That is it necessary for a woman to share in the work of salvation was one of Bernard’s firm convictions. We come across it again in his Sermon for the Sunday within the Octave of the Assumption. The equality between man and woman, and their complementarity in diversity, is such that the first sin was committed by both, though more gravely by man than by woman. Reparation needs, then, to be made by both man and woman and, here again, it is man who has the major part to play. Everything could have been done by Christ alone: ‘He sufficed’. But it was good for us that, side by side with this new Adam, there should be a new Eve. Both sexes had to be represented in the work of salvation. And what particular aspect of human nature was the new Eve to stress?

Here we notice a progression in Bernard’s thought. Since Christ is ‘majesty’, wielding the power to judge, we might well have feared him had he been alone. Woman acts as the intermediary between him and us. Two pithy, assonant, sentences, express the exact parallel between ‘cruel Eve’ and ‘faithful Mary’. Through the first the ancient enemy poured a plague virus into man; by the second both man and woman received the antidote. But in each case woman was the servant, ministra. Yet her very presence and her intervention are enough to allay all fear. In her we see, not something terrible, but gentleness, a capacity for self-giving and universal oblation: omnibus offerens…All that we may hope to receive from her comes from her nature and her qualities as a woman.

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


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