Thursday, 1 January 2015

St. Bernard of Clairvaux's Life of St. Malachy of Armagh, by H. J. Lawlor. Part 5.


1. It is indeed always worth while to portray the illustrious lives of the saints, that they may serve as a mirror and an example, and give, as it were, a relish to the life of men on earth. For by this means in some sort they live among us, even after death,101 and many of those who are dead while they live102 are challenged and recalled by them to true life. But now especially is there need for it because holiness is rare, and it is plain that our age is lacking in men. So greatly, in truth, do we perceive that lack to have increased in our day that none can doubt that we are smitten by that saying, Because iniquity shall abound the love of many shall wax cold;103 and, as I suppose, he has come or is at hand of whom it is written, Want shall go before his face.104 If I mistake not, Antichrist is he whom famine and sterility of all good both precedes and accompanies. Whether therefore it is the herald of one now present or the harbinger of one who shall come immediately, the want is evident. I speak not of the crowd, I speak not of the vile multitude of the children of this world:105 I would have you lift up your eyes upon the very pillars106 of the Church. Whom can you show me, even of the number of those who seem to be given for a light to the Gentiles,107 that in his lofty station is not rather a smoking wick than a blazing lamp? And, says One, if the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!108 Unless perchance, which I do not believe, you will say that they shine who suppose that gain is godliness;109 who in the Lord's inheritance seek not the things which are the Lord's, but rather their own.110 Why do I say their own? He would be perfect and holy, even while he seeks his own and retains his own, who should restrain his heart and hands from the things of others. But let him remember, who seems to himself to have advanced perhaps thus far, that the same degree of holiness is demanded even of a gentile.111 Are not soldiers bidden to be content with their wages that they may be saved?112 But it is a great thing for a doctor of the Church if he be as one of the soldiers; or, if, in truth (as the prophet speaks to their reproach), it be as with the people so with the priest.113 Hideous! Is it so indeed? Is he rightly to be esteemed highest who, falling from the highest rank can scarce cleave to the lowest, that he be not engulfed in the abyss? Yet how rare is even such a man among the clergy! Whom, likewise, do you give me who is content with necessaries, who despises superfluities? Yet the law has been enjoined beforehand by the Apostles on the successors of the Apostles, Having food and raiment, let us be therewith content.114 Where is this rule? We see it in books, but not in men. But you have [the saying] about the righteous man, that the law of his God is in his heart,115 not in a codex. Nor is that the standard of perfection. The perfect man is ready to forgo even necessaries. But that is beside the mark.116 Would that some limit were set on superfluous things! Would that our desires were not infinite! But what? Perhaps you might find one who can achieve this. It would indeed be difficult; but [if we find him] see what we have done. We were seeking for a very good man, a deliverer of many; and lo, we have labour to discover one who can save himself. The very good man to-day is one who is not utterly bad.

2. Wherefore, since the godly man has ceased117 from the earth, it seems to me that I do not employ myself to no purpose when I recall to our midst, from among those who were redeemed from the earth,118 Bishop Malachy, a man truly holy, and a man, too, of our own time, of singular wisdom and virtue. He was a burning and a shining light;119 and it has not been quenched, but only removed. Who would with good right be angry with me if I move it back again? Yes indeed, neither the men of my own age, nor any succeeding generation should be wanting in gratitude to me if by my pen I recall one whom the course of nature has borne away; if I restore to the world one of whom the world was not worthy;120 if I preserve for the memory of men one whose memory may be blessed121 to all who shall deign to read; if while I rouse my sleeping friend, the voice of the turtle be heard in our land122 saying, Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.123 Then again, he was buried among us;124 this duty is eminently ours. Nay, is it not mine, inasmuch as that holy man included me among his special friends, and in such regard that I may believe that I was second to none in that respect of glory?125 Nor do I find that intercourse with holiness so eminent misses its reward; I have already received the first-fruits. He was near the end; nay, rather, near the beginning, according to the saying, when a man hath finished then is he but at the beginning.126 I ran to him that the blessing of him that was ready to die might come upon me.127 Already he could not move his other limbs; but, mighty to give blessing, he raised his hands upon my head and blessed me.128 I have inherited the blessing;129 how then can I be silent about him? Finally, you enjoin me to undertake this task, Abbot Congan,130 my reverend brother and sweet friend, and with you also (as you write from Ireland) all that Church of the saints131 to which you belong.132 I obey with a will, the more so because you ask not panegyric but narrative. I shall endeavour that it may be chaste and clear, informing the devout, and not wearying the fastidious. At any rate the truth of my narrative is assured, since it has been communicated by you;133 and beyond doubt you assert nothing but things of which you have most certain information.

Here ends the Prologue.

[101] Ecclus. xlviii. 12 (vg.).

[102] 1 Tim. v. 6. Cp. Rev. iii. 1.

[103] Matt. xxiv. 12.

[104] Job xli. 22 (vg.).

[105] Luke xvi. 8.

[106] Gal. ii. 9.

[107] Isa. xlix. 6.

[108] Matt. vi. 23.

[109] 1 Tim. vi. 5.

[110] Phil. ii. 21; 1 Cor. xiii. 5.

[111] Cp. Matt. v. 47.

[112] Luke iii. 14.

[113] Isa. xxiv. 2; Hos. iv. 9 (inexact quotation).

[114] 1 Tim. vi. 8 (inexact quotation).

[115] Ps. xxxvii. 31.

[116] Gratis.

[117] Ps. xii. 1.

[118] Rev. xiv. 3.

[119] John v. 35.

[120] Heb. xi. 38.

[121] Ecclus. xlv. 1.

[122] Cant. ii. 12. For the meaning compare Cant. lix. 3: The voice of the turtle "is a sign that winter is past, proclaiming nevertheless that the time of pruning has come.... The voice, more like one who groans than one who sings, admonishes us of our pilgrimage." After Eugenius III. had visited Clairvaux St. Bernard wrote, "The voice of the turtle has been heard in our chapter. We had great joy and delight." (Ep. 273.)

[123] Matt. xxviii. 20.

[124] That is, at Clairvaux. See § 75.

[125] Apparently a confused reference to 2 Cor. iii. 10; xi. 17 (vg.).

[126] Ecclus. xviii. 7 (inexact quotation).

[127] Job xxix. 13.

[128] See § 73, end.

[129] 1 Pet. iii. 9.

[130] This abbot, to whom the Life is dedicated, belonged to the Cistercian Order, as the words "reverend brother" imply. He may therefore be identified with Congan, abbot of the Cistercian monastery of the Suir, mentioned in § 64. That he was personally known to St. Bernard is clear; and it is probable that he was one of the Irishmen who by Malachy's desire were instructed at Clairvaux (§ 39). Thady Dowling (Annals, s.a. 1147) identifies him with "Cogganus," abbot of Killeshin, near Carlow, stating on the authority of Nicholas Maguire that he wrote the gesta of Malachy and Bernard. Though this statement is probably not accurate, it is possible that our Congan was abbot of Killeshin before he became a Cistercian.

[131] Ecclus. xxxi. 11 (vg.).

[132] Vestra illa omnis ecclesia sanctorum. We should perhaps render, "the whole church of holy persons over which you preside," i.e. Congan's convent. Elsewhere in the Life, ecclesia is used for a local community, such as the church of Armagh (§ 20, etc). But see Serm. i. § 3. Vacandard understands the phrase to mean "the Cistercian communities of Ireland" (R.Q.H. lii. 48).

[133] Vobis (pl.); i.e. Congan and others in Ireland.