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A letter from Bernard of Clairvaux, abbot (before 1139)

Translated letter: 

To the Duchess of Lorraine.

We give thanks to God for the devoted will that we know you have towards him and his servants. For every time any or the least spark of celestial love is seen to be lit in a carnal heart, lifted by earthly dignities/rank, it is without doubt a divine grace not human virtue. And we, indeed, embrace gratefully the benefits of your generosity offered us in your letters; but knowing how occupied you are by sudden and large things, which must detain you, we consider it convenient to await your opportunity as it pleases you. For we wish to be a burden to noone, as much as possible, especially in those things that pertain to God, where we ought to seek the fruit [good] of the giver rather than the value of the gift. You name the day and the place, if it please you, writing back through this messenger, on which with God’s help and the present instance taken care of, you might come to our parts, and with brother Wido/Guido meeting you, you might fulfill more swiftly and expeditiously your promises if he should find anything in your land that is appropriate to our Order. For God loves a happy giver [2Cor.9:7]. Or if perhaps the delay does not please you, let us know, since we are ready to obey your will in this, as much as reason allows. We greet the duke through your mouth and admonish him as well as you, that if you know the castle for which you are about to make war is not yours by right, you let it go for the love of God. Indeed it is written: What does it benefit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses himself, and acts to his own harm? [Math.16:26]

Original letter: 

GRATIAS agimus Deo pro tam devota voluntate, quam erga ipsum et servos eius vos habere cognovimus. Quoties enim in corde carnali, terrenis dignitatibus alto, ulla vel minima scintillula caelestis amoris accensa videtur, divinum sine dubio est munus, non hominis virtus. Et nos quidem largitatis vestrae vestris in litteris nobis oblata beneficia gratanter amplectimur; sed cognita illa subita et grandi satis occupatione, qua vos nunc detineri necesse est, conveniens ducimus vestram, quantum vobis placuerit, exspectare opportunitatem. Nemini etenim, quantum in nobis est, vellemus esse oneri, praesertim in iis quae ad Deum pertinent, ubi non dati lucrum, sed dantis fructum magis requirere debemus. Diem itaque nobis, si placet, atque locum rescribendo per hunc nuntium nominate, quo, iuvante Deo, praesenti expedita instantia, nostris partibus appropinquate debeatis, et fratre Widone vobis obviam facto, si quid in terra vestra invenerit quod aptum sit Ordini nostro, promissa vestra expeditius atque alacrius compleatis. HILAREM ENIM DATOREM DILIGIT DEUS. Aut si forte non placet vobis dilatio, et hoc notificate, quia parati sumus in hac re, quantum ratio patitur, vestrae obtemperare voluntati. Ore vestro Ducem salutamus, et tam ipsum quam vos admonemus, ut si castrum, pro quo guerram facturi estis, vestri iuris non esse noveritis, pro Dei amore relinquatis. Scriptum quippe est: QUID PRODEST HOMINI SI MUNDUM UNIVERSUM LUCRETUR, se autem perdat, ET DETRIMENTUM SUI FACIAT?

Historical context: 

Bernard thanks her for benefits offered and deters her from an evil war. The editor suggests that Wido may be the abbot of Trois Fontaines.

Printed source: 

Sancti Bernardi, Opera (Rome: Cistercians, 1974), ed. J. Leclercq, H. Rochais, v7.300-301, ep.120.


before 1139