On our Order’s calendar, today is the memorial of Blessed Guerric of Igny, superseded this year by the celebration of the 20th Sunday of the Year. Guerric is, perhaps, the most approachable of the Cistercian Fathers. Certainly, he was the most unobtrusive, doing what we all do in the monastic life. Blessed Guerric made no name for himself, being neither famous nor heroic. He was just faithful, a kindly, wise old man, who couldn’t understand why the abbatial office was thrust upon him. He was very conscious of his limits, largely from old age, precluding his being an example of monastic observance to anyone. He was merely a replacement of the first Abbot of Igny who said, “I’m quitting”, packed his bags and returned to his motherhouse, Clairvaux. His action was against St. Bernard’s orders to him to stay put. Bernard had no choice but to find a substitute so he sent dependable old Guerric who obeyed Bernard’s order.
Guerric published nothing. He had no pretensions. He knew that the monks were making copies of what he taught them in his Chapter conferences and sermons. He was also keenly aware of the General Chapter’s strictures against publishing one’s writings so, on his death bed, he ordered his monks to burn all his writings before his eyes. The monks burned a copy of his sermons before him, prudently obeying the letter of his command while wisely disobeying him. They had kept from him other copies of his teaching. They knew what a goldmine they had, teaching both common sense and deeply spiritual. Except for their disobedience we probably wouldn’t have known Guerric’s name; he’d just be another forgotten entry in a chronicle like hundreds of other Cistercian Abbots in the Twelfth Century alone.
Guerric is a monk we can claim as a model for ourselves, one with whom we can identify. Not a Bernard or an Ailred, both heroic souls, but a monk who obeyed what he was told to do and who did it faithfully and unselfconsciously; a good man and a wise Abbot, an encouragement to us all. Blessed Guerric, indeed!
from a Chapter talk by Abbot Robert Barnes
Guerric of Igny, Liturgical Sermons, Volume One, introduction and translation by Hilary Costello, CF 8, Liturgical Press Collegeville. The excellent introduction is an indispensable guide to appreciating Guerric and his teaching.
Guerric of Igny, Liturgical Sermons, Volume Two, translated by Hilary Costello, CF 32, Liturgical Press, Collegeville.
John Morson, Christ the Way: the Christology of Guerric of Igny, CS 25, Liturgical Press, Collegeville.