In the shadows

Daily Reading for August 20 • Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux, 1153

It is good that faith is shadowy. It tempers the light to the dim-sighted eye and prepares the eye for the light. It is written: “By faith he cleanses their hearts” [Ac 15:19]. Faith, therefore does not extinguish the light but protects it. All that which an angel sees clearly, the shadow of faith delivers to me, stored up now in the embrace of the faithful, to be revealed in due time. Is it not expedient to hold that which is obscure when you cannot comprehend it in its nakedness?

The Lord’s mother so lived in the shadow of faith that it is said of her: “Blessed are you who have believed” [Lk 1:45]. Even the body of Christ was a shadow for her, as we hear: “The power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow” [Lk 1:35]. This is no mean shadow which is formed by the power of the Most High. Truly there was power in Christ’s flesh which overshadowed the Virgin, since, by the enveloping shield of his quickening body, she could bear the presence of his majesty and sustain the inaccessible light [1Tm 6:16]—something impossible to mortal woman. That was power indeed, by which all opposing power was defeated. Both the power and the shadow [Lm 4:20] put demons to flight and shield humans—surely a quickening power, surely a refreshing shadow. We who walk by faith [2 Co 5:7] live in the shadow of Christ.

From Bernard of Clairvaux’s Sermons on the Song of Songs 31.9-10, quoted in John R. Sommerfeldt, “Bernard of Clairvaux On the Truth Accessible Through Faith,” in The Joy of Learning and the Love of God: Essays in Honor of Jean Leclercq, edited by E. Rozanne Elder (Kalamazoo, Mich.: Cistercian Publications, 1995).

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