10
Mar
15

Lent, Day 18, Bernard on “corporal joy”

Today’s passage picks up where yesterday’s left of, from the essay “Grace and Free Will,” chapter 14.  This section might be summarized as “Everything in its place and in moderation.”  Noting that there are bodily pleasures, in response to bodily needs.  So food tastes great, but only if you’re hungry, he suggests.  I would argue that food and drink often taste great even when we’re not quite hungry.  Of course, overindulging is not healthy.  Bernard himself, though was very much an ascetic and he did some damage to his own intestines by over-fasting.  So, it is possible that he might be thinking that a slice of bread is OK when you’re hungry, but put down that second slice.

And I’m not sure he would agree on sex as filling a need.  Actually, I’m pretty sure, he would not be cool with that.  In going on to talk about the travails of life (and in the Middle Ages, there were lots of travails), he suggests that our life is suffering, so that when we have times of lesser trouble, we feel great, as if given a respite.  As he puts it: “In a given time and situation, while heavy and light alternate, the experience of the light seems to provide an interlude to sorrow, as when sometimes we think it a joy when we pass out of the doldrums of nerve-racking trials into worries of a milder kind.”  It reminds me of Woody Allen’s statements in one of his films that we all feel miserable about our lives, but there are some people who have to endure horrendous trials or suffer from unbelievable ailments, so the rest of us should be happy about being miserable.

One assumption here that I’m not ready to accept is the idea that some suffering in the world is not avoidable.  Some is due to the greed of some which leaves others in want.  That is different from the universal suffering of being mortal in the world — we love people and pets who die, because that is the nature of life not to be permanent, and so we suffer.  It seems that there is little challenge in the Middle Ages to the underlying structure of society of feudal society, even among the clergy and the saints.

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