Saturday, August 20, 2016

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) is commemorated today, the anniversary of his death, on various calendars of saints.  He entered monastic life in France at the age of twenty-two and rose in the ranks to head two different communities during his life, and founded many others.  His spiritual influence was said to be exceptionally strong, as four of his brothers, his uncle, and his father all eventually became monks, as well as the son of the King of France and many other men that he encountered. He refused to see his married sister when she tried to visit him, and after the death of her husband she too joined a convent. In Romance of Psalter and Hymnal (1889), author Robert Ethol Welsh writes: "Mothers hid their sons, wives their husbands, companions their friends, lest they should fall under his fascinating influence."

The sacred poetry attributed to him has been translated into several languages and adapted into hymns that appear across many denominations. Usually, the hymns are shorter sections of longer poems.  We have seen some of his familiar hymns here before, notably O sacred head and Jesus, the very thought of thee.

His devotion to the Passion of Christ (seen explicitly in the poem from which O sacred head was derived) is sometimes expressed in images of himself holding either a cross or a sponge on a pole (representing one of Jesus' seven last words, "I thirst"). I believe that the stained glass above might include a stylized sort of sponge, as well as a book representing his writings.

Today's hymn, no doubt also taken from a longer poem of Bernard's, is only documented as appearing in The College Hymnal (1876), which was prepared and published for use at Yale University, but it probably appeared in other hymnbooks. Unfortunately, the translator is not identified in the Yale collection.

O Christ, in whom our love shall find
Its rest and perfect end,
O Jesus, Joy of humankind,
And our eternal Friend:

May every soul your love return
And strive to do your will;
And, keeping your commandments, learn
To love you better still.

Grant us, while here on earth we stay,
Your love to feel and know;
And when from here we pass away,
To us your glory show.

Bernard of Clairvaux, 12th cent.; tr. unknown; alt.
Tune: ST. BERNARD (C.M.)
Tochter Sion, 1741; arr. John Richardson, 19th cent.

John Richardson (1816-1879) was a Roman Catholic organist in England who arranged or harmonized this German tune, and probably named it to accompany a translated text of St. Bernard (not necessarily this one).

Eight Years Ago: Bernard of Clairvaux

Six Years Ago: Bernard of Clairvaux

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