This hymn was written by Bernard of Clairvaux. Bernard was born of well-to-do parents in central France — in what we now know as burgundy wine country — near Dijon. He didn’t grow up as a spoiled rich kid, though. His parents, especially his mother, Aleth, taught him the virtues of justice, mercy, and affection for others.
His mother’s death, when he was seventeen, affected Bernard profoundly. He began to experience a more profound conversion and a call to study theology. He entered a Benedictine monastery in 1112 A.D. His talent was soon recognized, and three years later he was asked to establish a monastery at Clairvaux. That was a successful venture, and a number of monasteries were established throughout France under his leadership. He became a confidant of Popes and a preacher to the King of France. In spite of these remarkable achievements, the focus of his life remained twofold: Knowing God and serving the needy.
We see his desire to know Christ reflected in this hymn. “Jesus, the very thought of Thee with sweetness fills my breast; but sweeter far Thy face to see and in Thy presence rest.”
He expressed a similar thought in one of his writings when he said:
To know Jesus and Him crucified is my philosophy,
and there is none higher.
— Copyright 2006, Richard Niell Donovan