Letter iii (A. D. 1131) to Bruno, Archbishop Elect of Cologne
To Bruno, [8] Archbishop Elect of Cologne

Bernard having been consulted by Bruno as to whether he ought to accept the See of Cologne, so replies as to hold him in suspense, and render him in awe of the burden of so great a charge. He advises him to seek counsel of God in prayer.

1. You seek counsel from me, most illustrious Bruno, as to whether you ought to accept the Episcopate, to which it is desired to advance you. What mortal can presume to decide this for you? If God calls you, who can dare to dissuade you, but if He does not call you, who may counsel you to draw near? Whether the calling is of God or not who can know, except the Spirit, who searcheth even the deep things of God, or one to whom God Himself has revealed it? That which renders advice still more doubtful is the humble, but still terrible, confession in your letter, in which you accuse your own past life gravely, but, as I fully believe, in sincerity and truth. And it is undeniable that such a life is unworthy of a function so holy and exalted. On the other hand, you are very right to fear (and I fear the same with you) if, because of the unworthiness you feel, you fail to make profitable use of the talent of knowledge committed to you, unless you could, perhaps, find another way, less abundant, perhaps, but also less perilous, of making increase from it. I tremble, I confess it, for I ought to say to you as to myself what I feel: I tremble, I say, at the thought of the state whence, and that whither, you are called, especially since no period of penitence has intervened to prepare you for the perilous transition from the one to the other. And, indeed, the right order requires that you should study to care for your own conscience before charging yourself with the care of those of others. That is the first step of piety, of which it is written, To pity thine own soul is pleasing unto the Lord (Ecclus. xxx.23). It is from this first step that a well-ordered charity proceeds by a straight path to the love of one's neighbour, for the precept is to love him as ourselves. But if you are about to love the souls that would be confided to you as you have loved your own hitherto, I would prefer not to be confided rather than be so loved. But if you shall have first learned to love yourself then you will know, perhaps, how you should love me.

2. But what if God should quicken His grace and multiply His mercy upon you, and His clemency is able more quickly to replace the soul in a state of grace than daily penitence? Blessed, indeed, is he unto whom the Lord will not impute sin (Ps. xxxii.2), for who shall bring accusation against the elect of God? If God justifies, who is he that condemns? This short road to salvation that holy thief attained, who in one and the same day both confessed his iniquities and entered into glory. He was content to pass by the cross as by a short bridge from the religion of death [9] unto the land of the living, and from this foul mire into the paradise of joy (S. Luke xxiii.43). This sudden remedy of piety that sinful woman happily obtained, in whose soul grace of a sudden began to abound, where offences had so abounded. Without much labour of penitence her sins were pardoned, because she loved much (S. Luke vii.37-50), and in a short time she merited to receive that amplitude of charity which, as it is written, covers the multitude of sins (1 S. Peter iv.8). This double benefit and most rapid goodness also that paralytic in the Gospel experienced, being cured first in the soul, then in the body.

3. But it is one thing to obtain the speedy forgiveness of sins, and another to be borne in a brief space from the sins themselves to the badges (fillets) of high dignities in the Church. Yet I see that Matthew from the receipt of custom was raised to the supreme honour of the Apostolate. But this again troubles me, because he did not hear with the other Apostles the charge, Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature (S. Mark xvi.15), until after he had done penitence, accompanying the Lord whithersoever He went, bearing long privation and remaining with Him in His temptations. I am not greatly reassured, though S. Ambrose was taken from the judge's tribunal to the priesthood, because he had from a boy led a pure and clean life, though in the world, and then he endeavoured to avoid the Episcopate even by flight and by hiding himself and many other means. Again, if Saul also was suddenly changed into Paul, a vessel of election, the Doctor of the Gentiles, and this be adduced as an example, it entirely destroys the similarity of the two cases to observe that he, therefore, obtained mercy because, as he himself says, he sinned ignorantly in unbelief. Besides, if such incidents, done for good and useful purposes, can be cited, it should be, not as examples, but as marvels, and it can be truly said of them, This is the change of the right hand of the Highest (Ps. lxxvii.10).

4. In the meantime let these provisional replies to your queries suffice. If I do not express a decisive opinion, it is because I do not myself feel assured. This must needs be the case, for the gift of prophecy and of wisdom only could resolve your doubt. For who could draw clear water out of a muddy pool? Yet there is one thing that I can do for a friend without danger, and with the assurance of a good result; that is to offer to God my petition that He will assist you in this matter. Leaving, therefore, to Him the secret things of His Providence, of which we are ignorant, I will beg Him, with humble prayer and earnest supplication, that He will work in you and with respect to you that which shall be for His glory, and at the same time for your good. And you have also the Lord Norbert, [10] whom you may conveniently consult in person on all such subjects. For that good man is more fitted than I to explain the mysterious acts of Providence, as he is nearer to God by his holiness.


[8] Bruno, son of Englebert, Count of Altena, was consecrated, in 1132.

[9] Unlikeness.

[10] The founder of the Præmonstratensian Order. See respecting him Letter lvi.

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