Acta Sanctorum: St. Aelred of Rievaulx (Jan 12)
January 12, 2024
January 12
St. Aelred of Rievaulx

Life (1110 - 1167)

Aelred, one of the most notable of English monks, was born into a noble family at Hexham in northern England. Having received a very good classical education, he spent some time in the court of David I, King of Scotland.

All in the royal Scots court admired him for his talent and even more for his gentle personality. An illustration: once, in the presence of the king, another courtier insulted Aelred, accusing him of many misdeeds. Aelred listened patiently. Then, when his accuser had finished, he quietly thanked him for his charity in telling him his faults. The accuser was so surprised by Aelred’s perfect humility that he forthwith asked him to forgive his intemperate remarks.

Even by that time the future saint was pondering a vocation to the monastic life. He hesitated to enter a monastery because it would have meant giving up the companionship of his many friends. Gradually, however, he came to see in his very hesitation a cowardly attachment to human beings rather than to God.

At age 24, therefore, he went back to England and asked admission into the Cistercian Abbey of Rievaulx. Rievaulx monastery had been established about two years before by a disciple of St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), the second founder of the Cistercian monks. Aelred took to the Cistercian (Trappist) rigors like a fish to water. The strict rule was to mold him, and he in turn would help to mold the Cistercian spirit.

Father Aelred’s many gifts, natural and supernatural, were to attract the attention of his fellow Cistercians. In 1142 he was elected abbot of a new daughter monastery at Revesby, England. Five years later, he was brought back to RievauIx to head that abbey of some 300 monks. He accepted both promotions with reluctance. He knew that they would involve giving up much of his beloved silence. But of course he proved ideal for the role, accepting its duties as a cluster of necessary crosses.

As superior, nobody was stricter than Abbot Aelred, yet he ruled with winning gentleness. One of his major contributions to the monastic life and to spiritual life in general was his writings, one of which St. Bernard himself commissioned him to compose. They were theologically precise and fervent, yet their simplicity and literary expression made them very appealing. As a monastic leader, a learned man and a writer, Aelred naturally moved in the circles of abbots and bishops and kings. But he in no way allowed fame to turn his head. Like his master St. Bernard of Clairvaux, he refused more than once to accept an appointment to a bishopric.

Although Aelred was physically very infirm in his last years, his disciples were deeply grieved to lose him to death, so much did they love him. In his writing on Spiritual Friendship, the saint had once written a passage that could be used to describe the writer himself: He was one “whom I might fitly call friendship’s child, for his whole occupation was to love and to be loved.”

No wonder St. Aelred of Rievaulx, canonized, apparently, in 1191, was hailed as “the St. Bernard of the North.”

--Father Robert F. McNamara

Scripture (Phil 2:1-4)

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
(Year B). In the first place, one ought to lay a solid foundation for spiritual love itself, and in this foundation its principles ought to be set down, so that those who are mounting straight up to its higher levels may not neglect or go beyond its foundation, but observe the greatest caution.
Not all whom we love should be received into friendship, for not all are found worthy of it. For since your friend is the companion of your soul, to whose spirit you join and attach yours, and so associate yourself that you wish to become one instead of two, since he is one to whom you entrust yourself as to another self, from whom you hide nothing, from whom you fear nothing, you should, in the first place, surely choose one who is considered fitted for all this. Then he is to be tried, and so finally admitted. For friendship should be stable and manifest a certain likeness to eternity, persevering always in affection.  And so we ought not, like children, change friends by reason of some vagrant whim.  For since there is no one more detestable than the man who injures friendship, and nothing torments the mind more than desertion or insult at the hands of a friend, a friend ought to be chosen with the utmost care and tested with extreme caution. But once admitted, he should be so borne with, so treated, so deferred to, that, as long as he does not withdraw irrevocably from the established foundation, he is yours, and you are his, in body as well as in spirit, so that there will be no division of minds, affections, wills, or judgments. You see, therefore, the four stages by which one climbs to the perfection of friendship: the first is selection, the second probation, the third admission, and the fourth perfect harmony in matters human and divine with charity and benevolence.’ 
There is nothing more praiseworthy in friendship than loyalty, which seems to be its nurse and guardian. It proves itself a true companion in all things—adverse and prosperous, joyful and sad, pleasing and bitter—beholding with the same eye the humble and the lofty, the poor and the rich, the strong and the weak, the healthy and the infirm. A truly loyal friend sees nothing in his friend but his heart. (Spiritual Friendship)
Musical Selection

Where charity and love prevail,
there God is ever found;
Brought here together by Christ’s love,
by love are we thus bound.

With grateful joy and holy fear
His charity we learn;
Let us with heart and mind and soul
now love him in return.

Forgive we now each other’s faults
as we our faults confess;
And let us love each other well
in Christian holiness.

Let strife among us be unknown,
let all contention cease;
Be His the glory that we seek,
be ours His holy peace.

Let us recall that in our midst
dwells God’s begotten Son;
As members of His body joined,
we are in Him made one.

No race or creed can love exclude,
if honored be God’s name;
Our family embraces all
whose Father is the same.


Almighty God, you endowed the abbot Aelred with the gift of Christian friendship and the wisdom to lead others in the way of holiness: Grant to your people that same spirit of mutual affection, that, in loving one another, we may know the love of Christ and rejoice in the gift of your eternal goodness; through the same Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, now and forever. Amen.