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This Little That You Have Granted Me to Be

One of Protestantism’s favorite medieval theologians is Bernard of Clairvaux, a thinker cited by Calvin and Luther in their bid for a soteriological shift. Bernard opens his 20th sermon on the Song of Songs with this paragraph:

I would like to begin with a word from St Paul: “If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus, let him be anathema.” Truly, I ought to love the one through whom I have my being, my life, my understanding. If I am ungrateful, I am unworthy too.

Lord Jesus, whoever refuses to live for you is clearly worthy of death, and is in fact dead already. Whoever does not know you is a fool. And whoever wants to become something without you, without doubt that man is considered nothing and is just that.

For what is man, unless you take notice of him? You have made all things for yourself, O God, and whoever wants to live for himself and not for you, in all that he does, is nothing.

“Fear God, and keep his commandments,” it is said, “for this is the whole duty of man.” So if this is all, without this, man is nothing.

Turn toward yourself, O God, this little that you have granted me to be; take from this miserable life, I beg you, the years that remain.

In place of all that I lost in my evil way of living, O God, do not refuse a humble and penitent heart. My days have lengthened like a shadow and passed without fruits; I cannot bring them back, but let it please you at least if I offer them to you in the bitterness of my soul.

As for wisdom — my every desire and intention is before you — if there were any in me, I would keep it for you. But, God, you know my stupidity, unless perhaps it is wisdom for me to recognize it, and even this is your gift. Grant me more; not that I am ungrateful for this small gift, but that I am eager for what is lacking.

For all these things, and as much as I am able, I love you.