Thirst of the Soul


Bernard of Clairvaux (1090 – 1153) was one of the most prominent Church teachers of the Middle Ages. Though he was known as a persuasive advocate for monasticism and personal piety, Bernard also boldly preached on the issues of his day. In fact, “[i]t was said in his time that the Church had had no preacher like him since Gregory the Great.”1 His writings and teachings influenced ecclesiastical and civil affairs outside the monastery and contributed to a renewed religious awakening in the surrounding culture. In his work, On Loving God, Bernard articulates that the essence and motive of love is God Himself. Apart from God placing His love within man, man is unable to know God. Therefore, man is driven by greed to fill his life with things that cannot truly satisfy—for what man lacks, is God Himself.

It is natural for a man to desire what he reckons better than that which he has already, and be satisfied with nothing which lacks that special quality which he misses. Thus, if it is for her beauty that he loves his wife, he will cast longing eyes after a fairer woman. If he is clad in a rich garment, he will covet a costlier one; and no matter how rich he may be he will envy a man richer than himself. . . . Do we not see people every day, endowed with vast estates, who keep on joining field to field, dreaming of wider boundaries for their lands? Those who dwell in palaces are ever adding house to house, continually building up and tearing down, remodeling and changing. Men in high places are driven by insatiable ambition to clutch at still greater prizes. And nowhere is there any final satisfaction, because nothing there can be defined as absolutely the best or highest . . . No matter how many such things one has, he is always lusting after what he has not; never at peace, he sighs for new possessions. Discontented, he spends himself in fruitless toil, and finds only weariness in the evanescent and unreal pleasures of the world. In his greediness, he counts all that he has clutched as nothing in comparison with what is beyond his grasp, and loses all pleasure in his actual possessions by longing after what he has not, yet covets. No man can ever hope to own all things. . . .

It is so that these impious ones wander in a circle, longing after something to gratify their yearnings, yet madly rejecting that which alone can bring them to their desired end, not by exhaustion but by attainment. They wear themselves out in vain travail, without reaching their blessed consummation, because they delight in creatures, not in the Creator. . . .

If you should see a starving man standing with mouth open to the wind, inhaling draughts of air as if in hope of gratifying his hunger, you would think him lunatic. But it is no less foolish to imagine that the soul can be satisfied with worldly things which only inflate it without feeding it. . . .2


1 New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, s.v. “Bernard of Clairvaux,” (accessed February 17, 2006).

2 St. Bernard of Clairvaux, On Loving God (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2000), 13-15, (accessed February 17, 2006). See chapter 7.

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