My incomparable Saint Bernard (depicted above with Saint Ambrose in a 1475 painting by Francesco di Giorgio Martini) spoke so eloquently this morning of the two mercies of God: the first is His eternal mercy prior to the Incarnation, the second is His mercy after the descent of the Word into this vale of tears. Listen to him:
Seeking What Was Lost
Sed plasmator eorum Deus requirens quod perierat, opus suum miseratus prosecutus est, descendens et ipse misericorditer, quo illi ceciderant miserabiliter.
But God their Creator, seeking what was lost, mercifully followed His work, and came down in mercy to where they lay in misery.
To Liberate the Miserable
Voluit experire in se quod illi faciendo contra se merito paterentur, non simili quidem curiositate, sed mirabili caritate: non ut miser cum miseris remaneret, sed ut misericors factus miseros liberaret.
He willed to experience for Himself what they rightly deserved to suffer for having gone against Him, not out of a curiosity like theirs, but out of a wondrous charity; not so as to remain miserable with the miserable, but in order to liberate the miserable by becoming merciful.
A Mercy Better Adapted to Us
Factus inquam misericors, non illa misericordia quae felix manens habuit ab aeterno, sed quam mediante miseria reperit in habitu nostro. Porro pietatis opus quod per illam coepit, in ista perfecit: non quod sola illa non posset perficere, sed quia nobis not potuit absque ista sufficere. Utraque siquidem necessaria, sed nobis haec magis congrua fuit.
He became merciful, I say, not of that mercy which He, happy from all eternity, already had, but of the mercy which He found whilst, clothed in our flesh, He made his way in misery. Then, in this mercy did He make perfect the work begun by the Father’s lovingkindness. It was not that this first mercy could not have sufficed, but because it would not have satisfied us. Both mercies are necessary, but the second of these is better adapted to us.
The Mercy Whose Mother is Misery
O ineffabilis pietatis excogitatio! Quando nos illam miram misericordiam cogitaremus, quam praecedens miseria non informat? Quando illam adverteremus incognitam nobis compassionem, quae non passione praeventa, cum impassibilitate perdurat? Attamen si illa, quae miseriam nescit, misericordia non praecesisset, ad hanc, cuius miseria mater est, non accessisset. Si non accessisset, non attraxisset; siu non attraxisset, non extrassiset. Unde autem extraxit, nisi de lacu miseriae et de luto faecis? Nec illam tamen misericordiam deseruit, sed hanc inseruit; non mutavit, sed multiplicavit, sicut scriptum est: Homines et iumenta salvabis, Domine, quemadmodum multiplicasti misericordiam tuam, Deus.
O design of ineffable tenderness! How could we have imagined the wondrous mercy of God, unless it had been first shaped by misery? How could we have turned toward a compassion unknown to us — eternal and impassible in God — had not His Passion gone before it? However, if this divine mercy that knew no misery had not been there in the beginning, the other mercy, the one whose mother is misery, would not have come. Had this mercy not come, it would not have have attracted us; had it not attracted us, it would not have extracted us. Extracted us out of what? Out of the pit of misery and the mire of mud. God has not forsaken His first mercy, but He has added to it; He has not changed it, but multiplied it, as it is written: Thou dost save man and beast alike, even as thou hast multiplied thy mercy, O God.
(Ex Tractatu sancti Bernardi abbatis De Gradibus humilitatis et superbiae)