch maledictions or imprecations against any of my adversaries. I pray, then, that whosoever think of me above that which they see in me or hear respecting me may be turned back, that is, return from the excessive praises which they have given me without knowing me. In what way? When they shall know better him whom they praise without measure, and consequently shall blush for their error, and for the ill service that they have rendered to their friend. And in this way it is that I say, Turn back! and blush! to both kinds of my enemies; those who wish me evil and commend me in order to flatter, and those who innocently, and even kindly, but yet to my injury, praise me to excess. I would wish to appear to them so vile and abject that they would be ashamed to have praised such a person, and should cease to bestow praises so indiscreetly. Therefore, against panegyrists of each kind I am accustomed to strengthen myself with those two verses: against the hostile with the former, Let them be turned back and soon brought to shame who wish me evil, but against the well-meaning, Let them be turned backward and made to blush who say over me, There, There!
4. But as (to return to you) I ought, according to the example of the Apostle, to rejoice with you only, and not to have dominion over your piety, and according to the word of God we have one Father only who is in heaven, and all we are brethren, I find myself obliged to repel from me with a shield of truth the lofty name of Lord and Father with which you have intended, I know well, to honour me, not to burden; and in place of these I think it fitter that you should name me brother and fellow-servant, both because we have the same heritage, and because we are in the same condition, lest perchance if I should usurp to myself a title which belongs to God, I shall hear from Him: If I be a Father: where is my honour, and I be a Lord where is my fear? (Mal. i.6). It is very true, however, that if I do not wish to attribute to myself over you the authority of a father, I have all the feelings of one, nor is the love with which I embrace you less, I think, than that of a father or of a son. Sufficient, then, on the subject of the titles which you give me.
5. I wish to reply now to the rest of your letter. You complain that I do not come to see you. I could complain equally of you for the same reason, unless, indeed (which you yourself do not deny), the will of God must be preferred to our feelings and our needs. If it were otherwise, if it were not the work of Christ that was in question, would I suffer to be so far away from me a companion so dear and necessary to me, so obedient in labour, so persevering in studies, so useful in conference, so prompt in recollection? Blessed are we if we still remain thus until the end always and in everything, seeking not our own interests, but those of Jesus Christ.