|Christ Embracing St Bernard, Francisco Ribalta|
Many of us have experienced a special moment of clarity, a rush of wisdom, or an encounter with the Beloved. We perceive these little epiphanies of gnosis in as many ways as there are people to experience them. The experiential and transcendent nature of gnosis defies definition.
For many Christians, the idea of gnosis is quite foreign, which is ironic because the word was used hundreds of times in the New Testament. Furthermore, "Gnostic" is a term which came to be a catchall for practically every opinion that deviated from a literal interpretation of early scriptures. It is therefore little wonder that few theologians have discussed how gnosis occurs.
In a sermon* given by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, we see one beautiful attempt to describe this wondrous gift. And while Bernard was no Gnostic, he was a Christian who perfectly illustrated the fragile and momentary experience of gnosis.
If then, any of us, like the holy prophet, finds that it is good to cling close to God, and–that I may make myself more clear–if any of us is so filled with desire that he wants to depart and to be with Christ, with a desire that is intense, a thirst ever burning, an application that never flags, he will certainly meet the Word in the guise of a Bridegroom on whatever day he comes. At such an hour he will find himself locked in the arms of Wisdom; he will experience how sweet divine love is as it flows into his heart. His heart’s desire will be given to him, even while still a pilgrim on earth, though not in its fullness and only for a time, a short time.
In this very touching passage, St. Bernard clearly speaks from experience and not conjecture. If we pay attention to the language that he used, we will come to realize that he is relating nothing less than a momentary gnostic experience with the Logos and Sophia, the Word and Wisdom. This is why it is always better to strive for gnosis and not Gnosticism, just as the Gospel of Philip declares that we should not strive to be Christians, but christs.
*St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermons, 32