Bernard of Clairvaux: Selected Works

Bernard of Clairvaux: Selected Works

During the 12th century Bernard of Clairvaux was a major force of monastic reform and political intrigue. Known as ‘Doctor Mellifluous,’ Bernard was very active in the “many political and ecclesiastical disputes”[1] of his time including being a major supporter of the Second Crusade. At his core, however, Bernard was a mystic who longed to spend his time “meditating on the love of God” and the “humanity of Christ.”[2] It is this latter side of Bernard that comes out in the HarperCollins Spiritual Classics book Bernard of Clairvaux: Selected Works which contains multiple sermons and letters by Bernard along with his treatise “On Loving God.” The volume starts off with a transcript of Bernard’s sermon “On Conversion” delivered in Paris sometime during the year 1140 A.D.[3] Written – and most likely delivered – with a pastoral heart, Bernard tries hard to convince people that following God is a noble and worthy cause worth forsaking worldly fame and success. After walking through various points of arguments for and against the conversion of the heart, Bernard declares at the end of the sermon that no matter the cost “those whose treasure is in heaven have no reason to fear.”[4] Bernard’s treatise “On Loving God” makes up the second part of the HarperCollins Spiritual Classics book. This treatise was composed between 1125 and 1141 A.D. at the request of Aimeric, “cardinal deacon of the Church in Rome,”[5] who wished to know “why and how God ought to be loved.”[6] Bernard initially answers this question in eight words, “the cause of loving God is God himself”[7], before elaborating on this response in great...
The Vibe or Spirit of the Land

The Vibe or Spirit of the Land

“You can feel the youthfulness of the land. It’s like a child full of energy and unpredictability.” Those were my words as we walked through the woods a stone throw from the Sawtooth Wilderness. The two of us had left the trail a while back and were picking our way along a ridge north of Pettit Lake. Our conversation during this hike was wide ranging, but the land was front and center for most of it. Though it is easy to miss, the land around us has a vibe or spirit that telegraphs its character to those who listen. The Sawtooth Mountains, for example, sends a vibe of youthful energy. It is a young range with unpredictable mood swings – going from burning hot days to freezing cold nights to perhaps a lightening storm or two. The Ozark mountains where I spend my childhood telegraphs a different vibe. They are an old range full of history and stories. Every nook and hollow within the range has a story to tell. The few times I’ve visited the Appalachian Mountains I’ve felt a similar vibe though I have not had the honor of listening to their voices as much as I would like. Years ago when I first came to Idaho I worked in the high mountain deserts in the far south-west of the state. Deep canyons cut through the deserts like wrinkles on an aged face. The desert is a shy place, hiding its secrets from visitors. Only those who slow down and watch are given a glimpse into the deep mysteries of the desert. Cities and town also give...
“The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas à Kempis

“The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas à Kempis

In the late-fourteenth century a young man from the village of Kempen named Thomas Haemerken joined a spiritual renewal movement started a few decades earlier by a Dutch scholar named Geert Groote.[1] The movement was centered around the life of Jesus of Nazareth with adherents devoting “their lives to study and to educating the world.”[2] After years of study, Haemerken, better known as Thomas à Kempis or Thomas of Kempen, would share the Christ-centered values of the movement with the everyone through one of the most famous and widely read devotional books in the world, The Imitation of Christ.[3]              Written in four parts, The Imitation of Christ invites the reader to “study the life of Jesus Christ” so that we may “imitate His life and habits.”[4] To that end, the first part seeks to provide the reader with instructions on how to renounce the values of the world (e.g. pride, material possessions, selfishness) in favor of spiritual soul care and formation. “The greatest wisdom,” Thomas writes, “[is] to seek the kingdom of heaven through contempt of the world.”[5] Though this is not an easy message to embrace, it is one worth pursuing as in doing so we “will find peace and will experience less hardship because of God’s grace and the love of virtue.”[6]             The second part of the book focuses on the interior life of the reader through a look at the “deeper aspects of the spiritual life, in which God illuminates our hearts with His truth.”[7] It was this selection that really caught my attention as Thomas’ words on mediation, grace, humility, and the Cross...
“Francis of Assisi and His World” by Mark Galli

“Francis of Assisi and His World” by Mark Galli

The book Francis of Assisi and His World is a relatively small book packed with full color pictures of relics, paintings, maps, and buildings from the time of Francis of Assisi. While this format is uncommon among theology/history books, it makes sense considering it was written by the Managing Editor of Christianity Today magazine, Mark Galli. Though different, the format does fit with Galli’s goal of helping the reader “understand the modern medieval Francis” by giving them a “glimpse of life in the Middle Ages.”[1]             The textual style of the book built upon the graphical format of the book and helped tell the story of Francis. Though Galli consulted a “great deal of scholarship”[2] in researching the book, he chose to keep the text concise with a moving narrative. This choice worked incredibly well as I found myself fully engaged with the material while pictures of Assisi and Francis swirled around my head.             Content wise, Galli divided the story of Francis into thirteen parts that follow the general time progression of the saint’s life. The first nine chapters dealt mostly with the more historical events of the saint – i.e. his time as a knight, when he disowned his father, the founding of the Franciscan order, etc. Chapters ten through twelve focused more on Francis teachings and life reflections though they still followed the basic timeline of his life, especially the time after he stepped down from leadership and was preparing to die. Galli uses the last chapter not only to give the reader a sense of what happened to the Franciscan order after Francis death, but...
Francis and Clare: The Complete Works

Francis and Clare: The Complete Works

Saint Francis (1182-1226 C.E.) and Saint Clare (1193-1253 C.E.) are two of the most famous saints in the history of Christian Spirituality having “captured the hearts and imaginations of men and women of all nationalities and creeds through the centuries.”[1] Both saints grew up in the Italian city of Assisi around the same time though it is unclear if they knew each other before 1212 C.E. when Clare pledged herself to Christ in the presence of Francis and the bishop of Assisi.[2] In the years that followed this pledge, Clare and Francis became joined together in the minds of their followers as they lived out the ways of Lady Poverty.             The volume in question contains all the known writings of both Saint Francis and Saint Clare. The first half of the book is focused on Francis displaying the twenty-eight works firmly established as written by Francis along with five dictated letters/blessings.[3] The most famous of these works is “The Earlier Rule” which help establish and guide the Order of Friars Minor (i.e. the Franciscans).[4] Saint Clare’s writings make up the latter half of the book. Included in this selection are her four letters to Blessed Agnes of Prague as well as “The Rule of Saint Clare” that guided the actions of the Order of Poor Ladies.[5]             While the writings of both Saint Francis and Saint Clare were interesting from a historical view point, I have to admit that I wasn’t personally impacted by their writings. Their radical dedication to Lady Poverty, while honorable, isn’t something that tugs on my spirit, though I do embrace material simplicity which...