chapter  10
26 Pages

Duplicity or Simplicity: Peter, Letters 175 and 181; Bernard, Ep. 265

As stated at the end of the previous chapter, the next phase of the correspondence, dating between autumn 1150 and spring 1151, is dominated by the proposed visit to Cluny of Nicholas of Clairvaux. This visit, repeatedly postponed, would seem to have become something of a cause célèbre. First mooted in Peter’s letter 175,1 it is seemingly blocked in Bernard’s ep. 265,2 on the grounds of (Nicholas’s) illness and absence. The request is renewed in Peter’s letter 181, more openly combative and fuelled by heavy irony.3 While Peter’s letters to Bernard constitute an appeal to communal charity, underpinned by the concept of salvation, Bernard’s preserved response can best be characterised in terms of a blocking manœuvre of the type seen previously. The outcome of the request is not known. According to Constable, Bernard is unlikely to have felt able to refuse.4 Bredero, however, is, perhaps rightly, more cautious.5 As will be seen, there may be reason to conclude that the epistolary struggle for ‘possession’ of Nicholas, initially a Benedictine, now a Cistercian, functions as a microcosm for the whole debate on the nature of caritas, with one crucial difference. Here, each in turn appears to acknowledge the superiority of the other’s way of life. The underlying sub-text, however, may suggest that these acknowledgements should be viewed rather as manipulative ploys than as evidence of reciprocal ‘conversion’.