This dissertation examines the various forms and roles self-knowledge assumes in Bernard of Clairvaux’s overarching vision of the spiritual life. Previous scholarship on Bernard’s doctrine of self-knowledge has correctly emphasized the significance he attaches to humbling self-knowledge, or the soul’s honest self-recognition as a disfigured image of God, in the soul’s first conversion and the initial stages of its return to God. A certain scholarly preoccupation with this aspect of the abbot’s thought has, however, somewhat obscured the full breadth of Bernard’s teaching on self-knowledge and the diverse forms and roles it assumes across the various phases of the soul’s spiritual life, including those which both proceed and follow its first conversion.
Prior to its first conversion, Bernard believes, the soul suffers not only from self-ignorance, but also from a self-deception, a false self-knowledge born of pride, by which it imagines itself superior to others and therefore not in need of conversion or healing. It is precisely because he recognizes the seductive power of this self-deception that Bernard so frequently insists upon the soul’s humbling recognition of its own sad disfigurement as the prerequisite for its return to God. Yet, the soul’s humbling self-awareness as a defaced image of God is far from Bernard’s final word on the subject of the soul’s self-knowledge. For as the soul undertakes the way of its restoration in the lost divine likeness by its gradual conformity to the humility and charity of Christ, it comes to know itself anew, as one gradually assuming the figure of Christ’s own Bride, radiant with her Bridegroom’s own beauty.
Proceeding in four chapters, this dissertation begins with an overture to Bernard’s comprehensive doctrine of self-knowledge through a study of his Sermones super Cantica canticorum. Chapters 2 and 3 trace respectively his parallel accounts of the soul’s descent into self-deception by way of pride and self-will and its ascent to self-knowledge by way of humility and love. Finally, Chapter 4 shows how, for Bernard, Christ the Incarnate Word both models and effects the soul’s ascent to self-awareness as his Bride by his own journey of self-knowledge in his Incarnation.