True to tradition, Bernard quotes Genesis 1:27, which affirms the equality of man and woman, both created in the image of God (66:4; II:180,30-31). Physically, woman is weaker than man, who symbolizes the strength of the adult, which then applies by analogy to the role of bishops within the Church. But woman symbolizes those faithful in the Church who play a less active but no less necessary and elevated role: the contemplatives (12.8-9; I:65-66). Yet still more profoundly, by reason of her innate frailty woman symbolizes all that is physical and earthly, in contrast with the heavenly choirs who represent all that is fully spiritual. This frailty is characteristic of ‘secular souls’, all those men and women who lack constancy and energy and whose whole life and every activity betray a sort of softness (38.4:II:16-17). But above all, this feminine frailty is the image of the physical, earthly condition of every human person, it is the symbol of everything in us that is unfinished, partial (ex parte) even though we are already saved. For this reason it behooves a Christian to avoid all curiosity and remain humble (38.5; II:17-18).

For Bernard, feminine frailty is considered, not in itself, as some mere biological fact, but as a symbol and in comparison with the final perfection yet to come (45.3; II:51-52)…Indeed, woman is the symbol of the highest realities: freedom, which God bestowed on her and on every other human being (82,4; II:295,1-7); wisdom (85.8; II;313,1-6); the soul, and the Church (61.2; II:149,14-15).

Jean Leclercq, Women and Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1989)


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