BERNARD OF CLAIRVAUX: APOLOGY
This is part of an Apology written by St. Bernard almost 1000 years which discusses the vainity of his
day which continues to our times, so little has changed. I am using it to help the local children and poor
in Missoula to try and save a school from the "leaders", here is a quick look at the project;
DECISION MATRIX FOR SAVING A LOCAL SCHOOL
Now here is a section of the original letter;
But these are minor abuses. I shall go on to major ones which seem minor because they are so common.
I say nothing of the enormous height, extravagant length and unnecessary width of the churches, of their
costly polishings and curious paintings which catch the worshipper's eye and dry up his devotion, things
which seem to me in some sense a revival of ancient Jewish rites. Let these things pass, let us say they
are all to the honor of God. Nevertheless, just as the pagan poet Persius inquired of his fellow pagans, so
I as a monk ask my fellow monks: "Tell me, oh pontiffs," he said, "what is gold doing in the sanctuary?"
I say (following his meaning rather than his metre): "Tell me, poor men, if you really are poor what is gold
doing in the sanctuary?"
There is no comparison here between bishops and monks. We know that the bishops, debtors to both the
wise and unwise, use material beauty to arouse the devotion of a carnal people because they cannot do so
by spiritual means. But we who have now come out of that people, we who have left the precious and lovely
things of the world for Christ, we who, in order to win Christ, have reckoned all beautiful, sweet-smelling,
fine-sounding, smooth-feeling, good-tasting things-- in short, all bodily delights--as so much dung, what do
we expect to get out of them? Admiration from the foolish? Offerings from the ignorant? Or, scattered as we
are among the gentiles, are we learning their tricks and serving their idols?
I shall speak plainly: Isn't greed, a form of idolatry, responsible for all this? Aren't we seeking contributions rather
than spiritual profit? "How?" you ask. "In a strange and wonderful way," I answer. Money is scattered about in such
a way that it will multiply. It is spent so that it will increase. Pouring it out produces more of it. Faced with expensive
but marvelous vanities, people are inspired to contribute rather than to pray. Thus riches attract riches and money
produces more money. I don't know why, but the wealthier a place, the readier people are to contribute to it. Just
feast their eyes on gold-covered relics and their purses will open. Just show them a beautiful picture of some saint.
The brighter the colors, the saintlier he'll appear to them. Men rush to kiss and are invited to contribute. There is
more admiration for beauty than veneration for sanctity. Thus churches are decorated, not simply with jeweled crowns,
but with jeweled wheels illuminated as much by their precious stones as by their lamps. We see candelabra like big
bronze trees, marvelously wrought, their gems glowing no less than their flames. What do you think is the purpose of
such things? To gain the contrition of penitents or the admiration of spectators?
On vanity of vanities, yet no more vain than insane! The church is resplendent in her walls and wanting in her
poor. She dresses her stones in gold and lets her sons go naked. The eyes of the rich are fed at the expense
of the indigent. The curious find something to amuse them and the needy find nothing to sustain them.
What sort of reverence is shown to the saints when we place their pictures on the floor and then walk on them?
Often someone spits in an angel's mouth. Often the face of a saint is trampled by some passerby's feet. If
sacred images mean nothing to us, why don't we at least economize on the paint? Why embellish what we're
about to befoul? Why decorate what we must walk upon? What good is it to have attractive pictures where
they're usually stained with dirt?
Finally, what good are such things to poor men, to monks, to spiritual men? Perhaps the poet's question could
be answered with words from the prophet: "Lord, I have loved the beauty of your house, and the place where
your glory dwells" (Ps. 26:8). I agree. Let us allow this to be done in churches because, even if it is harmful to
the vain and greedy, it is not such to the simple and devout. But in cloisters, where the brothers are reading,
what is the point of this ridiculous monstrosity, this shapely misshapenness, this misshapen shapeliness?
What is the point of those unclean apes, fierce lions, monstrous centaurs, half-men, striped tigers, fighting
soldiers and hunters blowing their horns? In one place you see many bodies under a single head, in another
several heads on a single body. Here on a quadruped we see the tail of a serpent. Over there on a fish we see
the head of a quadruped. There we find a beast that is horse up front and goat behind, here another that is
horned animal in front and horse behind. In short, so many and so marvelous are the various shapes surrounding
us that it is more pleasant to read the marble than the books, and to spend the whole day marveling over these
things rather than meditating on the law of God. Good Lord! If we aren't embarrassed by the silliness of it all,
shouldn't we at least be disgusted by the expense?