Friday, August 19, 2011

Blessed Guerric of Igny (c. 1070-1157)

Guerric of Igny was born between 1070 and 1080 in Tournai, Belgium, and died in 1157. He was a Cistercian monk, abbot of Igny, and an influential spiritual writer. 

The young Guerric received his education at the Cathedral school of Tournai, almost surely at the feet of Odon of Tournai, headmaster between 1087 and 1092. It's possible that Guerric himself became headmaster there between 1121 and 1125. Drawn to a more solitary life, however, Guerric withdrew to a small dwelling close to the church in Turn, spending his time reading, and in prayer and meditation. Through a friend he heard that Bernard of Clairvaux had recently passed through Flanders, and Guerric decided to pay a visit to Clairvaux in 1126. It doesn't appear that it was his intention, at first, to enter as a novice. Nevertheless, the persuasive Bernard convinced Guerric to remain at Clairvaux. Early in his novitiate, it became clear to Bernard that, as a monk, Guerric displayed eminent virtue, and Bernard even mentions Guerric by name in several letters.  

In 1138 Guerric became the second abbot of Igny, one of Clairvaux's foundations in the Diocese of Rheims. Even though it was the custom for the abbot to be  "uniformly" elected by the community, St. Bernard seems to have exerted a bit of influence on the community of Igny to choose Guerric. Having lived first as a hermit, then as a disciple of Bernard of Clairvaux, Guerric was, by this time, no spring chicken, in fact, he was undoubtedly more than 60 years old, a fact at which he hints in one of his sermons, referring to his unsteady physical condition which prevented him from fully participating in community life as provided for in Bernard's rule. Under Guerric's direction the abbey of Igny flourished, and its religious prestige grew. Noted for its manuscripts which were widely circulated, vocations increased. Through donations a new monastic foundation was completed: the abbey of Valroy, in 1148, also in the Diocese of Rheims. Guerric died in his abbey of Igny on August 19, 1157. In 1876, at the time of the restoration of Igny, his body was exhumed and identified. Devotion to Blessed Guerric, which had prevailed for centuries in the order of Cîteaux, was officially recognized by the Church in 1889. 

54 sermons of Guerric of Igny have come down to us, published in Migne's Patrologia Latina. The sermons have greatly influenced the development of Cistercian spirituality and have been reprinted many times. Following the lead of St. Bernard, his spiritual master, Guerric developed a strong Marian theology. Referring to Mary's spiritual maternity, he says: "Mary helps form all those who are children by adoption in the likeness of her Son." She is the new Eve who instills new life into those who have become old by sin. Mary is the model for the Church. The Church similarly exercises her kind of maternity on our behalf. Even more astonishingly and boldly, Guerric says: "The child Jesus was born not only for us but in us. We have 'to conceive' God in our heart." (Sermon on the Nativity).


George Alexa said...

As an newbie (observer) at Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville ( received a note on Guerric and I googled and ended here. Thank you for filling in the blanks for me.

Marc Hamel said...

I was Br. Guerric at St. Joseph's Abbey in Spencer from 1975 to 1986. I have never seen a portrait of Blessed Guerric of Igny before. Could you possibly let me know where I might find a larger version of this Jpeg file? thanks - Marc Hamel