Archive for Cistercians

Shadowy faith

Adoration of the Christ Child Gerard van Honthorst c. 1620

Adoration of the Child, Gerard van Honthorst, c. 1620


The fact that faith is shadowy is a blessing; it tempers the light to the eye’s weakness and prepares the eye for the light, for it is written: ‘He cleansed their hearts by faith’. Faith therefore does not quench the light but protects it. If you cannot yet grasp the naked truth is it not worthwhile to possess it wrapped in a veil?


Bernard of Clairveaux
On the Song of Songs 31.9; CF 7:132
quoted In the School of Love: An Anthology of Early Cistercian Texts. ed. by Edith Scholl, OCSO (Kalamazoo: 2000), p.72.

The anxious quest

St. Joseph Church Plain City, Ohio Photo: Wikimedia Commons

St. Joseph Church, Plain City, Ohio
Photo: Wikimedia Commons


Other people may teach us how to seek God, and angels, how to adore him, but the Holy Spirit alone teaches how to find him, possess him and enjoy him. The Spirit himself is the anxious quest of the one who truly seeks, he is the devotion of the one who adores in spirit and truth, he is the wisdom of the one who finds, the love of the one who possesses, the gladness of the one who enjoys.

William of Saint Thierry



from The Golden Epistle, quoted in In the School of Love: An Anthology of Early Cistercian Texts, selected and annotated by Edith Scholl, OCSO. Cistercian Publications, 2000, p.139.

Love’s birthplace

Love–what word is so overworked, misused, degraded, yet remains so fundamental and indispensable to a truly human life? Even more than spirituality, love eludes definition….

God is Love (1 Jn 4:16). Love is God’s very being; the life of the Trinity is an exchange of love among the three Persons–a love that pours itself out in creation, in the redemptive incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, and in each and every human being, made in God’s image and made to respond in kind, by loving.

–Edith Scholl, OCSO


Love’s birthplace is God.
There it is born, there nourished, there developed.
There it is a citizen, not a stranger but a native.
Love is given by God alone, and it endures in him, for it is due to no one else but him and for his sake.

–William of Saint Thierry.


from In the School of Love. An Anthology of Early Cistercian Texts. Selected and annotated by Edith Scholl, OCSO. Cistercian Publications. 2000, pp. 10-11.

Climbing and hanging suspended

In this school of love there is always more to be learned. Love is infinite. Someone who has made progress in this school can be sure that it is


love that has drawn her and led her and taught her the ways that she has faithfully followed. Often in great labor and in many activities, in great infirmity and in strong desire, in frequent impatience and in great dissatisfaction, in adversity and in prosperity, in great pain, in seeking and asking, in lacking and in having, in climbing and in hanging suspended, in following and in striving, in need and anxiety, in fear and concern, in great faithfulness and in many unfaithfulnesses, in pleasure and in pain, is she ready to suffer. In death and in life she commits herself to love.

Beatrice of Nazareth.

Edith Scholl introducing Beatrice of Nazareth, The Seven Modes of Love, Tjurunga No. 50, 82. From In the School of Love: An Anthology of Early Cistercian Texts, Edith Scholl, ed.

No longer abashed

Once you have had the experience of God’s benevolence, you need no longer feel abashed in aspiring to a holier intimacy. Growth in grace brings expansion of confidence. You will love with greater ardor, and knock on the door with greater assurance, in order to gain what you perceive to be still wanting to you. ‘The one who knocks will always have the door opened to him’. It is my belief that to a person so disposed, God will not refuse that most intimate kiss of all, a mystery of supreme generosity and ineffable sweetness.

Bernard of Clairvaux

from On the Song of Songs 3.5; quoted in In the School of Love, Edith Scholl, ed., p. 154-155.

Embracing the elusive virtues

When you also have found Christ, when you have found wisdom, when you have found justice, holiness and redemption (for Christ became all these for us), when you have found all these, hold them by affection and by attention. What you have found by understanding, hold by diligence and keep hold, if I may so express it, of the elusive virtues. Clasp their slippery forms to you in a tighter embrace until, reversing their roles, they cling to you, embrace you willingly, hold you fast without the labor of your own initiative, and permit you neither to depart very far nor to be away very long. Even if at times you should turn aside to meet the claims of human need, there let them pursue you, recall you, and clutch you to themselves, so that if they cannot always have your uninterrupted attention, they may always have your dedicated affection.


Gilbert of Hoyland

Sermon 9.2 from Sermons on the Song of Songs. Translated by Lawrence C. Braceland and excerpted in In the School of Love: An Anthology of Early Cistercian Texts, Edith Scholl, ed., p.156.

Holy fellowship

There is nothing in human life better than mutual love nor anything sweeter than holy fellowship. To love and be loved is a sweet exchange, the joy of one’s whole life, the recompense of blessedness. What can be lacking in the sweetness of this good and pleasant dwelling, this place where God dwells and where he rests? ‘God is in his holy place, God, who makes those of one mind to dwell in a house’.


Baldwin of Forde
In the School of Love: an Anthology of Early Cistercian Texts, p. 126.
This passage translated by David N. Bell.

God’s presence, continued

When he came to me, he never made known his coming by any signs, not by sight, not by sound, not by touch. It was not by any movement of his that I recognized his coming; it was not by any of my senses that I perceived he had penetrated to the depths of my being. Only by the movement of my heart did I perceive his presence; and I knew the power of his might because my faults were put to flight and my human yearnings brought into subjection. I have marveled at the depth of his wisdom when my secret faults have been revealed and made visible; at the very slightest amendment of my way of life I have experienced his goodness and mercy; in the renewal and remaking of the spirit of my mind, that is of my inmost being, I have perceived the excellence of his glorious beauty, and when I contemplate all these things I am filled with awe and wonder at his manifold greatness.

                                                                     –Bernard of Clairvaux


On the Song of Songs 40:91-92, excerpted in In the School of Love: An Anthology of Early Cistercian Texts, selected and annotated by Edith Scholl, OCSO.

How did you know God was there?

You ask then how I knew God was present, when his ways can in no way be traced? He is life and power, and as soon as he enters in, he awakens my slumbering soul; he stirs and soothes and pierces my heart, for before it was hard as stone, and diseased. So he has begun to pluck out and destroy, to build up and to plant, to water dry places and illuminate dark ones; to open what was closed and to warm what was cold; to make the crooked straight and the rough places smooth, so that my soul may bless the Lord, and all that is with me may praise his holy name.

                                                                              –Bernard of Clairvaux


On the Song of Songs 74:6, from In the School of Love: An Anthology of Early Cistercian Texts, selected and annotated by Edith Scholl, OCSO.

Souls seeking God

Faith lengthens the soul, charity widens it, hope gives it height.


Isaac of Stella (d. 1169)
English Cistercian
translated by Hugh McCaffery

From In the School of Love: An Anthology of Early Cistercian Texts, selected and annotated by Edith Scholl, Cistercian Publications, 2000.