Getting it right
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!" Luke 1.42
Bernard was barely out of nappies when he was elected Abbot of his monastery, Citeaux. at the tender age of 25. It set him in good stead to commend the monastic vocation to the youth of his era and he lost no opportunity. Not unlike today, early 12th century society was in flux and many were in search of meaning and purpose. In contrast to the aberrations of "courtly love", Bernard advocated the nobler path of "sacrificial love", focused on Jesus and for the sake of those he came to save.
His exemplar was Mary, the mother of Jesus. Her fruitful virginity epitomised for Bernard the possibility of directing one's youthful passion towards a nobler end than self-gratification. It also opened a way into the most productive contemplation on the Song of Songs. This controversial Old Testament book marked the high-point of scriptural reflection but had to be treated carefully and wisely and required a depth of sight and maturity, if its rich secrets were to be effectively and productively uncovered!
For all his enthusiasm, Bernard was nevertheless a shrewd thinker. When he noticed contemporaries drifting into Mary-ology, he recognised that it would not be long before they embraced the heresy of Mary-olatry. When the inevitable happened and the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was unleashed, Bernard was swift in condemning it as unscriptural and unworthy of Mary's legacy, as an ordinary woman whose faith rendered her capable of extra-ordinary devotion. Bernard's motive was to clear the path for believers to worship in spirit and in truth and not get distracted by idle speculation. In such a "safe space" love may triumph over knowledge, as it should.