Saint Bernard’s Three Advents

The Vision of St Bernard, by Fra Bartolommeo, c. 1504

In one of his sermons, the Cistercian abbot, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (+1090) distinguishes three Advents of Christ: The first, at Christmas, when He came as a little child, in human weakness, even a slave, as Saint Paul says, like us in all things but sin. In the second Advent, He will come again in glory, full of majesty and power, drawing all time and history to a close, and ushering in the new heavens and earth.

The third Advent, the invisible one, is between these two, the whole span of history, and of each human life, when Christ comes and knocks at the door of our hearts, and enters therein, if invited. This is the time of accepting the grace of God, of repentance and conversion, and growing in virtue, especially charity, which makes us ever-more ‘like God’.

Advent season is about all three. The first part, contrary to what one might expect, focuses on Christ’s return at the end of time, not so much on Christmas, with appropriately apocalyptic readings. The second part of Advent draws our attention and devotion more to Christ’s birth at Bethlehem, in proximate preparation for the great feast.

Both urge us to accept Christ into our souls, which is the purpose of all of history, time, space: instaurare omnia in Christo – to restore all things in Christ, the centre and Lord of all history, and lead all souls, who accept God’s grace, to heaven.

However many temporal Advents and Christmases we have left on this earthly pilgrimage matters not, even if this be our last. So long as we make good use of each of them, and are prepared in our hearts to see Christ as He truly is, in glory. +