Editorial Notes This electronic edition of 'The Twelve Degrees of Humility and Pride' has been prepared from the 1929 translation by Barton R. V. Mills, M. A


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The first degree -- Curiosity -- the opposite of modesty -- especially of the eyes.
The first degree of pride is curiosity. This you may detect by the following signs. Look at that monk, whom you have hitherto supposed to be a sensible man. He has now taken to staring about him, whether he is standing up, walking about or sitting down. He thrusts his head forward, and pricks up his ears. From his outward movements you can clearly see the inward change that he has undergone. For it is the froward man who winketh with the eye, presseth with the foot, and speaketh with the finger, (1) and from the unusual movements of his body is seen to have lately contracted disease of the soul -- the careless sluggishness of which in self-examination makes it inquisitive about others. So since it takes no heed to itself it is sent out of doors to feed the kids. And as these are the types of sin, I may quite correctly give the title of 'kids' to the eyes and the ears, since as death comes into the world through sin, so does sin enter the mind through these apertures.
1. Prov. vi. 12.
The curious man, therefore, busies himself with feeding them, though he takes no trouble to ascertain the state in which he has left himself. Yet if, O man, you look carefully into yourself, it is indeed a wonder that you can ever look at anything else. You inquisitive fellow, listen to Solomon --you silly fellow, hearken to the wise man, as he says, With all watchfulness guard thy heart, (1) in other words, keep all your senses on the watch to protect that which is the source of life. For whither, inquisitive man, will you retire from your own presence -- to whom will you in the meantime intrust yourself? How dare you, who have sinned against heaven, lift up your eyes to the sky? Look down to the earth if you want to recognize yourself. It will show you what you are, for earth thou art, and to earth shalt thou go. (2) Now there are two reasons for which you may raise your eyes without being to blame for so doing -- one is to seek, the other is to render, assistance. David raised his eyes to the mountains for the former, the Lord lifted His over the crowd for the latter purpose. The motive of the one was misfortune, that of the other was mercy, neither was to blame. If you likewise with due regard to place, time and occasion, look up when you or a brother are in distress, I not only do not blame you, I highly commend you.
1. Prov. iv. 23. Vulgate has 'keep'.

2. Gen.iii. 19 (Old Latin).
For misfortune allows the one action, mercy approves the other. But in different circumstances I should call you an imitator not of the Prophet nor of the Lord, but of Dina or of Eve, aye, verily, of Satan himself. For Dina when she went out to feed her kids, was snatched away from her father and her maidenhood was taken from her. O Dina, what need was there for thee to look on strange women? Was it necessary -- did it serve any useful purpose -- or was it done out of mere curiosity? Thy look may have no purpose, but it is not without purpose that men gaze on thee. There is curiosity in thy look, but more in the look that is turned on thee. Who could have supposed that thy curious carelessness or careless curiosity would afterwards prove to be not reckless but ruinous to thee, thy friends and thine enemies? And thou, O Eve, wast placed in Paradise, that thou mightest work with thine husband and bestow thy care on him; and if thou hadst discharged thy duty, thou wouldst eventually have passed into a better sphere where there would have been no need for thee to be engaged in any work, (1) or to be beset by any care.
1. This follows the belief that Paradise was a probation for a yet higher sphere in which sin would have been impossible, St. Bernard expresses this more fully in his treatise 'Grace and Free Will,' caps, vii and viii.
Leave was given to thee to eat of every tree in Paradise, except that one which is called the tree of knowledge of good and evil. (1) For if the others are good and have a good savour, what need is there to eat of one which also has an evil savour? Not to be more wise than it behoveth to be wise. (2) For to know evil is not knowledge but folly. So preserve what is given, await what is promised, avoid what is forbidden, lest thou lose what is allowed. Why lookest thou so eagerly for thy death? Why dost thou so often cast in that direction those wandering eyes of thine? What pleasure hast thou in looking on that which thou mayest not eat? Perchance thou dost reply, 'I stretch forth mine eyes not my hand. It is not looking but eating that is forbidden. May I not turn those eyes which God has placed under my control in any direction that I please?' To which the Apostle shall answer, All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient. (3) Although it may not be in itself a guilty act, it affords an incentive to sin. For if thy mind had not shown insufficient attention to its own condition, it would have had no time for idle curiosity. Although there may be no offence, there is an opportunity as well as a suggestion to offend and a reason for offending.
1. Gen. ii. 9.

2. Rom. xii. 3. There is here a play on the words which is lost in English. The word sapere, here used in the Vulgate, has the double sense of 'taste' and 'be wise'.

3. 1 Cor. vi. 12.

For while thou art thinking of something else, the serpent creeps craftily into thine heart, and addresses thee in an alluring tone. He overcomes thy reason with his enticements, allays thy fear with falsehoods, and tells thee that thou art in no danger of death. He increases thy distress, as he stimulates thine appetite; he sharpens curiosity and strengthens desire. At length he offers what is forbidden and takes away what is allowed. He presents thee with fruit and deprives thee of Paradise. Thou takest poison: thou wilt perish thyself and wilt bring forth children who will perish. Thou hast sacrificed salvation, without losing the power to give birth. We are born, we die and thus we are born only to die, because we are dead before we are born.
And as for thee, 'pattern of perfection,' (1) thou wast placed not in Paradise, but in Eden the garden of God. What more couldst thou reasonably desire? Filled with wisdom, and exalted in honour, thou shouldst have expected nothing higher and worked for nothing stronger than thyself. Remain where thou art, lest thou fall from thy position, if thou walkest among things that are too great and wonderful for thee. But why dost thou sometimes turn round and look to the north?
1 Ezek. xxviii. 12, 13. I have given 'pattern of perfection ' as best conveying the sense of the expression used in the Vulgate, signaculum similitiidinis (lit. 'seal of resemblance', Douai version). The phrase is taken from the Septuagint, and its sense is much the same as that of the English versions 'thou sealest up the sum', viz. thou reachest the highest honour. The allusion of Ezekiel is to the Prince of Tyre, and is a warning that his ruin will be as complete as his greatness. He is regarded by the Fathers as a type of Satan.
I see thee, I already detect thee peering too inquisitively into the unknown heights above thee, I will place sayest thou, my throne towards the north. (1) The other dwellers in heaven are standing, whilst thou alone dost desire to sit, and dost thereby disturb the harmony of the brethren, the peace of the whole heavenly community, and, so far as it lies in thy power to do so, the tranquillity of the Trinity, Does this curiosity carry thee so far, thou wretched being, that with unrivalled presumption thou dost not scruple to give offence to the citizens and to do injury to the king? Thousands of thousands minister to him and ten times a hundred thousand stand before him, (2) where no one is allowed to sit, but He alone who sitteth upon the cherubims (3) and receiveth the ministrations of others. And dost thou -- how shall I put it -- claiming a wider outlook, a more incisive scrutiny and a freer entrance than that of the others, place a seat for thyself in heaven, that thou mayest be on a level with the Most High?
1. The reference is to Is. xiv. 13, but it is not a quotation following the Vulgate. It is reminiscent of the Old Latin, which runs: 'I will place my seat above the stars of God, I will sit on a high mountain, on the high mountains in the north.' The quotation must have been purposely made in this form, as St. Bernard repeats it later in this chapter, and in one of his Sermons, (on the first Sunday in November, ii, para. 5) but gives it correctly in another one (on Ps. xci (Vulg. xc.) Serm. xi, para. 4).

2. Dan. vii. 10. The figures are those given in the Vulgate. Following the Hebrew it would be, 'ten times ten thousand'. In the Vulgate of Rev. v. 11 the words are omitted.

3. Ps. Ixxx. 1 (Ixxix. 2, Vulg.).
What is thine object -- on what dost thou rely? Thou fool, estimate thy powers, think of the result, consider the process. Dost thou presume on the knowledge or on the ignorance -- on the willingness or on the reluctance -- of the Most High? But how can He whose purpose is all good, and whose knowledge is unlimited, either consent to or be unaware of, thine evil design? Dost thou think that though He undoubtedly knows and disapproves it, He is unable to prevent it? But unless indeed thou art doubtful whether thou art a created being, I cannot suppose that thou canst doubt the omnipotence, omniscience and excellence of thy Creator, seeing that He was able to create thee out of nothing, and, knowing what thou wouldst turn out to be, willed to make thee the powerful being that thou art. When therefore thou thinkest that God will tolerate that of which He disapproves and has the power to prohibit, do I perchance see in thee the completion -- aye, and the origin -- of that idea which after thee and because of thee is constantly held by those like thee on earth, and which is embodied in the common saying, 'An usurper keeps reckless followers?' (1) Is thine eye evil because he is good? (2)
1. privatus, i.e., a subject who has raised himself to power with reference to the rebellion of Satan.

2. Matt. xx. 15.
This wicked presumption of thine on His benevolence has produced in thee an insolent disregard of His knowledge, and a daring defiance of His power. For this, and nothing less than this, thou unholy one, is thy train of thought. This is the wickedness that thou dost devise on thy bed, and sayest, 'thinkest thou that the Creator will destroy His own work? I am well aware that no thought of mine escapes God, because He is God, nor does any such thought please Him, because He is good. Nor can I escape His hand -- if He so wishes -- because He is mighty. But need this be a cause of dread to me? For if through His goodness He can have no pleasure in evil done by me -- how much less can He derive it from evil action of His own? I should call it evil on my part to wish to oppose His will -- and on His part to avenge Himself. He therefore cannot wish to take vengeance for any crime, since He neither will nor can part with His inherent goodness.' It is thyself thou -- wretch, alone that thou deceivest, not God. Thou deceivest thyself, I repeat, and thy wickedness lies to thyself not to God. Thou dost indeed act deceitfully, but He detects thy motive. Thus thou deceivest thyself not God. And since in return for His great goodness, thou dost contemplate great evil towards Him, thy wickedness naturally leads thee to hate Him. For what can be more unjust than that the Creator should be scorned by thee for the very reason for which He most deserves thy love? What can be more outrageous than that when thou hast no doubt that the power of God shown in thy creation, could be used for thy destruction, thou dost yet rely on His abundant kindness, and that this should lead thee to hope that He will be unwilling to exercise His vindictive power? Wilt thou repay good with evil and love with hatred? (1)
Now I say that this malice is deserving, not of passing indignation but of abiding wrath. For it is thy desire and hope to be on an equality with the most gracious and most high Lord, although that is not His wish. Thou desirest that He shall have always before His eyes the distressing sight of thine unwelcome presence, and thou thinkest that though He is able to cast thee down, He will not do so, but that He will prefer Himself to suffer than to allow thee to perish. It is undoubtedly in His power to overthrow thee, if such be His will -- but in thine opinion His kindness will not allow Him to entertain such a wish. If He be such as thou supposest Him to be, it is clear that thy conduct in not loving Him is so much the baser. And if He does allow action to be taken against Himself rather than take action against thee -- how great must be thy malice in having no consideration for Him who disregards Himself in sparing thee?
1. Ps. cix. (cviii. Vulg.) 5.
But it is inconceivable that He who is perfect can fail to be both kind and just. It is not as though kindness and justice cannot exist together. Kindness is really better when it is just than when it is slack -- nay more, kindness without justice is not a virtue. It therefore appears that thou remainest ungrateful for the loving-kindness of God whereby thou wast created without exertion on thy part, but thou fearest not His justice of which thou hast had no experience, and dost therefore audaciously incur guilt for which thou dost falsely promise thyself impunity. Now mark that thou wilt find Him whom thou hast known to be kind, to be also righteous, and thou wilt thyself fall into the ditch which thou hast dug for thy Creator. Thy design seems to be to inflict on Him an injury which He is able to avoid if He wishes to do so a wish which thou thinkest that He cannot entertain, as He will not be wanting in that kindness which has led Him never within thine experience to punish anybody. The righteous God will most justly retaliate by punishing thee, since He neither can nor ought to allow such a slight on His goodness to remain unpunished. He may, however, so moderate the severity of His sentence that, if thou art willing to return to reason, He will not refuse thee pardon. But such is thy hardness and impenitent heart, (1) that thou art incapable of such a wish, and therefore canst not escape the penalty.
But now listen to the accusation against thee. Heaven, saith He, is my throne and the earth my footstool. (2) He did not say 'east' or 'west', or any one region in the heaven, but the whole heaven is my throne. Thou must not therefore seat thyself in a portion of the heaven, since He has chosen the whole of it for Himself. Thou canst not place thyself on earth, for it is His footstool. For the earth is a solid body, on which is seated the Church, founded on a strong rock. What wilt thou do? Driven out of heaven, thou canst not remain on earth. Choose then for thyself a place in the air, not for session but for flight, so that thou, who didst attempt to shatter the security of eternity, shall pay the penalty of thine own unrest. For, whilst thou art driven to and fro between Heaven and earth, the Lord is seated on a throne high and elevated (3) and the whole earth is full of His majesty -- so that thou canst find no place except in the air.
1. Rom. ii. 5.

2. Is. Ixvi. 1.

3. Is. vi. 1.
For the Seraphim with their wings of contemplation fly from the throne to the footstool, and from the footstool to the throne, while with their other wings they cover the head and feet of the Lord. And I think that they are purposely so placed that, as the access to Paradise was barred against sinful men by the Cherubim, so also shall a limit be set to thy curiosity by the Seraphim. (1) The result will be that thou wilt no longer, with more impudence than prudence, investigate the secrets of heaven, nor wilt thou discover the mysteries of the Church on earth, but shalt find a home only in the hearts of the proud, who neither deign to live on earth like other men, nor fly like the angels to heaven. But although His head is hidden from thee in heaven and His feet on earth, thou mayest as it were be allowed to see -- and to envy -- some part of what lies between, whilst thou art suspended in the air, and dost behold the angels descending and ascending past thee, though thou art altogether ignorant of what they hear in heaven or tell on earth.
1. This is the passage referred to in the Correction (see above p. 1) where St. Bernard admits that he is expressing an opinion of his own, for which he has no scriptural authority. The idea is, however, a striking and suggestive one. He elsewhere describes the Cherubim as the conveyers of Divine wisdom, and the Seraphim as the distributors of Divine energy. (On Consideration; V, iv. 8.) ' Let us suppose the Cherubim to drink at the very fount of Wisdom the mouth of the Most High, and in turn to pour forth the streams of knowledge for all their fellow-citizens. . . Let us suppose the Seraphim to be spirits inflamed with the Divine fire kindling all things, so that the citizens may be each a burning and shining lamp, burning with charity, shining with knowledge.' (On Consideration, V, iv. 9.)
O Lucifer, thou who didst rise in the morning, surely a bearer no longer of light, but of night -- aye, even of death -- thy proper course was from the east to the south, and dost thou invert the order and perversely tend towards the north? In proportion to thy haste to rise is the rapidity of thy decline and fall. Yet, thou curious one, I should wish to investigate more closely the object of thy curiosity. I will place, sayest thou, my throne towards the north. And as thou art a spirit, I think that neither 'north' nor 'throne' is to be understood in a local or literal sense. For, I suppose that by 'the north' is meant evil men, and by 'my throne' thy control over them. (1) For in the foreknowledge of God, thou hast from thy chosen proximity to Him, a clearer insight into the future than had others; and as these were neither enlightened by any ray of wisdom, nor warmed by the love of the spirit, thou didst find in them as it were thine opportunity. Thus didst thou establish thy rule over them, so that thou mightest pour into them some of thy clever cunning, and influence them with thy wicked warmth; so that as the Most High controlled all the sons of obedience by His wisdom and His goodness, thou mightest govern these by thy cunning wickedness and wicked cunning, and in this respect thou mightest resemble Him.
1. This interpretation of 'the north ' seems to be an original idea of St. Bernard's. St. Jerome understands it of Jerusalem.
But I am surprised that, since in God's foreknowledge thou didst foresee thy rule, thou didst not in like manner foresee thy ruin. For if thou didst foresee it, what madness it was to be so wickedly eager for dominion as to prefer rule and wretchedness to submission and happiness. Or was it not better for thee to be a partner in those regions of light than ruler of those dark places? But it is more likely that thou didst not look forward either for the reason which I gave above that in thy reliance on the kindness of God thou didst say in thine heart, He will not require it, (1) and didst therefore wickedly offend Him, or because when thou didst see thy rule, the beam of pride at once rose up in thine eye which through its interference was unable to discern its danger.
In like manner Joseph did not foresee his sale though he had foreseen his promotion and this although the sale was to precede the promotion. I should not from this conclude that the great patriarch was guilty of pride, but that his experience proves that those who possess the spirit of prophecy must not be supposed to have foreseen nothing because they did not foresee everything. Some one may, perhaps, maintain that the fact that this youth recorded his dreams -- of whose symbolic significance he was at the time unaware -- was a mark of self-sufficiency.
1. Ps. x. 13.
I still think that this should be ascribed to their symbolic character or to his boyish innocence, rather than to conceit. And if there were such conceit, he was able to atone for it by his subsequent painful experiences. For revelations of a character pleasing to themselves are sometimes made to certain persons, and though such knowledge must inevitably engender conceit in the human mind, the prediction may; nevertheless be fulfilled -- albeit in such a way that the vanity which has caused even a slight delight in the importance of the revelation shall not be unpunished. For a physician uses not only ointment but fire and iron, with which he cuts out or cauterizes everything which is useless for the treatment of the wound, so that there may be no obstacle to the remedial working of the ointment. In like manner does God as the physician of souls, prescribe and administer to a soul of such a disposition, temptations and troubles in order that, chastened and humbled, it may turn joy into sorrow, and think the revelation a delusion. The result is that vanity disappears, though the truth of the revelation is not impaired. Thus Paul's tendency to self-exaltation is checked by his thorn in the flesh, while he is himself uplifted repeated revelations. Thus want of faith in Zacharias is punished by loss of speech, yet the declaration of the angel that the trutii would be made clear during his lifetime is unaltered. Thus again, by honour and dishonour (1) do the saints make progress, though among the special gifts which each receives, they are only too well aware of the existence in them of that vanity which is common to mankind; so that while they know themselves to be the possessors of supernatural favour, they may ever remember whom they truly are.
But what about revelations to mere curiosity? I took the opportunity of dealing with these in a digression, when I tried to show that the wicked angel before his fall was allowed to foresee that dominion which he afterwards acquired over wicked men, but not to anticipate his own condemnation. That is a matter about which questions of small moment may be raised which it is easier to ask than to answer, and of which the sum and substance is but this that he fell from the truth because his idle speculation led him to unlawful desire and thus to presumptuous aspiration.
Curiosity therefore rightly claims the first place among the degrees of pride, and is thus revealed as the beginning of all sin. But unless this is suppressed very speedily it will soon develop into a careless frame of mind which constitutes the second degree.
1. 2 Cor. vi. 8.

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