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The Last of the Fathers: Saint Bernard of Clairvaux and the Encyclical Letter 'Doctor Mellifluus' [Paperback]

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Item Specifications...

Pages   132
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 7.98" Width: 5.36" Height: 0.32"
Weight:   0.3 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Nov 11, 1981
Publisher   Harvest Books
ISBN  0156494388  
EAN  9780156494380  

Availability  108 units.
Availability accurate as of Jan 19, 2018 10:41.
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Item Description...
Merton presents one of the most significant encyclical letters of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, together with an introduction to the life and teachings of the great mystic. "A study that will have to be on the shelves of all libraries and in the personal collections of all who are interested in spirituality" (Catholic World). Index.

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More About Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was a Trappist monk, spiritual director, political activist, social critic, and one of the most-read spiritual writers of the twentieth century. He is the author of many books, including The Seven Storey Mountain.

Thomas Merton was born in 1915 and died in 1968.

Thomas Merton has published or released items in the following series...
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  5. Modern Library Classics (Paperback)
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Profound, brief yet comprehensive biography and study of Cistercian Saint Bernard of Clairvaux by fellow Cistercian Tom Merton  Aug 14, 2007
Late in his life, in May of 1953, Pope Pius XXII published this brief yet comprehensive examination of the Cistercian Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, entitling his encyclical The Mellifluous Doctor, underlining the placing this influential saint among the Doctors of the Church and the last of the early Church Fathers.

With the delay of its complete publication in English, fellow Cistercian Father Thomas Merton received happily the task of writing a biographical and bibliographical introduction, which was published in 1954 after passing not only the Censor Librorum John M. A. Fearns, S.T.D., and receiving the Imprimatur of the great Francis Cardinal Spellman of New York (not Kentucky), but also having passing his own Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance's Censor Librorum, in Rome, and recieving the Imprimi Potest from the head of his Order, in Rome, Fr. Gabriel Sortais, about whom you may study more in Dom Gabriel Sortais: An Amazing Abbot in Turbulent Times (Monastic Wisdom Series) by Solesmes's excellent and scholarly Fr. Guy Oury, OSB, in any unusual cross-Order celebration and appreciation. Fr. Sortais in fact contributes an opening word to this present book, as well as the Order's Cardinal Protector and Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda Fide (Propagation of the Faith) Peter, Cardinal Fumasino-Biondi, who writes:

"Into a world where fear and distrust run as a seemingly overpowering force, where men seek to rely on force and human strategy, our Holy Father, Pius XII, has injected once more the Christian call to hope and trust and reliance on divine love and strategy ( . . .) The teachings of Saint Bernard can be a beacon leading us, one and all, to love, for we were made to love, not to fear. 'God is love,' yesterday, today and forever."

No more welcome words may we hear today, except the long war is over.

Thus, as was typical and necessary for the great American monk Father Merton's works, this treatise bears a double Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat.

I came to this work as a result of reading the intriguing selection of correspondence exchanged between Father Merton and the Benedictine authority on monasticism Father Jean LeClercq, published as Survival or Prophecy?: The Letters of Thomas Merton and Jean LeClercq. Dom LeClercq at that time was also writing about Saint Bernard, and is in fact poignantly cited in this present work by Father Merton. It is exciting to read their correspondence and realize the behind the scenes difficulties in, among other things, researching and producing this book.

An interesting conundrum regarding the disclaimer which accompanies this double Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat, which declare the book free of doctrinal and moral error. If the disclaimer states the well-trained individuals involved in granting the here four official stamps of approval are not thereby implied in agreeing with its contents, does that not place them in danger of being supposed of being in agreement with moral and doctrinal error, and then what does that do to their official status?

In any case Father Merton writes, free of doctrinal and moral error, an excellent and brief biography of great insight into this Saint and his theology, followed by an examination of his writings, many of which are recently available through Honey and Salt: Selected Spiritual Writings of Bernard of Clairvaux and Bernard of Clairvaux: Selected Works (Classics of Western Spirituality). Father Merton then, after frequent reference to the encyclical at hand, provides externsive notes and background upon its contents and writing.

Father Merton in his Preface defines a "papal encyclical (as) . . .always a concise and fully authoritative summary of the teaching accepted and approved by the Church on a given subject. Doctor Mellifluous tells us what Saint Bernard means to the Church (p. 10)." Please notice the primacy of the Church as a whole in this: it is not a summary of the Pope's own opinions and feelings, but a summary of what is accepted by the Church as whole on any given subject. This is wherein the authority lies; it represents the thinking of the Church as a whole, not any individual member of that Church. The Pope here summarizes what "Bernard means to the Church."

Saint Bernard lived in the early eleventh century, upon the cusp of the Patristic and the modern eras of our ecclesiology. He thus "struck an altogether new note of hope and encouragement in medieval spirituality, and it is no exagerration to attribute to him the current of sweetness and joy that was to become in Francis of Assisi 'a stream of the river making the city of God joyful' (Psalm 45:5). (p. 11)"

Father Merton concludes this Preface by stating this encyclical arrrives at a timely moment: "It seems fitting that it should now receive a wide dissemination, for nothing could be more timely than its timeless appeal for a return to genuine Christian charity, nourished by bearing fruit not so much in material works as in the true love for other men. (p. 14)"

Father Merton has an interesting and timely study of Saint Bernard on the earliest Crusades, which he refused to support at the request of the Frankish King: "He formally refuses, adding that he will only undertake the task if commanded by the Pope (p. 39)." When the King goes over his head to the Pope, and the Pope gives this command, Saint Bernard's writings in this regard remain well within the limits of obedience to the Pope. He tries to propose military action as an effort to preserve the order established by God, and as Father Merton well points out: "The difficulty comes, of course, in determining just what political set-up, if any, represents the order established by God (p.41)"

As Merton also demonstrates points out, those thus commissioned for this Crusade remained as vile and self-interested as ever, and the entire enterprise failed as a religious mission which it never was. Merton in fact has the best study on this aspect of Saint Bernard available. Merton continues that Saint Bernard "ought to have read the translation of the Koran which Peter the Venerable sent him, from Cluny, to study and to refute. Beranrd seems to have felt no need to know or to understand anything about Islam: as if knowing the Mohammedans to be 'pagans' were to know quite enough. But let us remember that Bernard belongs to the twelfth century, not to the twentieth (p.42)." as if in the twentieth century age of reason and enlightenment and logic, we would have studied before going to total war. Such niceties apparently are no longer found necessary in the twenty-first century. See The Assault on Reason.

This theme re-emerges in Father Merton's examination of Saint Bernard's De laude novae militiae, about the Knights Templar, in which Bernard writes: "Quis igitur finis fructusve saecularis hujus, non dico militiae sed malitiae, si et occisor letaliter peccat at occisus aeternaliter perit? (p.56)." In English more or less I roughly translate: So what purpose is the fruit of their secular warfare, not by militia but by the malicious, if the killer mortally sins and the killed perishes forever?

Bernard's solution is for the Knights Templar to live like Cistercians in Palestine, an admirable and saintly enterprise which unfortunately did not come about.

Most interesting to me of all these mainly untranslated minor works of Saint Bernard of course is his life of Saint Malachy, missioner monk from Ireland who died at Clairvaux in 1148. I hope to find many of these writings, but that's the way it goes. This all began with a short reference in the correspondence of Merton and LeClercq, and the whole mystical universe of Saint Bernard opens before me. I most wish to read his treatise on the Love of God. and De COnsideratione.

Merton completes this section on Saint Bernard's Writings by examining the theme of freedom: "we fulfill the end for which we were created when by conformity to Christ we fully realize our own identity by becoming perfectly free and therefore by loving God without limit (p. 63)" Merton finds a "characteristic emphasis on fredom and charity" and defines "Bernard (as) a builder, a man at once of liberty and of order, a man who builds individual liberties into a universal order, that all may be more perfectly free (p. 67)" May our Church, universal and Catholic once more know this freedom.

In fact, in an earlier section discussing Bernard's writings on the relationship between the Cistercians and the Benedictines, Father Merton sums them up in this way: "Bernard is not propagandizing his own Order, but defending the unity of the Church: and her unity demands variety. To compel all monks ot follow the same observance would be un-Catholic (p.54)." May we see the true and multi-faceted nature of Our Holy Mother Church with the same charity, compassion, acceptance and love today as did Saint Bernard. Saint Bernard, pray for us now and forever.


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