Page 3, 14th August 1953

14th August 1953
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Page 3, 14th August 1953 — Tempestuous Saint in Politics

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Tempestuous Saint in Politics

Lovable, inflammable letters of Bernard of Clairvaux


Scot( James. (Burns & Oates, 42s.).

THIS is a book which every lover 1. of St. Bernard will want to possess. It is expensive, even for these days, but it is beautifully produced and deserves a place in every respectable library.

The translation is one of those works of which Stephen McKenna's translation of Plotinus is a good example, in which one feels that the original author has come to life again in his translator. With St. Bernard this is no mean achievement. His style. as Fr. Scott James explains in his admirable introduction, is not an easy one. It is rhetorical, not always in the best taste. and packed with Biblical quotations; and at the same time charged with all the vitality of a forceful personality.

To render this in modern English, preserving the slightly archaic character of the original, and yet making it live again in a lively and sensitive modern idiom, is an achievement comparable to that of Mg. Knox in his New Testament. Fr. Scott James has, in fact, been assisted a good deal by the use of Mgr. Knox's translation of the Biblical quotations.

When it is added that the letters have been edited with a most exact scholarship, which gives all the information which is needed in the shortest space, it will be seen that this book is not merely for the medieval scholar but also for everyone who is interested alike in medieval history and in the character of the saint.

Letters to Popes

QT. BERNARD was a fascinating "'character whose life raises an interesting problem.

He was a Cistercian monk, wholly devoted to the life of austerity and solitude which he had chosen, and yet he was called to play a leading part in all the great ecclesiastical and political issues of his time.

There are letters here to Popes and Cardinals, to Kings and counts, to Bishops and Abbots, as well as to monks and nuns and other people all over Europe.

One of the most touching of the letters is that in which he complains to the monks of Clairvaux that he has been dragged away from them by these secular duties. "Sorrowfully and reluctantly, weak and sickly, and (I must admit) ever haunted by the wan spectre of pale death, I have bowed before the urgent request of the Emperor, the command of the Apostolic See, the prayers of the Church and of secular minces, and suffered myself to be dragged to Apulia."

One feels all the time that his heart is in his beloved monastery, and his most moving letters are those which are addressed to monks and nuns who are in difficulties or have asked for his advice.

Some, like that addressed to the Prior of the Grande Chartreuse, contain a rdsumd of his spiritual doctrine, and always one feels that the ideal of Citeaux is the inspiration of his life.

Strong emotions

DUT the question arises whether a 1-)monk of this character was really suited to deal with all the problems of political and ecclesiastical life with which he was confronted.

St. Bernard was a man of strong emotions. Perhaps the most charming part of the letters is the deeply affectionate character which they reveal. He had a rare capacity for friendship, and there seemed to be no bounds to his charity. But he was also very inflammable. His outbursts of anger and indignation are as conspicuous as those of love. He never feared to tell anyone exactly what he thought of him and his rebukes could he scathing. But one wonders sometimes

whether this tempestuous character was the one to deal with difficult affairs of State.


CT. BERNARD judged everything I.-3in the terms of the highest ideals. He saw everything in the light of the Gospel. His letters are often a tissue of Scriptural texts, taken from every part of the Bible and applied to the situation in hand.

But this method, as we all know, has its dangers. Scriptural texts torn from their context and made to serve a quite different purpose, are a dan

gerous weapon, and one does not feel that St. Bernard was sufficiently aware of the danger. His judgments tend to be high-handed and lacking in consideration for human weakness. There is no doubt that be was guilty of rash judgment on several occasions.

There is one revealing letter in which he admits that he dismissed a monk from his monastery without due reason and was compelled to receive him back.

But it is in the larger issues that this fault is most serious. In the long dispute over William Fitzherbert, Archbishop of York, St. Bernard denounces the unhappy man without restraint, declaring on one occasion that he has heard on good authority that he is "rotten from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head"; and yet there seems to be no doubt that the Archbishop was a good roan who left behind him the reputation of a saint.

Again, in the dispute over Peter Abelard, whatever ths faults of Abelard may have been, he was not the monster which St. Bernard made him out to be.

Finally, in the matter of the second Crusade, one wonders whether St. Bernard was wise to propagate with such fervour a crusade which was to end in such disaster.

Not so simple

ALL these things make one inclined to question whether it is a good thing for a saint to get mixed up in politics or a monk in the affairs of

the world.

There is no doubt of St. Bernard's own integrity. Though he felt things perhaps too keenly, he was inspired by the highest motives and acted out of a pure zeal for justice and charity. But in political affairs something more than zeal and charity, even if it is the charity of a saint, is required. It demands a knowledge of men and circumstances which it is not easy to acquire in the cloister.

Nowadays we are inclined to lament that there are no saints engaged in public affairs; perhaps one of the lessons of these letters of St. Bernard may be that the solution to the world's problems is not so simple as we are inclined to think.

Ins challenge

BUT whatever our view of this question may be, there can be no doubt of the challenge which these letters present to our times.

Here one sees the medieval world with all its conflicts, its piety and its

Crossword 264

Prize-winners. -First prize, one guinea: Miss Haselfoot, WestonSuper-Marc. Second prize, a book : Mrs. W. G. Jones, Bridgnorth, Salop.

wickedness, presented through the eyes of one of its most powerful personalities.

It is a very different world from our own, and we may not feel that the solution of our problems is to be found along the same lines. But the sight of a world in which every issue is brought to the test of the Gospel; in which the Church is seen to be the greatest power on earth, and in which the voice of a monk and a saint is the oracle to which all the powers of Europe turn in their difficulties is something which compels our admiration and at the same time calls for a realistic judgment.

St. Bernard, as Fr. Scott James reminds us. is a man with whom the modern historian must reckon and a saint who does not cease to charm and also to challenge the modem world.

A FfER a full week at a Leader

ship Course, it is not easy to turn to other subjects or to forget the lessons which such a week must

teach. First and foremost, it is impressive to see how differences of class, age, sex and colour are levelled when there is unity of faith. We began, an ill-assorted crowd. There was the engineer from a Lancashire mill, a carpenter from Brighton, five hospital nurses of different types, a Cambridge undergraduate, an Oblate of Mary Immaculate from Ceylon, school leavers, shop assistants, clerks and teachers. Nearly 100 of us came to Westgate by train, car, push-bike, coach or on foot. The oldest was 51, I think, the youngest II, if we include Jimmy, whose parents were attending the course.

An urgent problem

'TWO visitors from Ceylon spoke 1 much about the fate of Catholic students coming to England with no friends to greet them and no hostels of their own in which to live. Scattered all over London, lodged in all kinds of boarding houses, they make no adequate contact with fellowCatholics during those first critical months. This very grave problem which faces every Catholic community sending students to England, is one which is still far from being solved.

An enquiry

Li ERE is a social enquiry from the course which many groups and confraternities might like to try at home:

See: 1. In your parish is there any organisation which works to introduce strangers and newcomers?

2. What sort of reception would newcomers receive from clergy and congregation? Do you talk to strangers after Mass or wait to be introduced?

Judge: I. Have we a duty towards strangers and did Our Lord say anything about this?

2. Suggest dangers and trials which face visitors to a district if nobody makes contact with them.

3. How can one find out when visitors arrive in an area?

4. Is the Church ease to find? Are the times of services widely advertised?

5. If you were a stranger, what kind of help and friendship would you welcome: what kind would you dislike?

Gloomy answers

'THOSE taking part in the discus' sion were from some 70 different parishes, secular and regular, North and South. With notable exceptions and much praise for local effort in the matter, the findings were as gloomy as could be. Here and there experiments had been tried to make the visitor welcome. In the main, little or nothing had been done. The visitors from Ceylon saw with relief that they were not the only visitors who were ignored. One point raised by many people was the difficulty of finding the telephone number of the presbytery.

Dirty postcards

uu HEN the police took action reYY cently about the postcards sold in Brighton. I for one, sat back and smiled. I thought. and you may also have thought, that the authorities were making a fuss about nothing, rounding up. all those vulgar, cheerful cards which have long been a feature in seaside towns. This is not the case. A friend showed me recently a selection of cards on sale in Margate, of which the citizens of any town might well be ashamed.

Many of them went far further in obscenity than the editor of any smutty paper would dare to go. Similar complaints have come from visitors to other seaside resorts around the coast.


THE response to the competition set last week has already been enormous, and the closing date is still many days away. The results will be announced as soon as possible. but you may have to wait for a week or two.


THERE is a shaggy dog story go ing about the Vocations Exhibition at Olympia. A priest met a man at one of the stalls and asked him how he liked the exhibition. "Very much indeed," said the man, and added : "I was lucky; we had a raffle in our parish and I won it." "What was the prize?" asked the priest. "A week at Olympia, free," said the man. "Splendid," said the priest. "Was there a second prize'?" "Yes," answered the other, "two weeks at Olympia."


Scripture, the quarterly of the Catholic Biblical Association, now published by Thomas Nelson & Sons. publishers of "A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture." contains in its July issue an article. "The Conversion of a Pharisee," studying the conversion of St. Paul, by Fr. J. H. Darby; another by Fr. Worden. of Upholland, on "My God, My God, why hast Thou Forsaken me?"; "Further Notes on the Dead Sea Scrolls," by Dr. Graystonc. of Dublin. and Fr. Lattey's always-valuable "Questions and Answers." There are eight pages of book reviews.

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