Bernard was twenty-two when he walked into the monastery of Cîteaux in Dijon, France. Three years later, he would help establish a new Benedictine community named Claire Vallée or Clairvaux (thus the name Bernard of Clairvaux).
Bernard’s times were those of religious extremes. He tended toward an extreme devotion to Mary. He was also a prominent figure behind the second Christian crusade, recruited by the Pope and King of France to rally new crusaders.
Bernard is also interesting because he held to a nearly Protestant theology of justification (hundreds of year before to Luther or Calvin). His most challenging legacy for us today is perhaps his Four Degrees of Love.
- First Degree – Love of Self for Self’s Sake
- Second Degree – Love of God for Self’s Sake
- Third Degree – Love of God for God’s Sake
- Fourth Degree – Love of Self for God’s Sake
Many of us arrive at loving ourselves or even loving God for our own sake. Some of us arrive at loving God for God’s sake, but it is perhaps this deepest degree that remains the most difficult.
Bernard writes, “I am not certain that the fourth degree of love in which we love ourselves only for the sake of God may be perfectly attained in this life. But, when it does happen, we will experience the joy of the Lord and be forgetful of ourselves in a wonderful way.”
The spirituality of the Four Degrees of Love is of the potent Medieval kind. Its radical call to us is, “how do we love God today?”