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Words: Bernard of Cluny, aka Bernard of Morlaix (b. circa 1100; d. circa 1155); translator of the Latin text, John Mason Neale (b. Jan. 24, 1818; d. Aug. 6, 1886)
Music: St. Alphege, by Henry John Gauntlett (b. July 9, 1805; d. Feb. 21, 1876)
Note: We have little personal information about Bernard. A Benedictine monk, living in France, he apparently entered the Abbey at Cluny in his twenties, during the period when Peter the Venerable was abbot. The monastery of Cluny was the greatest in Europe at the time, and its abbot next to the pope in his wide influence.
It was during his lifelong stay at the abbey that Bernard wrote a lengthy poem (with 3,000 verses) entitled De Contemptu Mundi (Of Scorning the World). He satirized the foolish excesses of worldliness in his day by discussing the fuss that was made over eggs!
“Who could say, to speak of nothing else, in how many ways eggs are cooked and worked up? With what care they are turned in and out, made hard or soft, or chopped fine; now fried, now roasted, now stuffed; now they are served mixed with other things, now by themselves. Even the external appearance of the dishes is such that the eye, as well as the taste, is charmed.”
Great and turbulent changes can take place in society, and in our lives. But, when we look more closely, there are many basics that remain the same, deeper consistencies that still give us a sense of continuity with the past.
Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Karr (1808-1890) gave us the saying, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,” often rendered, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” That came to mind recently as we heard of the turmoil caused by Britain’s vote to break with the European Union. Dire predictions were made of social and economic collapse. Even conservative analysts opined that “Brexit” would bring drastic changes.
But change is hardly a new thing. Would Shakespeare even recognize the England of today? We are six centuries removed from the reign of Richard II, who was portrayed in the bard’s play about him. There, John of Gaunt speaks of: “This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,” which he eulogizes as “this other Eden,” and a “demi-paradise.”
Stirring words they may be, but they’re far from reality. Having said that, there is a reason why Shakespeare’s plays are still studied and performed. What makes them enduring literature is their perceptive portrayals of human nature, of our triumphs and our troubles, our foibles and our follies. We see ourselves there because, though some things now are definitely unlike the past, others remain the same.
This brings us to the poetry of Bernard of Cluny. Though many things have changed, the spirit of worldliness and carnality is still with us. And Bernard’s values were far different from the luxury-loving world around him. He would say, as he walked in the cloister, “Dear brethren, I must go; there is Someone waiting for me in my cell.” He was speaking of the Lord Jesus, with whom he was looking forward to communing in prayer.
From De Contemptu Mundi, translator John Mason Neale has drawn two hymns: Jerusalem the Golden, and a second lesser known one, which we consider here. In it, Bernard speaks of the surpassing joys of heaven in contrast with what he calls the earthly “Babylon.”
It’s true that heaven will be unlike this sinful earth, yet not everything will be different. The cities of earth will give way to the perfect heavenly city (Heb. 13:14; Rev. 21:1-2), but God is eternally the same (Mal. 3:6). Believers will each still be our unique selves, but perfected and glorified (Phil. 3:20-21), and we’ll relate to one another in richer fellowship than now (I Cor. 13:12). We praise God, and serve Him here. We’ll also praise and serve Him in fuller and more rewarding ways in the heavenly kingdom (Rev. 19:5; 22:3).
CH-1) Brief life is here our portion;
Brief sorrow, short lived care;
The life that knows no ending,
The tearless life, is there.
CH-4) There grief is turned to pleasure;
Such pleasure as below
No human voice can utter,
No human heart can know.
CH-7) And He, whom now we trust in,
Shall then be seen and known;
And they that know and see Him
Shall have Him for their own.
CH-8) And now we watch and struggle,
And now we live in hope,
And Zion in her anguish
With Babylon must cope.
CH-11) There God, our King and Portion,
In fullness of His grace,
We then shall see forever,
And worship face to face.
1) What are some things that will be different in heaven from what they are now?
2) What are some things that will be the same, or similar–though perfected there?