Although the angel Gabriel never refers to Jesus as a fruit, Bernard of Clairvaux’s Homilies in Praise of the Blessed Virgin Mary often use language and scripture relating to fruit to describe Christ. This includes the Psalms, among other parts of Scripture, but it especially seems to revolve around Elizabeth’s words to Mary in Luke 1:42, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” This verse links many of Bernard’s themes, including the link between Christ’s and Mary’s blessedness, Mary’s unique personal qualities compared to other women, and the natural and floral quality of God.
In Homily I, Bernard uses a series of nature images from the Hebrew Bible to set the scene for the time when “the holy Evangelist [...] made known to us in words flowing like honey the beginning of our salvation.” As part of this list, he refers to Psalm 85:12, “The Lord showed his kindness and the earth bore its fruit” (6). Here, he uses fruit in more or less the same way that he uses “the honey and honeycomb” a few sentences later-- as a way of describing natural beauty.
But although he continues to use the same Psalm, the real object of the fruit imagery becomes clear when he explains that “we understand Christ to be the fruit” mentioned in the verse, in conjunction with Psalm 132:11, which says, “I will place the fruit of your womb upon your throne” (8). Between those two verses he says that “no one doubts that the Word is the fruit, and the Word is Christ” and that “Christ is the good Fruit which endures forever” (8). All of these Psalms about fruit that seemed to be general descriptions of the world (or generic use of “fruit” to mean offspring, as in Psalm 132), are now understood as specific references to Christ, who is the Word and the Fruit.
Later, in Homily III, when Bernard discusses the angel Gabriel’s blessing to Mary, he also comments on Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary from a few verses later, when she tells Mary “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Lk 1:42). At first glance, it is not entirely apparent why he is citing this verse-- it appears at the beginning of a section as the phrases from Gabriel’s speech to Mary normally do. It seems to have confused even the editors of this volume, who mark “Blessed are you among women” as coming from Gabriel’s speech in Luke 1:28 (instead of Elizabeth’s in 1:42), even though Bernard marks it as “these words of Elizabeth” (36). The reason for Bernard’s digression into Elizabeth’s speech becomes clearer in his next sentence, when he says that “we must add those [words] which she spoke immediately afterwards: ‘And blessed is the fruit of your womb” (36).
Bernard explains Elizabeth’s statement by saying that Jesus, the fruit, is not blessed because Mary is blessed; on the contrary she is “blessed because he has come to you with the blessings of sweetness” (36). Bernard then continues to elaborate on Elizabeth’s statement, using words related to fruit to describe Christ’s blessedness: “Blessed in his fragrance, blessed in his savor, blessed in his comeliness” (37). He connects Elizabeth’s statement calling Jesus the “fruit” of Mary’s womb to his earlier descriptions of Christ as the fruit based on the Psalms.
This imagery reaches its climax when Bernard quotes “the Fruit himself, inviting us to go to him” saying “Those who eat me will hunger for more, and those who drink me will thirst for more” (37). He explains that Christ “was referring to the sweetness of his savor which, once it has been tasted, whets the appetite for more. This good fruit is both food and drink to the souls of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (37).
When I read this, I was surprised that Bernard does not actually mention the Eucharist here, even though he is talking about eating and drinking Christ. It seems like it would have been an exciting part of this homily, to say that Christ invites those who hunger and thirst for righteousness to eat and drink his body, and we actually get to do that. I know that many laypeople rarely took communion, but I thought that monks (probably most of the people who might read this) did frequently enough that this would have made sense.
In addition, given how important the Song of Songs is to Bernard and how much fruit imagery it includes, it seems strange that none of these fruit passages cite the Song of Songs or use the references it makes to fruit as references to Christ. He cites the Song of Songs frequently in these homilies (if not as frequently as he cites the Psalms), in addition to his major work on the Song itself, and it seems like an ideal text for imagery about fruit, but it is strikingly absent from these passages.
In some ways, I think that this look at fruit imagery is a good illustration of the important liturgical and homiletical role the Psalms have taken on. Even though Bernard has at his disposal a book of the Bible that consists in significant part of descriptions of love and praise that use imagery of fruit, and he is writing homilies about love and praise that use imagery of fruit, the Psalms are so associated with Christ that they are still a natural text to use for Christ’s self-description. Of course, he also uses New Testament sources that are explicitly Christological, such as the text from 1 Peter 2:3, where Peter says that his readers have now “tasted that the Lord is good.” But the Psalms, perhaps because of the Office, are so clearly the words of Christ that Bernard can assume that “no one doubts that the Word is the fruit, and the Word is Christ” (8).