Bernard of Clairvaux, trapped in the first letter of his name – 13th-c. illuminated manuscript. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This is the fourth part of the tour of medieval heart religion from the affective devotion chapter of my Getting Medieval with C S Lewis. It follows the first part here, which looks at Origen and Augustine, the second part here, on Gregory the Great, and the third part here, on Anselm of Canterbury:
Probably best known today for hymns such as “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” and “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee,” Bernard of Clairvaux was by any measure a formative figure in medieval devotion.
A reforming monk of the Cistercian order, Bernard returned to the simplicity of the Rule of Saint Benedict, preached to recruit participants in the Second Crusade in 1146, and in later life he had so much power that he was the virtual pope of the Western church. Throughout his career, Bernard’s teaching focused on love—in a positive, personal vein, but not a sentimental one. He talked about the relationship between the self and God. Borrowing a good deal from Augustine, Bernard, in his treatise On Loving God, sets forth four degrees of this love. He sees the self first of all loving only itself, then loving the neighbor and God for its own sake. Third, the soul comes to love God for God’s sake, normally the highest plane of love. But there is a fourth level, in which the soul loves itself for God’s sake. This is found only fleetingly on earth but will be the constant state of the dead after the resurrection of the body.
Bernard emphasizes the importance of the human Jesus for Christian spirituality. He refers more frequently than his immediate predecessors to the New Testament portrait of Jesus, not merely as an example of a holy life, but as the divine action of love to change the hearts of human beings. Bernard’s sermons on Advent and Christmas rise to the heights of praise for the Incarnation. In his twentieth sermon on Song of Songs, Bernard argued that the Incarnation was actually for this purpose: to attract our affections: “‘I think this is the principal reason why the invisible God willed to be seen in the flesh and to converse with men as a man. He wanted to recapture the affections of carnal men who were unable to love in any other way, by first drawing them to the salutary love of his own humanity, and then gradually to raise them to a spiritual love.’” Continue reading →
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants
Tagged affections, affective theology, asceticism, Bernard of Clairvaux, emotion, heart religion, love, mysticism, O Sacred Head Now Wounded, Pseudo-Dionysius, Song of Songs
Mary Magdalene (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This is the third part of the tour of medieval heart religion from the affective devotion chapter of my Getting Medieval with C S Lewis. It follows the first part here, which looks at Origen and Augustine, and the second part here, on Gregory the Great:
There is no better example of the holism of love and logic, theology and devotion, in the medieval period than Anselm of Canterbury. When not chasing dialectical rabbits in his attempt to understand, but not explain away, the mysteries of God’s existence and Incarnation, Anselm wrote a series of highly evocative, meditative, imaginative prayers focused on the lives and personalities of Christ, Mary, and the saints, designed for people to use in their private devotions. His stated purpose in publishing these was “to inspire the reader’s mind to the love and fear of God” and inflame the desire to pray.
This was the beginning of a shift in “canons within the canon,” from the early medieval spiritual focus on the Old Testament (especially the Psalms) to the high and late medieval fascination with the Gospels.
Medievalist R W Southern finds Anselm’s in prayers an “unusual combination of intensity of feeling and clarity of thought and expression.” He attributes to them “a new note of personal passion, of elaboration and emotional extravagance” that would change devotional practice henceforth, opening the way to the “masterpieces of late medieval piety.” Continue reading →
English: Jerome & Gregory. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This is the second part of the tour of medieval heart religion from the affective devotion chapter of my Getting Medieval with C S Lewis. It follows the first part here, which looks at Origen and Augustine:
We have seen already a bit of how the hugely influential Christian philosopher/educator Boethius Anicius developed that theme of earthly and heavenly desire in his allegory of Lady Philosophy. Now we turn to arguably the most influential Father for the medieval period after Augustine: Gregory the Great. Jean LeClercq, modern author of The Love of Learning and the Desire for God, has called Gregory “the Doctor of Desire.” Carole Straw calls his popular writings “an encyclopedia of spiritual experience.”
Gregory’s chief contribution to the tradition of heart religion was his formulation of the virtue of compunctio (“compunction”). Often thought of as a kind of godly sorrow (2 Cor. 7:10-11), the Latin word literally means “piercing.” It is rooted in Acts 2:37, which tells how Peter’s hearers at Pentecost were “pierced to the heart.” Cassian, Benedict, and others had followed up this clue by closely associating compunction with conversion, but it was Gregory who made it a central value in Western spirituality. Continue reading →
Saint Augustine of Hippo, playing hot potato with his heart (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Following introductory material from C S Lewis here, here, and here, the affective devotion chapter of my Getting Medieval with C S Lewis opens its tour of medieval heart religion with a peek into Origen, Augustine, and other early Church Fathers:
Origen, early fathers
Although affective piety was “a mood and form of expression which advanced over all of Europe between the eleventh and the sixteenth centuries,” (ATK: 130-131), the writers of that period, from Anselm to Bernard to Julian to Dante, were merely passing on a tendency from the early church, described by Robert Wilken: “Nothing is more characteristic of the Christian intellectual tradition than its fondness for the language of the heart.” Even in the most detailed theologizing of the early and medieval fathers, “The goal was not only understanding but love.”
The very first systematic commentator on Scripture, Origen of Alexandria (185-254), interpreted the Song of Songs as an allegory of the believer’s relationship with God—erotic emotions and all. In Origen’s reading, the song’s male lover is God or Christ and its female lover is Israel, the church, or the believer. Augustine, Gregory the Great, and a long line of medieval interpreters would pick up Origen’s approach to the Song of Songs, using similar sexual language of our desire for God. As Gregory mused, “‘what force of love exists in the bedchamber of the Bridegroom.’” Continue reading →