Whenever I feel in need of a spiritual tonic, I return to this exquisite collection of writings from 12th century Cistercians. It never fails, to use the words of William of St. Thierry, one of the authors collected in it, to "wipe away the rheum of prolonged sleep."
Most of us think of medieval theology in terms of scholasticism, the method of the schools or academies (hence its name) brought to its finest point by Thomas Aquinas. Scholasticism sought to apply the logic of Aristotle to theological issues. It is rigorous, consistent, sometimes brilliant, and typically dry as dust.
But predating scholasticism, and exemplified by the 12th century Cistercians, was monastic theology, which adopted a meditative, prayerful, poetic approach. The monastic theologicans were more mystics than philosophers, more interested in wisdom than Aristotle, allegories than syllogisms, scripture than schools. The greatest among them are represented in this collection: Bernard of Clairvaux, William of St. Thierry, Guerric of Igny, Aelred of Rievaulx, Isaac of Stella (my personal favorite!), Gilbert of Hoyland, John of Ford, Adam of Perseigne, and Stephen Harding.
Reading these men is like savoring an exquisite taste. Here's a small sampling to whet your appetite:
--Bernard of Clairvaux:
"It is a cruel mercy that kills the soul while cherishing the body." (p. 48) and "You will find that it is a hoe, not a sceptre, that you want for doing a prophet's work." (p. 88)
--William of St. Thierry (speaking of God): "Sometimes I hear the voice fo your spirit, a passing whisper like the faintest breeze, and I understand it to say, 'Come to him and you will be illumined.' I hear and I am roused from my torpor." (p. 112)
--Aelred of Rievalux (from his marvelous treatise on friendship): "Some men perversely, not to say impudently, want their friends to be what they are incapable of being themselves. They are the sort who are intolerant of the slightest faults in their friends, criticize them fiercely and, with a sad want of discretion, neglect important things while making an issue of details." (pp. 183-84)
--Gilbert of Hoyland: "He who cleaves to God will become one spirit with Him." (p. 219)