Among the theologians and spiritual authors of these centuries, the most important mariologist was St Bernard of Claraval. The other mystical writers also spoke of Mary, but included her speeches in the globality of her theology. I consider that the theologians, saints and mystics who made the most relevant Marian contributions are: St Anseelmo, Hugo de San Víctor, Saint Hildegarda and St Bernard.
Anseelmo of Canterbury (1033-1109)
He was born in Aosta, northern Italy and died as Archbishop of Canterbury, Great Britain. He was abbot in the Benedictine monastery of St. Mary of Bec (Normandy) to which he had entered in 1060 and where he was a disciple of Lanfranco of Canterbury. In 1078 he was elected abbot of that monastery. After Lanfranco died in 1089, Anselmo occupied the vacant episcopal seat, starting in 1093, when he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, and where he died surrounded by monks in 1109. He was canonized in 1494, and was proclaimed a doctor of the Church in 1720 by Pope Clement XI. His party is celebrated on April 21.
As a philosopher he is considered one of the fathers of the scholastic. His writings of theology are remembered for the “ontological argument about the existence of God”. Anselmo defines God as “the greatest Being that can be thought of.” And he argued, “that Being exists in the minds of every thinking person.” For his ontological theology and metaphysics he is considered a precursor to St. Thomas Aquinas.
His philosophical and theological formation was Augustinian, but he sought to give reason for the faith received by revelation. He did not intend to reject or change the dogmas of faith, but to think about them to explain what can be understood. He invites us to desire God, so that by wishing him to be sloping him, seeking him, loving him, being in love and finding him to love him (cf. Proslogion, 1). Anselmo cannot answer all the questions of the human mind about God, but he does not intend to exactly demarcate the fields of theology and theodicea, but to think of some aspects about faith and explain it to his disciples to seek and love God.
In addition to his great work Proslogion, he wrote numerous sermons, many of them about the Virgin Mary, for which he is recognized as a Marian theologian. He was a defender of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. In Sermon 52 he makes the following praise of the Most Pure, for his fullness of grace:
“O graceful woman, overabundant with grace, whose fullness overflows with the whole creation and makes her green! O Blessed Virgin, blessed above all else, by your blessing is blessed every creature, not only creation by the Creator, but also the Creator for the creature!
“God gave Mary his own Son, the only one equal to him, whom he begets from his heart as loving himself, that he might truly be one and himself the Son of God and Mary. All that is born is a creature of God, and God is born of Mary. God created all things, and Mary begat God. God, who did all things, did himself through Mary; and, in this way, he did all that he had done again. He who could do all things out of nowhere did not want to remake without Mary what had been stained.
“God is therefore the father of created things; and Mary is the mother of recreated things. God is the father to whom the constitution of the world is due; and Mary is the mother to whom her restoration is due. For God begat him for whom all was done, and Mary gave birth to him for whom all was saved. God begat the one without whom nothing exists, and Mary gave birth to him without whom nothing subsists.”1
Hugo de San Víctor (c. 1096-1141)
He was born in Saxony, where he was educated in the Augustinian order of Hamersleben. Around 1115 he went to the school of St. Victor in Paris, which had been founded by William de Champeaux in 1108. In this abbey I would become canon, teacher and prior. His writings achieved a fame similar to those of St. Bernard.
Hugo was the initiator of mysticism at the theological school of St. Victor, continued by his disciples Andrew and Richard. It is a prudent mysticism, based on the theology and authority of the fathers of the Church, in the face of the rationalist tendency of Roscelino and Pedro Abelardo. He was a teacher at st. Victor’s School, and in 1133 was elected prior of the abbey, where he died in 1141.
He is a teacher who performs the synthesis between philosophy, theology and mystique in search of Truth. In his philosophical work Didascalion tried to compile all the sacred and profane knowledge of his time. He also wrote theological works, a commentary on the celestial hierarchy of pseudo-Dionysus and other treatises on mystique.
The studies at the school of San Víctor were based on the liberal arts (trivium and quadrivium), its center was philosophy and its cusp mystical theology. Hugo sees human knowledge, science and philosophy as means of approaching God. He believes that the treasures of Wisdom and the Word (Christ) are kept in the Spiritual Ark. The sacred ark is the Church, and it is Mary, whom she reveres in her mystical treatises.
Hildegarda de Bingen (1098-1179)
He was born in Bermersheim, Rhineland, in 1098. She is one of the few women writers of the Middle Ages on mystique and prophecy, music and medicine. It is known as the Sibyl of the Rhine, because its monastery was a focus of cultural irradiation throughout the Rhine region. It preserves spiritual books, numerous letters, scientific texts and poetic works comprising more than seventy poems and chants.
She was an extraordinary woman of her time, who stood out for her science and holiness. Her vast culture and the influence of her writings earned her the respect and admiration of both nobles and simple people. He corresponded with Bernardo de Claraval and other illustrious characters of his time, such as Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. The devotion of the people canonized it and elevated it to the altars. She was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Benedict XVI, his co-lander, in 2010 with the Spanish teacher and priest St. John of Avila.
In the medieval context of their time, the only way for women to access education and culture was to enter a monastery. This explains why, at the age of eight, she was taken by her parents to the Benedictine monastery of Disibodemberg where she was educated in piety and science, and where she professed monastic vows.
There, in 1128, she was elected abbess, despite her youth. She was appointed to this position when she was only thirty years old because of the admiration and respect professed to her by her companions. In 1147 he founded a new monastery in the Rupertsberg, near Bingen. Around 1165 he created the subsidiary monastery of Eibingen, near Rudesheim. This holy and wise abbess died on 17 December 1179.
His most important writings on mystique are: Sci Vias (he knows the ways of the Lord), Liber vitae meritorum (Book of the Merits of Life), Liber divinarum operum (Book of Divine Works). For her monastery sisters she composed: Carmina (poems), symphonica caelistium revelationum . He also wrote more than three hundred letters, including some to Bernardo de Claraval.
His Benedictine inspiration is part of the Cistercian reform. The favorite themes of his mystical writings are: weddings with Christ (courteous love) and fullness in God (mystical love), humility, poverty and simplicity, the sense of concreteness of things and love for one’s neighbour which is charity. She is a theologous woman of history, a seer of her time to transmit God’s voice to her people. She was highly appreciated as a counselor, already known in life as “Teutonic prophetissa”, but over the course of the Middle Ages she did not have much influence. His work was divulged when his writings were rescued in the late nineteenth century and during the twentieth century.
His “courteous love” is inspired by the comments to the Song of Songs written by St. Bernard. The wife is always the soul who thirsts for love, thirst for God. It is the bridal mystique, the love of the essential that does not renounce actions or temporal commitment, but everything about God and immerses itself in it. The mystique and poetry with which it is often expressed always refer to divine love. In his Marian doctrine he identifies with the Marian analogies and comments of St Bernard.
Saint Bernard of Claraval (1090-1153)
He was born in Fontaines, Burgundy, France. At the age of twenty-two he entered with other young people of the nobility in the monastery of the Ciesster, which had been founded by Roberto de Molesmes (1029-1111), in order to reform the Benedictine monastic life of Cluny. Bernardo died on 20 August 1153 in Claraval, as faithful devotee abbot of Mary. He was canonized by Pope Alexander III in 1174, and proclaimed a doctor of the Church by Pope Pius VIII in 1830. He is known as a Marian doctor and as a melifluous doctor in consideration of his Marian devotion, eloquence and sweetness.
In 1115 he was sent from the Ciesster to found a new monastery in Clair-Vaux (Claraval or Valle Claro). In 1119 Pope Calixtus II approved the constitutions of the strict Benedictine observance proposed by St Bernard. In 1139 he attended the Second Council of Lateran. That same year he wrote to the polemist Pedro Abelardo (1079–1142) to retract his rationalist mistakes. At the same time, he wrote to Pope Innocent II (letter 192) pointing out the theological errors of Abelardo, who sought to reconcile the demands of faith with the deductions of reason and with the perception of feeling. St. Bernard criticized Pedro Abelardo accusing him of being confused by his contradictory dialectic.2
Bernardo was a renewer of the Church at the time: he spread Gothic architecture throughout Europe along with the ascetics and spirituality of the Cistercians or Benedictines of strict observance. He influenced not only the theology and spirituality of his time, but politics and society as an entire society, because he was a counselor to popes and kings.
He formulated the basic principles of mystical theology, inspired by the fathers of the Church and St Paul. Seek knowledge and union with God through the Holy Scriptures, the Fathers of the Church, the authority of theologians, and one’s religious experience. He thinks that man is called to rise from sin to mystical union with God, which he formulates in his treatise on god’s love. He regarded St Ambrose and St Augustine as columns of the ecclesial faith.
He believed that philosophy and his dialectical speculations were sterile, so he was firmly opposed to Abelardo. He despised the elucubrations of Plato and Aristotle, although he had a neoplatonic conception of the human soul, created in the image of God and destined for perfect union with Him. This is explained by the influence of St Augustine’s philosophy and theology on him.
He was a fertile author who wrote many treatises, sermons and letters, so some regard him as the last of the Latino parents. His works were collected by Jacques Paul Migne in Latin Patrology; translated into Spanish and compiled in the bilingual edition of the Christian Authors Library.3
Saint Bernard is a great devotee and singer of the Virgin-Mother. His Marian texts are written in Latin in refined style. Dante, author of the Divine Comedy, places him in Paradise as a sure guide who leads to Mary and introduces the heavenly Queen.
He wrote by devotion the treatise In praise of the Virgin Mother of great beauty and sensitivity.4 He also wrote Homilies on the feasts of the Nativity, the Annunciation, the Purification, the Assumption. He commented on several New Testament texts that speak of Mary, in particular about the Revelation and the Song of Songs. The exhaustive commentary, in the form of sermons, of the Song of Songs, is considered his best written, for his literary art and spiritual depth, with mystical sense.
The content of her most widespread and popular Marian work, In praise of the Virgin Mother, consists of four homilies, from the passage of the Annunciation in the Gospel according to Luke (cf. Lk 1:26-38). In the prologue and epilogue of his work, Bernardo points out that he has written by devotion to the Virgin Mary, to vent his intimate feelings. The Marian devotion of St Bernard is nourished by Sacred Scripture and monastic spirituality.
The aim of this Marian twilight is to “write something in praise of the Virgin Mother following the gospel account told to us by the story of the Lord’s Annunciation, described by Luke” (“Introduction”).
“However, those who accuse me that my comments are idle and unnecessary know that I have not intended to dissert on the gospel, but simply to leave the gospel to vent my intimate feelings” (“Conclusion”).
In the first of the homilies of this Marian treatise, St Bernard begins by wondering:
“What did the Evangelist mean by listing here so specifically to the details of so many names of his own? In my opinion, to prevent us from listening without proper attention to what he wanted to narrate with such emphasis. Indeed, he mentions the messenger to whom he is sent, to the Lord for whom he is sent, to the Virgin to whom he is sent and even to the husband of Our Lady, also registering the lineage, the people and the region of both. Here lies an intentionality. Or do you think all these ins and outs are superfluous? No way” (Homily I, 1).
In addition to the treatise on The Virgin Mother, St Bernard wrote sermons on the occasion of the Marian festivities and commentary on biblical texts referring to Mary. Some of the most famous sermons are on the occasion of the Nativity of Mary, the Annunciation, the Purification, the Assumption and the Eighth of the Assumption.
Finally, we remember the traditional Marian prayer prayed by the Christian people, and it is known as Memorare and “Prayer of St Bernard” because it is attributed to this saint.
“Remember, O most pious Virgin Mary, that it has never been heard to say that none of those who have come to your protection, imploring your assistance and claiming your help, has been abandoned from you. Encouraged with this trust, I also come to you, O Mother, Virgin of virgins, and although moaning under the weight of my sins, I dare to appear before your sovereign presence. Do not throw away my humble supplications, O Mother of the divine Word, rather, listen to them and take them together benignly. Amen.”.5 Ω
1 Saint Anselmo: Sermon 52, Liturgy of Hours I, Barcelona, Liturgical Co-Editors, 1979, 1016-1017; Cf. Latin Patrology, 158, pp. 955-956.
2 Cf. San Bernardo: Complete Works II, Madrid, BAC 452, 1994, pp. 525-571.
3 Cf. Bilingual critical edition of the BAC in eight volumes.
4 Cf. Bernardo de Claraval: Complete works (bilingual edition) (II), Madrid, BAC 452, 1994, pp. 597-679; The Virgin Mother, Madrid, Rialp, 1987, pp. 15-100; Latin edition in Migne: Latin Patrology, 183, pp. 55-78.
5 Catechism of the Catholic Church, Compendium, Bilbao, Co-editors of the Catechism, 2005, p. 222.