To the Brother of William, a Monk of Clairvaux.
Bernard, after having made a striking commendation of religious poverty, reproaches in him an affection too great for worldly things, to the detriment of the poor and of his own soul, so that he preferred to yield them up only to death, rather than for the love of Christ.
1. Although you are unknown to me by face, and although distant from me in body, yet you are my friend, and this friendship between us makes you to be present and familiar to me. It is not flesh and blood, but the Spirit of God which has prepared for you, though without your knowledge, this friendship, which has united your brother William and me with a lasting bond of spiritual affection, which includes you, too, through him, if you think it worth acceptance. And if you are wise you will not despise the friendship of those whom the Truth declares blessed, and calls kings of heaven; which blessedness we would not envy to you, nor if communicated to you would it be diminished to us, nor would our boundaries be at all narrowed if you should reign over them too. For what cause can there be for envy where the multitude of those who share a blessing takes nothing from the greatness of the share which each enjoys? I wish you to be the friend of the poor, but especially their imitator. The one is the grade of beginner, the other of the perfect, for the friendship of the poor makes us the friend of kings, but the love of poverty makes us kings ourselves. The kingdom of heaven is the kingdom of the poor, and one of the marks of royal power is to do good to friends according to our will. Make to yourselves friends, it is said, of the mammon of unrighteousness, that when ye fail they may receive you into everlasting habitations (S. Luke xvi.9): You see what a high dignity sacred poverty is, so that not only does it not seek protection for itself, but extends it to those who need. What a power is this, to approach by one's self to the Throne of God without the intervention of any, whether angels or men, with simple confidence in the Divine favour, thus reaching the summit of existence, the height of all glory!
2. But would that you, without pretence, would consider how you hinder your own attainment of these advantages. Alas! that a vapour which appears but for a moment should block up the entrance to eternal glory, hide from you the clearness of the unbounded and everlasting light, prevent you from recognizing the true nature of things, and deprive you of the highest degree of glory! How long will you prefer to such glory the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven? I mean carnal and worldly glory. For all fresh is grass, and its glory as the flower of the field (Is. xl.6). If you are wise, if you have a heart to feel and eyes to see, cease to pursue those things which it is misery to attain. Happy is he who does not toil at all after those things, which when possessed are a burden, when loved a defilement, and when lost a torment, Will it not be better to have the honour to renounce them than the vexation to lose them? Or will it be more prudent to yield them up for the love of Christ than to have them taken away by death? -- death, which is a robber lying in wait for you, into whose hands you cannot help falling, with all that belongs to you. When he shall do so you cannot foresee, because he will come as a thief in the night. You brought nothing into this world, and it is certain you can carry nothing out (1 Tim. vi.7). You shall sleep your sleep, and find nothing in your hands. But these things you know well, and it would be superfluous laboriously to teach them to you. Rather I will pray God that you may have the grace to fulfil in practice what it has been given you already to know.