Lent, Day 20 — 1/2 way point — a digression on “Doctor Mellifluus”

In 1953, Pope Pius XII issued an encyclical on the 800th anniversary of the canonization of Bernard of Clairvaux in the pontiicate of Alexander III.  In reading over the encyclical quickly, I noticed that Pius made some use of the idea of grace, that Bernard had natural gifts, but was also blessed by grace.  For me, another way of looking at it would be that he had natural gifts, but he also rose to the challenges of his time, and he rose to the challenge of composing compelling and beautiful prose in imparting his ideas.

There is a sense that Bernard could not have done it alone — we do nothing alone, but in the context of our times and with the help of our friends and the world around us, or by interacting with a challenging world and keeping faith with ourselves and others.

I also noticed that he kept coming back to the idea of Bernard threading his path through and past the empty rhetoric of others.  I’m guessing that Peter Abelard is part of that “empty rhetoric.”  I don’t know enough about Abelard to make a judgment, but in our own day, we have people who use language not to enlighten and inform, but to obfuscate and make things cloudy.  Look at the way legislation meant to harm a given group is presented as some sort of blessing, or how advertisers use language to cloud the issue and get the attention and money of suckers.  From the bit of Bernard that I read, I detect that he had a clean style, and one aimed at trying to get to the point.  And in the late Middle Ages that may very well have been unusual and special.

Language and its use remains fascinating to me.  I’m easily transfixed by people who use language well and aim (and often miss) to use language so myself.  But it is important that language not be aimed at confounding and confusing, but be of use in the world.  Bird song is lovely, but it has a purpose too.  And so should our use of language.  It should be graceful and gracefilled and work towards enlightening — the writer and his/her audience both.

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