1st Sermon of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux on the Passing of Saint Malachy of Armagh

[Saint Bernard of Clairvaux and Saint Malachy of Armagh]2 November 1148

A certain abundant blessing, dearly beloved, has been sent by the counsel of heaven to you this day; and if it were not faithfully divided, you would suffer loss, and I, to whom of a surety this office seems to have been committed, would incur danger. I fear therefore your loss, I fear my own damnation, if perchance it be said, The young children ask bread, and no man offereth it unto them. For I know how necessary for you is the consolation which comes from heaven, since it is certain that you have manfully renounced carnal delights and worldly pleasures. None can reasonably doubt that it was by the good gift of heaven, and determined by divine purpose, that Bishop Malachy should fall asleep among you to-day, and among you have his place of burial, as he desired. For if not even a leaf of a tree falls to the ground without the will of God, who is so dull as not to see plainly in the coming of this blessed man, and his passing, a truly great purpose of the divine compassion? From the uttermost parts of the earth he came to leave his earth here. He was hastening, it is true, on another errand; but we know that by reason of his special love for us he desired that most of all. He suffered many hindrances in the journey itself, and he was refused permission to cross the sea till the time of his consummation was drawing near, and the goal which could not be passed. And when, with many labours, he came to us we received him as an angel of God out of reverence for his holiness; but he, out of his very deeply rooted meekness and lowliness, far beyond our merits, received us with devoted love. Then he spent a few days with us in his usual health: for he was waiting for his companions, who had been scattered in England, when the baseless distrust of the king was hindering the man of God. And when they had all assembled to him, he was preparing to set out to the Roman Court, on his way to which he had come hither; when suddenly he was overtaken by sickness, and he immediately perceived that he was being summoned rather to the heavenly palace, God having provided some better thing for us, lest going out from us he should be made perfect elsewhere.

There appeared to the physicians no sign in him, I say not of death, but even of serious illness; but he, gladdened in spirit, said that in every way it was befitting that this year Malachy should depart from this life. We laboured to prevent it, both by earnest prayers to God, and by whatever other means we could; but his merits prevailed, that his heart’s desire should be given him and that the request of his lips should not be withholden. For so all things happened to him in accordance with his wishes; that by the inspiration of the divine goodness he had chosen this place above all others, and that he had long desired that he should have as the day of his burial this day on which the general memory of all the faithful is celebrated. Moreover, these joys of ours were worthily increased by the circumstance that we had selected that same day, by God’s will, for bringing hither from the former cemetery for their second burial the bones of our brothers. And when we were bringing them, and singing psalms in the accustomed manner, the same holy man said that he was very greatly delighted with that chanting. And not long after, he himself also followed, having sunk into a most sweet and blessed sleep. Therefore we render thanks to God for all the things that He has disposed, because He willed to honour us, unworthy as we are, by his blessed death among us, to enrich His poor with the most costly treasure of his body, and to strengthen us, who are weak, by so great a pillar of His church. For one or other of two signs proves that it was wrought for us for good, either that this place is pleasing to God, or that it is His will to make it pleasing to Him, since He led to it from the uttermost parts of the earth so holy a man to die and to be buried there.

But our very love for this blessed father compels us to sorrow with that people from our heart, and to shudder exceedingly at the cruelty of him, even Death, who has not spared to inflict this terrible wound on the Church, now so much to be pitied. Terrible and unpitying surely is death, which has punished so great a multitude of men by smiting one; blind and without foresight, which has tied the tongue of Malachy, arrested his steps, relaxed his hands, closed his eyes. Those devout eyes, I say, which were wont to restore divine grace to sinners, by most tender tears; those most holy hands, which had always loved to be occupied in laborious and humble deeds, which so often offered for sinners the saving sacrifice of the Lord’s body, and were lifted up to heaven in prayer without wrath and doubting, which are known to have bestowed many benefits on the sick and to have been resplendent with manifold signs; those beautiful steps also of him that preached the Gospel of peace and brought glad tidings of good things; those feet, which were so often wearied with eagerness to show pity; those footprints which were always worthy to merit devout kisses; finally, those holy lips of the priest, which kept knowledge, the mouth of the righteous, which spoke wisdom, and his tongue which, talking of judgement, yea and of mercy, was wont to heal so great wounds of souls. And it is no wonder, brothers, that death is iniquitous, since iniquity brought it forth, that it is heedless, since it is known to have been born of seduction. It is nothing wonderful, I say, if it strikes without distinction, since it came from the transgression; if it is cruel and mad, since it was produced by the subtlety of the old serpent and the folly of the woman. But why do we charge against it that it dared to assail Malachy, a faithful member, it is true, of Christ, when it also rushed madly upon the very head of Malachy and of all the elect as well? It rushed, assuredly, upon One whom it could not hurt; but it did not rush away unhurt. Death hurled itself against life, and life shut up death within itself, and death was swallowed up of life. Gulping down the hook to its hurt, it began to be held by Him whom it seemed to have held.

But perhaps some one may say, How does it appear that death has been overcome by the Head, if it still rages with so great liberty against the members? If death is dead, how did it kill Malachy? If it is conquered how has it still power over all, and there is no man that liveth and shall not see death? Death is clearly conquered – the work of the devil and the penalty of sin: sin is conquered, the cause of death; and the wicked one himself is conquered, the author both of sin and death. And not only are these things conquered, they are, moreover, already judged and condemned. The sentence is determined, but not yet published. In fact, the fire is prepared for the devil, though he is not yet cast into the fire, though still for a short time he is allowed to work wickedness. He is become, as it were, the hammer of the Heavenly Workman, the hammer of the whole earth. He crushes the elect for their profit, he crushes to powder the reprobate for their damnation. As is the master of the house, so are they of his household, that is, sin and death. For sin, though it is not to be doubted that it was nailed with Christ to His cross, was yet allowed still for a time, not indeed to reign, but to dwell even in the Apostle himself while he lived. I lie if he does not himself say, It is no more I that do it, but sin dwelleth in me. So also death itself is by no means, indeed, yet compelled not to be present, but it is compelled not to be present to men’s hurt. But there will come a time when it is said, Oh death, where is thy victory? For death also is the last enemy that shall be destroyed. But now, since He rules who has the power of life and death and confines the very sea within the fixed limits of its shores, death itself to the beloved of the Lord is a sleep of refreshment. The prophet bears witness who says, When he giveth his beloved sleep, behold the heritage of the Lord. The death of the wicked is indeed most evil, since their birth is evil and their life more evil; but precious is the death of the saints. Precious clearly, for it is the end of labours, the consummation of victory, the gate of life, and the entrance to perfect safety.

Let us rejoice therefore, brothers, let us rejoice as is meet, with our father, for if it is an act of filial piety to mourn for Malachy who is dead, yet more is it an act of piety to rejoice with Malachy who is alive. Is he not alive? He is, and in bliss. Certainly, in the eyes of the foolish he seemed to have died; but he is in peace. In fine, now a fellow-citizen with the saints, and of the household of God, he at once sings and gives thanks, saying, We went through fire and water; but thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place. He went, clearly, in manly fashion, and he went through happily. The true Hebrew celebrated the Passover in spirit, and as he went, he said to us, “With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you.” He went through fire and water, whom neither experiences of sadness could crush, nor pleasures hold back. For there is below us a place which fire wholly claims as its own, so that the wretched Dives could not have there even the least drop of water from the finger of Lazarus. There is also above the city of God which the streams of the river make glad, a torrent of pleasure, a cup which inebriates, how goodly! Here, in the midst, truly is found the knowledge of good and evil, and in this place we may receive the trial of pleasure and of affliction. Unhappy Eve brought us into these alternations. Here clearly is day and night; for in the lower world there is only night, and in heaven only day. Blessed is the soul which passes through both, neither ensnared by pleasure nor fainting at tribulation.

I think it right to relate to you, briefly, a specimen of the many splendid deeds of this man, in which he is known to have gone, with no little vigour, through fire and water. A tyrannous race laid claim to the metropolitan see of Patrick, the great apostle of the Irish, creating archbishops in regular succession, and possessing the sanctuary of God by hereditary right. Our Malachy was therefore asked by the faithful to combat such great evils; and putting his life in his hand he advanced to the attack with vigour, he undertook the archbishopric, exposing himself to evident danger, that he might put an end to so great a crime. Surrounded by perils he ruled the church; when the perils were passed, immediately he canonically ordained another as his successor. For he had undertaken the office on this condition, that when the fury of persecution had ceased and it thus became possible that another should safely be appointed, he should be allowed to return to his own see. And there, without ecclesiastical or secular revenues he lived in the religious communities which he himself had formed, dwelling among them up to this time as one of themselves, and abjuring all personal property. So the fire of affliction tried the man of God, but did not consume him; for he was gold. So neither did pleasure hold him captive or destroy him, nor did he stand a curious spectator on the way, forgetful of his own pilgrimage.

Which of you, brothers, would not earnestly desire to imitate his holiness, if he dared even to hope for such an attainment? I believe, therefore, you will gladly hear, if I perchance can tell it, what made Malachy holy. But lest our testimony should seem not easy to be received, hear what the Scripture says: He made him holy in his faith and meekness. By faith he trampled on the world, as John bears witness when he says, This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. For in the spirit of meekness he endured all things whatsoever that were hard and contrary with good cheer. On the one hand, indeed, after the example of Christ, by faith he trampled on the seas, lest he should be entangled in pleasures; on the other, in his patience he possessed his soul, lest he should be crushed by troubles. For concerning these two things you have the saying in the Psalm, A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; for many more are cast down by the deceitfulness of prosperity than by the lashes of adversity. Therefore, dearly beloved, let none of us, allured by the level surface of the easier way, suppose that road of the sea to be more convenient for himself. This plain has great mountains, invisible indeed, but for that very reason more dangerous. That way perhaps seems more laborious which passes through the steeps of the hills and the ruggedness of rocks; but to them that have tried it, it is found far safer and more to be desired. But on both sides there is labour, on both sides danger, as he knew who said, By the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left; so that we may rightly rejoice with those that went through fire and water and have been brought into a wealthy place. Do you wish to hear something about the wealthy place? Would that another might speak to you of it. For as for me, that which I have not tasted I cannot indite.

But I seem to hear Malachy saying to me to-day about this wealthy place, Return unto thy rest, Oh my soul; for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee: for he hath delivered my soul from death, [mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling]. And what I understand to be expressed in those words hear in a few sentences; for the day is far spent, and I have spoken at greater length than I intended, because I am unwilling to tear myself away from the sweetness of the father’s name, and my tongue, dreading to be silent about Malachy, fears to cease. The death of the soul, my brothers, is sin; unless you have overlooked that which you have read in the prophet: The soul that sinneth, it shall die. Threefold, then, is the rejoicing of the man, since he is delivered from all sin, and from labour, and from danger. For from this time neither is sin said to dwell in him, nor is the sorrow of penitence enjoined, nor from henceforth is he warned to guard himself from any falling. Elijah has laid aside his mantle; it was not that he feared, it was not that he was afraid that it should be touched, still less retained, by an adulteress. He went up into the chariot; he is not now in terror of falling; he mounts delightfully; he labours not to fly by his own power, but sits in a swift vehicle. To this wealthy place, dearly beloved, let us run with all eagerness of spirit, in the fragrance of the ointments of this our blessed father, who this day has been seen to have stirred up our torpor to most fervent desire. Let us run after him, I say, crying to him again and again, “Draw us after thee”; and, with earnest heart and advancing holiness of life, returning devout thanks to the Almighty Pity, that He has willed that His unworthy servants, who are without merits of their own, should at least not be without the prayers of another.