Preface of a Saint (1)
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BERNARD OF CLAIRVAUX
ABBOT, THEOLOGIAN, AND POET (20 AUGUST 1153)
Bernard, third son of a Burgundian nobleman, was born in 1090. His brothers were trained as soldiers, but Bernard from youth was destined for scholarship. One Christmas Eve as a child he had a dream about the infant Christ in the manger; and the memory of it, and consequent devotion to the mystery of the Word made flesh, remained with him throughout his life.
Bernard had good prospects of success as a secular scholar, but he began to believe that he was called to the monastic life, and after a period of prayer for guidance, he decided at age 22 to enter the monastery of Citeaux (Latin Cistercium, appearing on modern maps as Corcelles-les-Citeaux, an offshoot of the Benedictines which had adopted a much stricter rule than theirs, and became the founding house of the Cistercian (Trappist) order. (Actually, the Trappists are a reformed (i.e. stricter) offshoot of the Cistercians, who are a stricter offshoot of the Benedictines.) He persuaded four of his brothers, one uncle, and 26 other men to join him. They were the first novices that Citeaux had had for several years. After three years, the abbot ordered Bernard to take twelve monks and found a new house at La Ferte. The first year was one of great hardship. They had no stores and lived chiefly on roots and barley bread. Bernard imposed such severe discipline that his monks became discouraged, but he realized his error and became more lenient. The reputation of the monastery, known as Clairvaux (48:09 N 4:47 E), spread across Europe. Many new monks joined it, and many persons wrote letters or came in person to seek spiritual advice. By the time of his death, 60 new monasteries of the Cistercian order were established under his direction.
For four years after 1130 Bernard was deeply involved with a disputed
papal election, championing the claims of Innocent II against his rival
Anacletus II. He travelled throughout France, Germany, and Italy mustering
support for his candidate (and, it should be added, preaching sermons denouncing
injustices done to Jews), and returned from one of these journeys with
Peter Bernard of Paganelli as a postulant for the monastery. The future
Pope Eugenius III spent the next year stoking the monastery fires. Years
later, Bernard wrote a major treatise of advice to Eugenius on the spiritual
temptations of spiritual power.
of Bernard's most influential acts, for better or worse, was his preaching
of the Second Crusade. The First Crusade had given the Christian forces
control of a few areas in Palestine, including the city of Edessa. When
Moslem forces captured Edessa, now called Urfa and located in eastern
Turkey) in 1144, King Louis VII of France (not to be confused with St.
Louis IX, also a Crusader, but more than a century later) was eager to
launch a crusade to retake Edessa and prevent a Moslem recapture of Jerusalem.
He asked Bernard for help, and Bernard refused. He then asked the Pope
to order Bernard to preach a Crusade. The pope gave the order, and Bernard
preached, with spectacular results. Whole villages were emptied of able-bodied
males as Bernard preached and his listeners vowed on the spot to head
for Palestine and defend the Sacred Shrines with their lives.
If Bernard in controversy was fierce and not always fair, it was partly because he was a man of intense feeling and dedication, quick to respond to any real or supposed threat to what he held sacred. It is his devotional writings, not his polemical ones, that are still read today. Among the hymns attributed to him are the Latin originals of "O Sacred Head, sore wounded," "Jesus, the very thought of Thee," "O Jesus, joy of loving hearts," "Wide open are Thy hands (to pay with more than gold the awful debt of guilt and sin, forever and of old--see the Lutheran Book of Worship et alibi)," and "O Jesus, King most wonderful." His sermons on the Song of Songs, treated as an allegory of the love of Christ, are his best-known long work.
by James Kiefer