“How can I begin reading the Cistercian fathers?” That people ask this question in the first place demonstrates that we are aware that we’re approaching a different kind of reading material. Is the content complicated, opaque? Is the style elaborate and archaic? Is their world-view too different from ours to make sense to a contemporary reader?
Some of that is true but the situation is not impossible. It may be a question of what sort of time and energy you want to invest in your reading. In some ways, reading medieval Cistercian authors proceeds at a relaxed pace: they don’t “cut to the chase”. But if that will drive you crazy, you may be more content reading a modern author; so you’ll find some up-to-date Cistercians to read listed here.
If you really want to read some writing from the Twelfth Century, try this: approach them through the introductory material in a good, modern tarnslation. That will alert you to what to look for and what to look out for.
Bernard of Clairvaux: Selected Works, The Classics of Western Spirituality (Paulist Press), 1987, 278 pp Contains four of St. Bernard’s most important treatises (among them “On Loving God” and “On Conversion” could be very good Lenten Reading), his famous Sermons on the Song of Songs and selected letters. The Introduction was written by Dom Jean Leclercq, the foremost St. Bernard scholar of the Twentieth Century.
You can begin with an “easy author”: Guerric of Igny: Liturgical Sermons, Volume Two, Liturgical Press, 1971, 218 pp Volume Two begins with the feasts of Spring through to the Autumn, so it covers sermons for Holy Week. Volume One (144 pp)covers the Winter and has an excellent introduction by John Morson and Hilary Costello, monks of our Order.
Another accessible author is Baldwin of Ford: Spiritual Tractates, Volumes One (226 pp) and Two (215 pp), Litugical Press, 1982. These are comparatively short considerations on important Christian themes (the Eucharist, Love of God, Resurrection, etc).
Or begin with an accessible subject: Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship, Liturgical Press, 2010, 126 pp.
For a challenging read, try some heavy-duty background to approach a sophiticated author writing in an elabirate style: Etienne Gilson, The Mystical Theology of St. Bernard, Liturgical Press, 1990, 152 pp plus five appendices.
MODERN CISTERCIAN AUTHORS
Of course, there’s Thomas Merton. A classic is Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation, New Directions, 1961, 297 pp
Much shorter is Merton’s Contemplative Prayer, Herder and Herder, 1969, 144 pp
And if you like a little meditative photography to accompany a Merton text: Silence in Heaven, Studio Publications, 1955, 70 pp
Or, ideal for Lent, Merrton’s consideration of the Psalms: Bread in the Wilderness, New Directions, 1953, 138 pp
Closer to our times, a guide to prayer by Fr. Micahel Casey: Toward God: The Ancient Wisdom of Western Prayer, Ligouri, 1996, 171 pp
Characteristic of our times, a book by nuns monks and laypeople, edited by Br. Partick Hart: A Monastic Vision for the 21st Century: Where Do We Go From Here?, Liturgical Press, 2006, 229 pp
Mother Gail Fitzpatrick: Seasons of Grace: Wisdom from the Cloister, ACTA Publications, 2000, 211 pp, with an Introduction by Kathleen Norris.
Mother Maureen McCabe: Inside the Psalms, Reflections for Novices, Liturgical Press, 2005, 134 pp
Fr. Matthew Kelty: Singing for the Kingdom: the Last of the Homilies, Liturgical Press, 2008, 127 pp