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Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) 20th August - Augustine of Hippo (354-430) August 28th. A Gentle and Brief Reminder of Their Legacy

By Roger Salter
Special to Virtueonline
August 21, 2017

The Anglican Calendar of Lesser Festivals and Holydays makes provision, in close proximity, for the remembrance of two of the titans of Christian thought and spirituality.

Bernard and Augustine were towering figures in their time in the cause of Christ and each has left a legacy of immense importance for the church of our time. Both men lived in times of enormous uncertainty, social upheaval, poverty, squalor, and violence. Augustine was witnessing the demolition of Rome and Bernard could observe the disorder, depravity, and disaster that continually oppressed medieval Europe. Their respective eras were not propitious for humanity or the Church of God. In fact, a backward glance discloses that there has never been a golden age for the church. Augustine's day was blighted by the Vandals and Bernard's day was clouded by the rise of the Saracens. Ecclesiastically, each had sharp division and serious error to deal with. These men were exceptionally stalwart contenders for the faith in difficult times and conditions. They speak afresh to our generation with its seemingly overwhelming challenges.

These men of great intellect were great not only of mind but of soul; not only of head but of tender, teachable heart. They amassed much knowledge and wielded enormous expertise in the science of theology but they also thrived on a deep personal knowledge of God Himself. Grace restrained their hubris. Their studies made them learned, their familiarity with Scripture made them wise, their communion with the Lord made them eloquent, their self-knowledge made them humble. Grace made these men great, but not in their own estimation. Providence primed them and prepared them to be luminaries to all the saints in all ages inhabiting a dark world.

Simplistically, very so, it could be averred that Augustine was pre-eminently the doctor of Trinitarian grace - the kindly Power of mercy that created and sustains the church - the community of the elect drawn out of a race deeply hostile to its Maker. Bernard so beautifully described and represented the Bridegroom of the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ, who affectionately woos his bride and protects her in steadfast love.

Augustine and Bernard were unequaled instructors in the faith who possessed the ability, through the Holy Spirit, to move human affections toward God as the Lover of precious souls. The words of life pronounced by these mere men leapt from prayer and led to prayer and penitence. In message and mien these men were spiritual Masters who provided a lifetime of material to meditate upon. Anglicans could well adopt them as major mentors in the disciplines of our religion.

The great commendation for heirs of the Reformation is that both Luther and Calvin favored Augustine and Bernard as their preferred Fathers of the Church - Augustine as the greatest and Bernard as the last - Augustine as the basis of the Reformation and Bernard, practically speaking, as the first "Protestant Reformer". But Augustine and Bernard stand above the great divisions in the church and minister in friendly fashion to all believers who search the Scriptures and trust the Saviour.

Augustine is most frequently introduced and encountered through his Confessions of which many translations abound. Penguin Books present us with the translation of R.S. Pine-Coffin, Barnes and Noble offer E.V. Pusey (whom the staunch Presbyterian Calvinist John "Rabbi" Duncan mentions as follows: He has a fine spirit of reverence for the Word of God . . . His Christianity radiates back to that of Augustine; he is an Augustinian), and a superlative version of the Confessions comes from the pen of Dame Maria Boulding. Bernard is is accessible through various anthologies usually consisting of extracts from Sermons on the Song of Songs (rapturous), The Steps of Humility and Pride (heart-searching), Grace and Free Choice (satisfyingly Augustinian) and various items of his vast correspondence. New biographies of Augustine have recently come to the bookstores but none surpass Peter Brown for accurate facticity and deep analysis, and some do not even have an accurate or sufficient appreciation of his essential theology and its crucial importance to him intellectually and experientially. Tony Lane's volume Bernard of Clairvaux: Theologian of the Cross is an invaluable treatment of Bernard's teaching on the atonement and justification by faith.

This wonderful quartet of theologians, separated by the passage of centuries, Augustine, Bernard, Luther, and Calvin were in marvelous accord. Each proclaimed the truth of human helplessness and incapacity in turning to God. Each advocated the splendid fact of sovereign grace and an unconditional election of love toward sin-enslaved sinners. Every one of these gallant and noble servants of the Lord proclaimed the Lordship and sovereign Saviorhood of the Lord Jesus. To a man they approached and interpreted the Bible as the very speech of God in spite of differences in emphasis and flaws in understanding. In essentials, they were in union.

Original Anglicanism aspires to be loyal to the Word of God. Through human instrumentality, that shares this aspiration, Anglicanism is founded upon and drenched with the influence of Augustine. If it was less conscious of Bernard it nonetheless complies with his gentle pastoral and devotional spirit.

The twinning of Bernard and Augustine in Anglican minds would call to mind the faith that stirred the minds of the Reformers, the faith that is the bridge to earlier phases of the history of God's people, which Evangelicals may have a tendency to devalue. The lineage of Augustine is strong in the pre-Reformational church, thus proving the unity and continuity of the faith in all eras of the elect company of the Lord, and preserving the divinely donated faith that can still give us joy, courage, and endurance in testing times now in and days ahead for the church.

The Rev. Roger Salter is an ordained Church of England minister where he had parishes in the dioceses of Bristol and Portsmouth before coming to Birmingham, Alabama to serve as Rector of St. Matthew's Anglican Church

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