Central to Bernard’s theology was the notion of free will. Being Christian meant being free. However, because that freedom is a gift of God, we are not truly free. This, of course is a contradiction, and Bernard resolves it by explaining that since God gives us freedom, we owe God our complete love for granting such freedom.
He goes on to explain that there are four types of love. The first should be love of God, but in reality, it is love of self. The second is love of God, but it’s more of a trade in – if we love God, perhaps He’ll treat us well. The third is when we realize that God’s love is sweet, and finally the fourth love is when we surrender completely to God.
In Song of Songs, Sermon 74: II.6, Bernard describes his mystical experience, when one surrenders completely to God.
You ask then how I knew he was present, when his ways can in no way be traced? He is life and power, and as soon as he enters in, he awakens my slumbering soul; he stirs and soothes and pierces my heart, for before it was hard as stone, and diseased. So he has begun to pluck out and destroy, to build up and to plant, to water dry places and illuminate dark ones; to open what was closed and to warm what was cold; to make the crooked straight and the rough places smooth, so that my soul may bless the Lord, and all that is within me may praise his holy name. So when the Bridegroom/ the Word, came to me, he never made known his coming any signs, not by sight, not by sound, not by touch. It was not by any movement of his that I recognized his coming; it was not by any of MY senses that I perceived he had penetrated to the depth of my being. Only by the movement of my heart, as I have told did I perceive his presence; and I knew the power of his might cause my faults were put to flight and my human yearnings brought into subjection. I have marvelled at the depth of his wisdom when my secret faults have been revealed and made visible the very slightest amendment of my way of life I have experience his goodness and mercy; in the renewal and remaking of the spirit of my mind, that is of my inmost being, I have perceived the excellence of his glorious beauty, and when I contemplate all these things I am filled with awe and wonder at his manifold greatness.