4th Letter of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux to Saint Malachy of Armagh

[Saint Bernard of Clairvaux and Saint Malachy of Armagh]To the Brothers in Ireland. November 1148.

To the religious brothers who are in Ireland, and especially to those communities which Malachy the bishop, of blessed memory, founded, Brother Bernard, called to be abbot of Clairvaux, [wishing them] the consolation of the Comforter.

If here we had a continuing city we should rightly mourn with most abundant tears that we had lost such a fellow-citizen. But if we rather seek one to come, as befits us, it is nevertheless no small cause of grief that we are bereaved of a guide so indispensable. We ought, however, to regulate passion with knowledge and to mitigate grief with the confidence of hope. Nor does it become any one to wonder if love compels groaning, if desolation draws forth tears: yet we must set a limit to these things, nay in no small measure be consoled while we gaze not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. First, indeed, we ought to rejoice with the holy soul, lest he accuse us of want of charity, saying also himself what the Lord said to the apostles, “If ye loved me ye would rejoice because I go unto the Father.” The spirit of our father has gone before us to the Father of spirits, and we are convicted, not only as wanting in charity, but even as guilty of ingratitude for all the benefits which came to us through him, if we do not rejoice with him who has departed from labour to rest, from danger to safety, from the world unto the Father. Therefore, if it is an act of filial piety to weep for Malachy who is dead, yet more is it an act of piety to rejoice with Malachy who is alive. Is he not alive? Assuredly he is, and in bliss. In the eyes of the foolish he seemed to have died; but he is in peace.

Hence even the thought of our own advantage provides us with another motive for great joy and gladness, because so powerful a patron, so faithful an advocate has gone before us to the heavenly court. For his most fervent charity cannot forget his sons, and his approved holiness must secure favour with God. For who would dare to suppose that this holy Malachy can now be less profitable [than before] or less loving to his own? Assuredly, if he was loved aforetime, now he receives from God surer proofs of His love, and having loved his own, he loved them unto the end. Far be it from us, holy soul, to esteem thy prayer now less effectual, for now thou canst make supplication with more vigour in the presence of the Majesty and thou no longer walkest in faith, but reignest in the sight of Him. Far be it from us to count that laborious charity of thine as diminished, not to say made void, now that thou prostratest thyself at the very fountain of eternal charity, quaffing full draughts of that for the very drops of which thou didst thirst before. Charity, strong as death, yea even stronger than death itself, could not yield to death. For even at the moment of his departure he was not unmindful of you, with exceptional affection commending you to God, and with his accustomed meekness and lowliness praying our insignificance also that we should not forget you for ever. Wherefore also we thought good to write to you that you may know that we are ready to bestow upon you all consolation with entire devotion, whether in spiritual things, if in them our insignificance can ever do anything by the merits of this our blessed father, or in temporal, if ever perchance opportunity should be given us.

And now also, dearly beloved, we are filled with heartfelt pity for this grievous bereavement of the Irish Church. And we unite ourselves the more with you in suffering because we know that by this very thing we have become the more your debtors. For the Lord did great things for us when He deigned to honour this place of ours by making it the scene of his blessed death, and to enrich it with the most costly treasure of his body. But do not take it ill that he is buried among us; for God so ordered, according to the multitude of His mercies, that you should possess him in life, and that it might be allowed to us to possess him, if only in death. And to us, indeed, in common with you, he was, and still is, father. For even in his death this testament was confirmed to us. Wherefore as, for the sake of so great a father, we embrace you all as our true brothers, with the unstinted yearning of charity, so also concerning yourselves, spiritual kinship persuades us that you are like-minded.

But we exhort you, brothers, that you be always careful to walk in the steps of this our blessed father, by so much the more zealously as by daily proofs his holy conversation was more certainly known to you. For in this you shall prove yourselves to be his true sons, if you manfully maintain the father’s ordinances, and if, as you have seen in him, and heard from him how you ought to walk, you so walk that you may abound more and more: for the glory of a father is the wisdom of his sons. For even for us the example of so great perfection in our midst has begun in no slight degree both to expel our sloth and impel us to reverence. And would that he may in such wise draw us after him that he may draw us to the goal, running more eagerly and more quickly in the fragrance which his virtues have left so fresh behind them. May Christ guard all of you while you pray for us.