St. Bernard, Lippi, 1447

ABBOT of Clairvaux.  Born of noble parents at Fontaines near Dijon, he early showed an inclination towards the monastic profession, and in 1112 at the age of 22 he entered the recently reformed monastery of Citeaux, accompanied by thirty other young noblemen of Burgundy, including his own brothers.  Three years later he was invited by the abbot, St. Stephen Harding, to choose a place for a new monastery: he established a house at Clairvaux, which under his direction soon became one of the chief centers of the Cistercian Order.

BEFORE long, Bernard was one of the most influential religious forces in Europe.  In 1128 he acted as secretary to the Synod of Troyes and there obtained recognition for the Rules of the new order of Knights Templar, which he is said himself to have drawn up.  In the disputed election which followed the death of Pope Honorius II in 1130, Bernard sided with Innocent II against the antipope, Anacletus, and, was eventually successful in securing Innocent’s victory.  As a reward the Pope showered privileges on the Cistercian Order.  His power became even greater with the election of a Cistercian monk, a former pupil of his, as Pope Eugenius III in 1145. During the next few years he attacked the heretical teachings of Henry of Lausanne in Languedoc and preached the Second Crusade.  The failure of the latter was a bitter disappointment to him.  He was canonized in 1174, and created a ‘Doctor of the Church’ in 1830.  Feast day, 20 Aug.

BERNARD was above all else a monk.  The austerities and self-mortification which he practised drew upon him the remonstrations of his friend, William of Champeaux, but they did not avail to change his manner of life.  The severely orthodox cast of his character led him to condemn Abelard at the Council of Sens (1140) and to attack Gilbert de la Porree.  Indeed it was his saintliness and personality rather than the force of his intellect which made him so powerful in the Europe of his day, and found visible expression in the rapid growth of the Cistercian Order in the 12th cent. under his influence.  Bernard’s writings reveal a clear and penetrating grasp of theological problems, a fine eloquence of which his sermons give some suggestion, an extraordinarily intimate acquaintance with the Bible, and, above all, a faith inspired by the sublimest mysticism.  It was in his prose that his poetic feeling found expression, the widespread attribution to him of the Rosy Sequence (‘Jesu dulcis memoria’) being almost certainly erroneous.  In his ‘De Diligendo Deo’, one of the most outstanding of all medieval books on mysticism, be insisted that God should be loved simply and purely because He is God, and in his treatise ‘De gratia et libero arbitrio’ (in which he was much influenced by St. Augustine) he wrote: ‘Remove free-will, and there is nothing to be saved; remove grace, and there is left no means of saving.  The work of salvation cannot be accomplished without the co-operation of the two.’ Thus the love and the grace of God, and the resultant activity of man, together made the central theme of Bernard’s message to his age.  If at times he appeared somewhat impetuous and obstinate, nothing could conceal the caritas which illumined his character and writings, and caused him to denounce the persecution of the Jews, and to insist that prayer, preaching, and the life of self-denial and worship should be the militia of Church and state, monk and layman, alike.

Based on an article in The Oxford Concise Dictionary of the Christian Church. ed. E.A. Livingstone, (Oxford, 1996).



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