MONASTIC SPIRITUALITY HAS FROM ITS INCEPTION BEEN CONCEIVED AS A PROCESS OF TRANSFORMATION. As a result, it is dynamic in character, not static. The concern of monastic formation from the first stages of entry into the community is properly the metamorphosis of which St. Paul wrote, not merely adaptation to a given community with its social structures and its mental and spiritual outlook and values, though, to be sure, a good deal of adapting must be managed by anyone entering the cloister for the first time. ACCORDINGLY, THE SPIRITUAL ACCOMPANIMENT SUITED TO ITS AIMS AND CHARACTER MUST ALSO KEEP IN VIEW A RADICAL REMAKING OF THE INNER MAN, THE REBIRTH OF WHICH JESUS SPOKE IN THE FOURTH GOSPEL. The immediate aim of monastic life is, as Cassian had pointed out in his first Conference, purity of heart, which requires a restructuring not only of habit and behavior, but of feeling, disposition and manner of being. The final goal of monastic spirituality, he adds, is the kingdom of God. This kingdom is nothing other than the presence of God himself, the reflection of his glory so that he who would enter there must be sufficiently like God to be able to sustain the brilliant vision of his glory. The process by which this transformation is achieved was named 2XTF4H by the Greek Fathers and ‘deificatio’ by the Latins. This transformation represents the undoing of the effects of original sin and the full realization of human potential under the elevating influence of divine favor. In God’s plan, we are capable, by virtue of our being created in his image and likeness, of receiving the graces needed to be in some real but qualified manner raised above nature and become like God; in short, we are destined to be deified. Significantly it was, after all, the lure of becoming like God, not gluttony or sensuality as some would have it, that led Eve to disobey God’s prohibition.


St. Benedict makes it clear already in his prologue that he envisages the spiritual life precisely in this perspective of a dynamic transforming of the basic dispositions of the monk, although he does not use the term ‘deificatio’. The novice is told in the prologue that to enter the monastery is to set out on the interior path that represents a return journey to the Father’s house. He is not to consider that he has only to adapt to the requirements of some earthly community, marked by stability and its own customs. Benedict reinforces this manner of viewing the monastic life at a number of points in the course of his Rule.  Later on the monk is reminded that this journey is to be characterized by a transformation of fear and constraint into the freedom of love that expands the heart. There will be periods when he may be tempted to leave the monastery because the weight of its discipline seems too heavy to bear, but by perseverance if he enters into the monastic practices from the heart his fear and anxiety will be converted to joy. He will experience a sense of satisfaction in the very activities that were earlier a source of stress. In sum, living the Rule is to effect an inner restructuring of the character, the dispositions and the tastes that in practice motivate the monk’s choices and actions.


The rebirth and inner transformation that is envisaged by the Rule and the monastic tradition as it evolved, constitute the aim of spiritual direction that must be kept in mind throughout the relationship between the two parties. This broad perspective distinguishes direction from a number of forms of counseling and therapy whose aim is confined to adaptation to a given situation in life such as work, marriage or even religious life. Freedom from symptoms, avoidance of behavior that interferes with performance, and acceptance of the limits imposed by character or circumstances are the legitimate if limited goals commonly set in psychotherapy. For spiritual direction, however, there is not only question of adapting to whatever situation in which the monk finds himself when he enters upon the formation process. The aim of purity of heart and the goal of union with God in the kingdom require nothing less than a radical restructuring that amounts to a spiritual rebirth. The operations of the bodily senses come under the discipline of monastic practice from the beginning of monastic life. As the novice submits to the demands of this discipline there occurs a corresponding modification of the inner, spiritual senses, very gradual at first, unnoticed for the most part, but nonetheless real. In proportion as the monk advances in the way of active virtue the receptive powers of the senses are brought into a state of greater tonus; they begin to be energized by the more hidden, spiritual realities to which they were earlier insensitive. With continuing progress in the acquisition of virtue and especially as a more contemplative prayer develops, the inner senses function with heightened effect.


In the book he wrote while novice master, The Mirror of Charity, St. Aelred, alert to the importance of this interconnection between the various levels of the inner person. In his discussion of the three loves that are involved in the Christian life, love of self, of neighbor and of God, he observes that ‘these three loves are engendered by one another, nourished by one another, and fanned into flame by one another. They are brought to perfection together.’1 He is concerned to analyze in fastidious detail the interactions involved as love is purified and elevated rather than examine the effect this process has on the spiritual senses by means of which these loves operate, as some of the other Cistercian authors did, including his fellow Englishman, Baldwin of Ford. Aelred’s analysis takes as its object the manner in which reason acts upon choice which he considers to be the proper act of love.


To be sure, love always has reason as a companion; not that the soul always loves in a reasonable way by means of it, but that by it, with alert circumspection, it distinguishes what it chooses from what it rejects. . . . It is, however, for love to choose what it wants for its enjoyment. This choice, then, is called love and is an act of the soul.2


The point I wish to make here is that the spiritual companion must be sensitive to this stage of development as it takes shape, and assist the monk in his efforts to discern what he needs to cultivate in his life so as to bring out his capacity for ordered love and what he must reject in view of this ongoing movement within the soul and the spirit. Aelred deals with the role of contemplative meditation and prayer in this process as well, and shows in particular the effects of the various mysteries of Christ on the three loves.3 


Purity of heart is the immediate aim of spiritual direction as it is of the ascetic life in general, and attaining to it requires not only the elimination of bad habits, the overcoming of weaknesses, but also the cultivation of potential for union with God. For this it is essential to keep in view the ongoing contribution made by experience in prayer of the mystery of Christ on the work of purifying the passions and practicing the virtues. For it is in the light of the mysteries of Christ that discernment takes form and demonstrates what our immediate, concrete task consists in. This contemplative activity must supplement the analysis of our character and the affections and passions of the psyche. Discovering latent gifts of nature as well as recognizing the gifts of the Spirit offered to us are both essential to the attainment of such purity as leads to full union with God. Achieving such a high goal entails frequent changes for the better, changes that are so deeply rooted in the character as to represent a real remaking, a transformation of the subject. I indicated in the last conference such radical transformation is in good part dependent on the renewal of the words that are available to the subject, words attended by the tension and dynamism of life and which in such large measure determine the nature of his thoughts, prayers and conversations with God and with his fellow creatures. It is no mere coincidence that the outstanding teachers of the mystical theology that was incorporated into our Cistercian tradition such as Saints Augustine, Gregory the Great and Bernard of Clairvaux, were masters of the word as well as of theology. They also gave much consideration to their concept of man for they realized this need to which I just referred, the need of being aware of the specific endowments of nature that must be brought into play for the inner life to attain its full expansion. This field of spiritual anthropology is a major area of Cistercian teaching and in particular has such large application to spiritual direction, with due modifications based on modern insights, that it is useful to explore one of the less studied of its features, its nature as well as its history. I refer to the spiritual senses.


Some of the more influential mystics and thinkers of the early Church, with great refinement of observation, came to appreciate that among the powers of the soul that assume an increasingly significant function as one advances in the way of the spirit are the spiritual senses. The earliest of these writers, and the most creative, would seem to have been Origen.  While he was not himself a monk, few thinkers have been more influential in the impact of their writings on monastic spirituality and our Cistercian fathers in particular. He was the first to articulate a formal doctrine of the whole of the five spiritual senses as such. In a recently rediscovered work, he elaborated a very broad theory of the correspondences between the inner and the outer man that prepared the ground for his views on the inner senses. He bases himself on the Pauline doctrine of the two men.


No longer lie to one another, putting off the old man with his acts and putting on the new, the man who is renewed in the knowledge according to the image of him who created him (Col. 3: 9, 10).


Origen concludes from this passage that each of us consists of two men, each having a correspondence with the other.


For just as the exterior man has correspondence for the interior man as like-named, so is the case with its members.   We can assert that each member of the exterior man is found, under the same name, in the interior man.  The exterior man has eyes; the interior man also is said to have eyes... in observing the divine precepts we acquire, in the order of the spirit, a more penetrating vision.  The eyes of the interior man are more penetrating than we are.4


This thought is elaborated in considerable detail for each of the bodily senses; not only so, for in addition, it is applied to other bodily parts.  There exist spiritual bones as well as corporal; when Jeremiah cries out that his intestines are in pain, he refers to the pains of the heart which we also feel when the Church suffers in childbirth. When Isaiah refers to those who have lost their heart, he surely refers to the spiritual, not the bodily heart.5


Karl Rahner considered this doctrine of Origen in so far as it dealt with the spiritual senses to be of considerable importance for the spiritual life and for a fuller understanding of the history of spirituality.   He devoted his first major publication, in 1932, to this theme.6  Rahner introduces his essay with some helpful observations  concerning the expression "spiritual senses", which has persisted in use into modern times.   First, he observes that there is the necessity for anyone who attempts to describe spiritual experience to make use of similes based upon sense experiences.  There is no other source from which to derive the kind of language requisite for communication with human persons.  And, in fact, throughout the centuries of the Christian era spiritual authors have spoken of their inner life in terms of sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell.7 This model of the five spiritual senses in Origen is derived from both the New and the Old Testaments.  He saw  Proverbs 2:5 as an explicit affirmation of their existence.  The Greek text that he cites is unique in that it does not correspond to the original Hebrew or to the Septuagint or any of the other ancient translations, it should be noted.  But he must have found it in some manuscript and accepted it as an authority.   Here is the passage in which he cites this text.


"You discover the divine sense of perception."   This sense, however, unfolds in various individual faculties: sight for the contemplation of immaterial forms... This sense for the divine was discovered by the prophets . . . .8


The New Testament text he cites is taken from the Epistle to the Hebrews, and has often stimulated discussion by preachers and exegetes. “Solid food is for the perfect, those who have by habit trained their senses for the discernment of good and evil ( Heb. 5:14).” Origen's  interpretation of this text differs from other commentators, who see in these words a reference to the faculty of moral discernment, quite distinct from the spiritual sense of taste.  Few perhaps will agree with Origen that this text serves as a solid demonstration of the validity of his theory of the spiritual senses.


On the other hand, it does provides one plausible theory which seeks to account for the Scriptural image of doctrine that can be ingested as a kind of food by those with pure hearts, for their sense of taste has been rendered more sensitive and subtle through the elevating and purifying operation of grace. There is an analogy here, as I see it, with the functioning of our bodily senses which is of considerable interest for the life of prayer and of ministry.  The external senses function with comparative rudeness in those persons who have not disciplined them in the course of mastering some skill or applied art.  Experience shows, however, that the senses can be trained and sharpened by appropriate disciplined practice. As they undergo this education they are modified and, in certain cases, even radically transformed.   Each of the senses has been observed from this perspective and has been shown to be capable of a surprising range of improvements in its range and precision of discrimination.


There are numerous instances where this can be demonstrated from the lives of persons who, for one reason or other, were led to cultivate one or more of the bodily senses. As Rahner investigates the various passages in which Origen exposes his insights and opinions on the functioning and nature of the spiritual senses some light is thrown on the manner in which grace transforms us, acting upon our inner senses, rendering them more responsive to the operations of the Spirit within us, and influencing our very perceptions.  While dullness of the spiritual faculties and insensitivity is the result of sin and of lack of practice of virtue, enhanced perceptiveness to divine things results from purification of the faculties of the soul.


In the West too there was an incorporation of the doctrine of the spiritual senses into the traditional teaching on the inner life.  It found a particularly  felicitous expression in St. Augustine's Confessions.


What is it that I love when I love you?  It is not the beauty of a body, nor the fittingness of time, not the brilliance of light, so welcome to these eyes, nor the sweet melodies of all kinds of songs, nor the aromas of flowers, ointments and perfumes, not sweet cakes and honey, nor lovely limbs to be embraced- it is not these I love when I love you, O God .  And yet I love a certain light, and a certain voice and a certain odor and a certain food and a certain embrace when I love my God: it is the light, the voice, the sweet odor, the food and the embrace of my interior man where light shines on my soul which has no place, and where there is a sound that time does not snatch away, and where there is a sweet odor which the breeze does not scatter, and where there is a savor that eating does not diminish. 9 Confessions, X.6.8.


In the course of the centuries, this doctrine was often referred to in connection with spiritual experience by authors dealing with prayer and the inner life, usually only in passing, without any intent to give a further development to it. The Cistercians of the twelfth century often refer to the spiritual senses, with conviction. A particularly moving passage is found in William of St. Thierry's Commentary on the Canticle.


...illuminating grace is the virtue of all virtues, and the light of good works, without which even virtues are without effect and good works have no good fruit. Or if on occasion they should seem to have some, yet they are without vigor, they give no cheer, they lack the oil of joy, they teach no unction, and they have no flavor of divine sweetness, no odor of eternity, no efficacious experience of the spiritual senses.10

In an earlier work he had developed a more elaborate doctrine of the spiritual senses at considerable length, becoming the first author since Origen to evolve a consistent and rather complete system.


For just as the body has its five senses by which it is joined to the soul, with life mediating the union, so also the soul has its five senses by which it is joined to God, with charity mediating this union. So it is that the Apostle says: Do not be conformed to this world, but be reformed in the newness of your sense, that you might prove that the will of God is good, and pleasing and perfect (Rom 12: 2). Here he shows that through the bodily senses we grow old and are conformed to this world. But through the senses of the mind we are renewed in the knowledge of God, in newness of life, according to the will and good pleasure of God.11


William then goes on to describe in particular, and with considerable ingenuity, each of the spiritual senses and its relation to various loves, dwelling extensively on sight which he associates with divine love.


Divine love is compared to vision. For vision is the principal sense, just as among all the affections divine love has the chief place. From the sight of the eyes all the other senses are said to see, whereas only vision actually does so. For we say: feel and see; taste and see; and so on for the other senses.12


As he developed his teaching further in the course of time, he describes the manner in which the functioning of the spiritual senses is experienced by the contemplative in the course of the higher stages of the monastic search for union with God, and gives an explanation of the experience that is at once psychologically and theologically satisfying.


The Bride was sitting, cast back on herself, waiting for the return of the Spouse , having a pledge of the Spirit that he will soon return, weeping, desiring that he should return. And suddenly she seems to herself to hear first what she does not see, and to sense with her interior sense what she does not understand, the presence of the Divinity, and thus she exclaims: the voice of my beloved. All the senses of the faithful soul grow cheerful; she eagerly goes to meet him as he comes leaping to her, that is, hastening.... Seeing him coming to her, she recollects herself so as to receive him, sensing him drawing near and standing behind the wall.13


St. Bernard in his turn treated at some length the way in which the various kinds of love are related specifically to the five spiritual senses. He makes the following observation.

in the course of  an interesting sermon that has been little remarked upon.


There is therefore life, truth, sense, and charity of the soul.... There is, if you observe carefully, to be found a variegated love, that is perhaps divided into five kinds corresponding to the five senses of the body.14


Like William, Bernard too analyzes the various senses and relates them to the distinct love relationships, thus indicating the fittingness of considering one type of love more suited to its particular spiritual sense. William's discussion of this teaching is by far the more developed; it is characteristically detailed and analytical, giving every indication that it is the more original, at any rate in many of the details. The two friends may well have discussed these matters together prior to their writing about them, for there are many points of contact between the two accounts they give of this doctrine.


Baldwin of Ford, however, is another of the very few who dealt formally with a fairly extensive treatment of the doctrine of the five spiritual senses.   He very probably was familiar with the passage from Augustine cited above, and was influenced by it. He may well have had some knowledge too of William's work or, more likely of St. Bernard's treatment of this topic.  But his presentation of the subject suggests no direct dependence upon either of his fellow Cistercians, and is lacking in originality.  He introduces his topic with a brief statement of his manner of conceiving  the way in which these senses originate.15


When it is wonderfully united to God by the love of obedience, the soul lives and senses in him and by him, and it draws a sort of analogy with the things it knows through the bodily senses.   Thus, by the grace of a most inward inspiration, it senses God within itself and touches him spiritually by faith, smells him by hope, tastes him by charity, hears him by obedience, and sees him by contemplation.


His whole development displays considerable literary virtuosity and poetic imagination.  He does not, however, engage in an extensive theological analysis of this topic. St. Bernard, on the other hand, in a later work of his, brought the doctrine of the spiritual senses to a new height of significance in his insights into its bearing on wisdom, sapientia. In deriving this Latin word from the noun meaning taste, sapor, and defining wisdom as a taste for the good,16 he made of this virtue the guiding concept of spiritual striving and experience. In this view wisdom is the perfection of the sense of taste so that wisdom includes not only the aspect of insight and good judgment but also embodies sense experience and affection.17 The Abbot of Clairvaux repeatedly insists that Christ himself is the wisdom of God (cf. 1Cor.1:24), so that his doctrine on taste-wisdom is identified with the finding of spiritual fulfillment in the person of Christ. Desire for encounter with the Lord Jesus is fueled by the experience of his sweetness and displaces even the taste for what is evil. This doctrine is found in the last completed sermon of the series on the Canticle. It is the culmination of Bernard's spiritual teaching.


The next time we find this theme taken up and integrated into a spirituality is in the first half of the thirteenth century, in the lowlands. A Beguine, Hadewijch, who wrote in medieval Dutch, had read the section on the spiritual senses in the book by William of St. Thierry, On the Nature and Dignity of Love, and been deeply impressed by it. She followed it closely as she elaborated her own teaching on the mutual influence of reason and love in Letter 18.


The power of sight that is created as natural to the soul is charity. This power of sight has two eyes, love and reason. Reason cannot see God except in what he is not; love rests not except in what he is. Reason has its secure paths, by which it proceeds. Love experiences failure, but failure advances it more than reason. . . . reason instructs love and love enlightens reason.18


This utilization of William's work has been demonstrated quite conclusively19 and indicates that his own views on the matter, though not widely influential, were appreciated by another great mystic and gifted poet and contributed significantly to her way of presenting the spiritual life. Hadewijch, however, remained relatively little known and her work was all but forgotten until a couple of her manuscripts were discovered in the nineteenth century and her qualities as a writer and mystic were realized. She was insightful enough to recognize the usefulness and perceptiveness of William's views on the spiritual senses, and seems to have profited from them personally. She is a witness to the spread of Cistercian spirituality beyond the strictly monastic world to the circles of devout laywomen in the period prior to the Devotio Moderna.


But she, like St. Bernard before her, did not provide a more extensive theological treatment of the spiritual senses as such. That, having been sketched out at some length by William of St. Thierry and Baldwin of Ford, was undertaken in a formal study by St. Bonaventure in the 13th century for the first time since Origen, according to Rahner who considers that Bonaventure provided the most fruitful analysis on the spiritual senses since the third century. The Seraphic Doctor maintains that the spiritual senses are acts of both the intellect and the will; they are not distinct faculties, and are activated when the individual approaches the threshold of contemplation, under the influence of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, thus preparing the subject for the gifts of contemplative prayer.20


The lay theologian, Nicolas Cabasilas, provided another original treatment of this theme a little later in the Byzantine world. He relates this doctrine of the spiritual senses to the sacraments which are the source of the operations of the spiritual senses.  He teaches that only those who cultivate their spiritual senses will be received into the light that is life.  He views this world as a workshop in which we train our senses to perceive the divine realities and prepare the wedding garment which we shall wear at the banquet of the spouse.21


It remains an open question as to whether the spiritual senses represent ways of functioning of the intellect and will or are the spiritual analogues of the corporeal senses, elevated, purified and rendered responsive to the divine presence and activity within the spirit and in the world? Perhaps both of these explanations are true and the spiritual senses are a composite as are the physical senses. Some of the great artists have realized the influence of the will and affections on the perceptions of the senses and instanced by impressive depictions the manner in which the mind and emotions color the reception of reality by the senses. Charlotte Brontë in her novel Jane Eyre not only vividly depicts instances of perceptions determined as much by character and affective states, but also convincingly portrays the process at different stages of its complete unfolding22.


However one accounts for their development and nature, the spiritual senses play a critical role in the contemplative life and in the Cistercian tradition with a particular explicitness and so their development and operations fall under the attentive observation of the spiritual guide. As we have seen, for the cultivation of our spiritual senses both grace and practice are required, and operate together to effect a transformation that raises our inner life to a higher plane of perception. For properly to cultivate the health and refinement of the spiritual senses requires that the monk undertakes to mortify the operations of the physical senses and, that in prayer, he stretch and discipline the faculties of the soul to prepare himself to receive contemplative graces. For this work, faith is essential for the fruitfulness of practice, and for it to remain lively and sound it  must be accompanied by earnest study of scripture and attention to its mystical sense. It is the province of the spiritual guide to assure that both the natural and the supernatural domains are maintained in view and that the man he is assisting is brought to give serious effort to the kinds of practices proper to each.


Attention to the cultivation of the interior senses is an important feature of the inner evolution that the monk is actively to undertake in the course of his formation. It can be considerably facilitated in the course of spiritual direction if the advisor is sufficiently versed in their nature,  and role and the ways in which contemplative prayer can contribute to their fuller functioning.  In the Byzantine tradition a more prominent place has been maintained for the contemplation of God in creation, 2,TD\" NbF460 which was considered such an essential form of prayer. Its function, according to Evagrius Ponticus who gave it its classical expression, was to purify the inner faculties and train them in view of an eventual degree of purity and of ardent charity sufficient to allow one to contemplate God in himself. The doctrine of the spiritual senses can   usefully be understood as fitting into this stage of the spiritual life which usually is the longest lasting. It describes a particular effect of this contemplation of created realities on the specific faculties of the soul brought into operation, purified and elevated through 2,TD\" NbF460. I am not aware of this connection having been noted and studied but it would seem to be a fruitful path to explore.


As I had mentioned in the first conference, the subject matter of spiritual accompaniment is as broad as life itself. The, important as it is, is but one of a wide variety of elements that are involved in spiritual direction. Another topic that is itself vastly broad in scope is gaining the self-knowledge so essential to sound spiritual growth and transformation. Indeed, familiarity with the realities treated in the doctrine of the five spiritual senses is one aspect of self-knowledge. There are other, supplementary ways of attaining to this self-understanding so much insisted on by the major monastic Fathers, such as Saints Basil, St. Augustine and St. Bernard. St. Aelred, without referring to the spiritual senses explicitly, tells of the usefulness, even the necessity, of a knowledge of self at the level of relationships as well as of their roots in the psyche in his extensive analysis of the various kinds of love. He had become very conscious of the need for a very concrete and detailed self-knowledge and wrote of it quite deliberately. He introduces his lengthy, thorough  study of the various sources of love and its kinds with the following comment.


Now I want first of all to explore the hidden recesses of my own conscience, so that this attachment may not trick me [as would be the case] if I happened to be ignorant of its cause and origin.23


He is here concerned with the way in which reason impinges upon and modifies affection. Under the influence of mental activity such as insight into character, sensible attraction is readily intensified or diminished, or even destroyed altogether in the case of discerning that a charming person possesses a vicious character. Aelred does not anyplace take up a formal, systematic treatment of his manner of giving spiritual direction and of accompaniment. Rather, it is from his  description of his actual behavior in treating a particular difficulty of a novice laboring under a rather common confusion concerning his state of mind following entry into the community that we can readily observe the principles that guided him.24 Broadly speaking he followed the same technique employed in modern psychotherapy, that is to say, he first listens carefully to the novice’s description of his current distress. Then he questions him in some detail concerning his past experience to which the novice is comparing his state of mind in the monastery and drawing what Aelred obviously sees to be false conclusions. By a lengthy, pains-taking re-interpretation of the past, in the course of which he points out and gently overcomes  the novice’s resistance to accepting, he assists the confused novice to discern more precisely aspects of his past experience that he had unconsciously overlooked. Seeing his former state in light of this fresh perception of his past allowed him to gain fresh insight into its real significance and, consequently, to experience his current state of soul in a new way that left him free to move into the future. Aelred then indicates, a specific way of praying, centered on the mercy of Jesus as mother, that he should adopt so as to move ahead into the future with profit.


This report of a case, based as he tells us, on notes he had made and inserted in his later book, makes it evident that Aelred was far from non-directional in his accompaniment. While the novice participates as a respected member of a dialogue and is free to ask questions, yet by far most of the discussion amounts to a teaching session similar to the kind of descriptive analysis we find in his books on charity and friendship. This fact makes it evident that it is quite legitimate, even necessary, to infer from these writings the content of much of the exchanges that took place in the course of sessions of spiritual accompaniment. This is especially the case in reference to Book III of The Mirror of Charity and in his lengthy analysis of true friendship in his book on that subject. For instance, in his discussion of charity in The Mirror he analyzes in fastidious detail the ways in which reason influences and directs and so modifies the passions and the emotions. From his carefully articulated descriptions we can observe what were the major approaches he employed in his dealings with those he advised concerning the cultivation of virtues and the elimination of vices. He affirms quite decidedly his dynamic approach to dealing with the emotional life.  He is concerned to know character in its movement from origins through its development and its refashioning. He states his view in the following terms.


Not only must we examine the origin of these attachments , but we must also give discerning attention to their development and their end. Very subtly sometimes one of them springs up and finishes by becoming another or, at least, is changed.25


Accordingly, it is in his discussions on love and friendship, not in any systematic work on spiritual direction as we understand it in our times, that Aelred transmits his manner of advising, encouraging and analyzing those who sought him out for their spiritual progress. His manner represents a high form of humanism, that respects the psychological and social affects and enlists them in the service of a higher love. He is at the same time aware of the weaknesses of men and the readiness with which high aspirations are compromised by yielding too much to nature, even unwittingly. Indeed, a good deal of his concern is to analyze affect and love in their operations and relations precisely so that his readers will be aware of the subtle temptations they are sure to encounter and so better armed against them.


Presenting the requirements of purity of heart and of true love of God in such concrete and specific descriptions depicts Aelred for us as he sought to accompany his monks on their personal journey back to the Father. The Cistercian tradition of spiritual accompaniment was at once humanistic, practical, demanding and sublime in its aspiration and goal. By a thoughtful and discerning reading of St. Aelred’s works we are able to trace out the characteristic features that enabled the spiritual accompaniment provided by the best of the early Cistercians to produce monks whose culture represented a high point of human community and a witness to the holiness and dignity of the human person.+ 



1.Aelred of Rievaulx, The Mirror of Charity, Elizabeth Connor, O.C.S.O., tr., Cistercian Fathers Series 17 (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications Inc., 1990) III.4, 224.

2.Aelred, Mirror III.8.22- 23, 235, 236.

3.Aelred, Mirror III.5.13-15, 230-231.

4.Entretien d'Origène avec Héraclide, ed. Jean Scherer, Sources Chrétiennes 67 (Paris: Cerf, 1960) 88-90.

5.Origen, Entretien, 96, 98.

6.Karl Rahner, ‘Le Début d'une doctrine des cinq sens spirituels chez Origène’, Rev. D'Ascétique et de Mystique, XIII (1932), 113-145. This article was later abridged and translated into English in Theological Investigations XVI, 81-103.

8.Origen, Contra Celsum 1.1.48, Marcel Barrett, S.J., tr., Sources Chrétiennes 132 (Paris: Cerf, 1967), 203, 204. Cf. the discussion by Rahner,‘The 'Spiritual Senses', 83.

9.Augustine, Confessions, X.6.8, PL 32:782- 3. 

10.Guillaume de Saint Thiérry, Exposé sur le Cantique des Cantiques, 47, J.-M. Déchanet, tr., Sources Chrétiennes 82 (Paris: Cerf, 1962) 138.

11.Guillaume de Saint Thiérry, De natura et dignitate amoris, 18, M.-M. Davy, ed. (Paris: Vrin, 1953) 95, 96.

12.Guillaume de Saint Thiérry, De natura et dignitate amoris, 22, p. 98. For his discussion of all the spiritual senses see 18-27, pp. 94-104.

13.Guillaume de Saint Thiérry, Exposé sur le Cantique, 166, pp. 344- 346.

14.St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermones de diversis, X.2 PL 183: 568.

15.Baldwin of Ford, Spiritual Tractates, vol. I, David Bell, tr., ‘Tractate IV’, Cistercian Fathers Series 38 (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications Inc., 1986) pp. 102-129.  The quotation is on p. 118. For the original text consult  PL 204:429 B - 442B.

16.Bernard, Sermones super Cantica 85.9, PL 193:1192 C.

17.Cf. the insightful discussion of these points by Karl Josef Wallner, “Geschmack finden an der Liebe Jesu”: Die Wurzeln der Herz-Jesu-Verehrung in der früh-mittelalterlichen Bewegung der Zisterzienser. Cistercienser Chronik 103 (1996), 269.

18.Hadewijch: The Complete Works. Mystics of the West Series , Mother Columba Hart, tr. Letter 18.80 (New York: Paulist Press, 1980) 86.

19.Dr. J. Van Mierloo, jr. SJ, ‘Hadewijch en Wilhelm van St. Thierry’, Ons Geestelijk Erf  3 (1929), 51-53 demonstrates her dependence on William’s treatise.

20.Karl Rahner, ‘The Doctrine of the 'Spiritual Senses' in the Middle Ages’, Theological Investigations, XVI, 103-134.

21.Nicolas Cabasilas, De vita in Christo, I PG 150: 494 B- 495 B.

22.‘Most true is it that “beauty is in the eye of the gazer.” My master’s colorless, olive face, square, massive brow, broad and jetty eyebrows, deep eyes, strong features, firm, grim mouth,- all energy, decision, will,- were not beautiful, according to rule; but they were more than beautiful to me: they were full of an interest, an influence that quite mastered me,- that took my feelings from my own power and fettered them in his. I had not intended to love him...He made me love him without looking at me.’ Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre  (New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1961) 198- 9. See also 291: ‘As I rose and dressed I thought over what had happened, and wondered if it were a dream. I could not be certain of the reality until I had seen Mr. Rochester again, and heard him renew his words of love and promise. While arranging my hair, I looked at my face in the glass, and felt it was no longer plain: there was hope in its aspect, and life in its colour . . . I had often feared to look at my master, because I feared he could not be pleased at my look; but I was sure I could life my face to his now.’

23.Aelred, Mirror III. 19.43, 250.

24.Aelred, Mirror II.17.41- 20.63, pp. 192-207.

25.Aelred, Mirror III. 28.66, 266.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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