Letter xiv (Circa A. D. 1129) to Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln
To Alexander, [15] Bishop of Lincoln

A certain canon named Philip, on his way to Jerusalem, happening to turn aside to Clairvaux, wished to remain there as a monk. He solicits the consent of Alexander, his bishop, to this, and begs him to sanction arrangements with the creditors of Philip. He finishes by exhorting Alexander not to trust too much in the glory of the world.

To the very honourable lord, Alexander, by the Grace of God, Bishop of Lincoln, Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux, wishes honour more in Christ than in the world.

1. Your Philip, wishing to go to Jerusalem, has found his journey shortened, and has quickly reached the end that he desired. He has crossed speedily this great and wide sea, and after a prosperous voyage has now reached the desired shore, and anchored at length in the harbour of salvation. His feet stand already in the Courts of Jerusalem, and Him whom he had heard of in Ephrata he has found in the broad woods, and willingly worships in the place where his feet have stayed. He has entered into the Holy City, and has obtained an heritage with those of whom it is rightly said: Now ye are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of God (Ephesians ii.19). He goes in and out with the saints, and is become as one of them, praising God and saying as they: Our conversation is in heaven (Philip. iii.20). He is become, therefore, not a curious spectator only, but a devoted inhabitant and an enrolled citizen of Jerusalem; but not the Jerusalem of this world with which is joined Mount Sinai, in Arabia, which is in bondage with her children, but of her who is above, who is free, and the mother of us all (Gal. iv.25-26).

2. And this, if you are willing to perceive it, is Clairvaux. This is Jerusalem, and is associated by a certain intuition of the spirit, by the entire devotion of the heart, and by conformity of daily life, with her which is in heaven. This shall be, as he promises himself, his rest for ever. He has chosen her for his habitation, because with her is, although not yet the realisation, at least the expectation, of true peace of which it is said: The peace of God which passes all understanding (Philip. iv.17). But this is true happiness; although he has received it from above, he desires to embrace it with your good permission, or rather he trusts that he has done this according to your wish, knowing that you are not ignorant of that sentence of the wise man, that a wise son is the glory of his father. [16] He makes request, therefore, of your Paternity, and we also make request with him and for him, to be so kind as to allow the payments which he has assigned to his creditors [17] from his prebend to remain unaltered, so that he may not be found (which God forbid) a defaulter and breaker of his covenant, and so that the offering of a contrite heart, which he makes daily, may not be rejected by God, inasmuch as any brother has a claim against him. And lastly, he entreats that the house which he has built for his mother upon Church land, with the ground which he has assigned there, may be preserved to his mother during her life. Thus much with regard to Philip.

3. I have thought well to add these few words for yourself, of my own accord, or rather at the inspiration of God, and venture to exhort you in all charity, not to look to the glory of the world which passeth away, and to lose that which abides eternally; not to love your riches more than yourself, nor for yourself, lest you lose yourself and them also. Do not, while present prosperity smiles upon you, forget its certain end, lest adversity without end succeed it. Let not the joy of this present life hide from you the sorrow which it brings about, and brings about while it hides. Do not think death far off, so that it come upon you unprepared, and while in expectation of long life it suddenly leaves you when ill-prepared, as it is written: When they say Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child, and they shall not escape (1 Thess. v.3). Farewell.


[15] This Alexander was Bishop of Lincoln in England from 1123 to 1147

[16] Proverbs 10:1. Bernard always quotes this passage thus. In the Vulgate it is, Filius sapiens lætificat patrem.

[17] Letter 18 from the Abbot Philip to Alexander the Third is on a very similar subject, and begs that the property of the Archdeacon of Orleans, who had become a monk, should be given up to his creditors (Biblioth. Cisterc. Vol. i. p. 246).

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