We’ll consider more recent believers in future Saints’ CVs, but for this initial article we will look back at three individuals from the Middle Ages.
The problem with medieval times is the difficulty of separating fact from fiction. Any surviving records are unreliable. We have utmost confidence in inspired biblical authors, but we should be much more cautious when we read about church history.
We sing translations of some of Bernard’s Latin hymns today - songs like ‘Jesus the very thought of Thee’ and ‘Jesus Thou joy of loving hearts’. He relinquished a huge family fortune to become a monk. Despite rampant church corruption in the Middle Ages, Bernard preached fervently about the love of God. He wrote a commentary on the Song of Solomon. Martin Luther cited Bernard of Clairvaux as an early influence on reformation thinking.
Bernard’s teaching is controversial in places, such as his view of Mary the mother of the Lord, and his support for military campaigns like the second crusade. However, Bernard’s obvious love for the Lord comes across in his writings that survive today.
‘It is better to drink from the source itself than from the many streams’. The source to which he refers is the Lord Jesus: ‘Thou fount of life, Thou life of men … We turn unfilled to Thee again’.
With a name like Julian of Norwich, readers of Enid’s Blyton’s Famous Five series might mistakenly think this believer was a man; actually, Julian was a female Christian who lived a solitary existence. While she was seriously ill, Julian had a powerful experience of the nearness of God. She wrote a book called Revelations of Divine Love, which is probably the earliest work of English literature by a female author.
Again, we might disagree with Julian in much of her mystic theology. However, her love for the Lord Jesus is the key theme that pervades her writing.
‘All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well’. Like Paul, Rom. 8. 28, Julian had supreme confidence in divine sovereignty.
Orphaned as a child, Richard was educated at Oxford University, where eventually he became the university chancellor. Later he was appointed as a bishop. Richard was keen to root out corruption in the church. His tomb was destroyed in the English reformation on the orders of Thomas Cromwell.
Richard’s well-known prayer, perhaps uttered on his deathbed, was: ‘May I know Thee more clearly, love Thee more dearly, and follow Thee more nearly’. This would be an excellent sentiment in our prayers, every day of our lives.