Bernard of Clairvaux
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, O.Cist (1090 - August 21, 1153) was a French abbot and the primary builder of the reforming Cistercian monastic order. After the death of his mother, Bernard sought admission into the Cistercian order. Three years later, he was sent to found a new house that Bernard named Claire Vallée, of Clairvaux, on the 25 June 1115 and the names of Bernard and Clairvaux would soon become inseparable. Bernard would preach an immediate faith, in which the intercessor was the Virgin Mary. In the year 1128, Bernard assisted at the Council of Troyes, at which Bernard traced the outlines of the Rule of the Knights Templar who soon became the ideal of Christian nobility.
On the death of Pope Honorius II, which occurred on 14 February 1130, a schism broke out in the Church. King Louis VI convened a national council of the French bishops at Etampes, and Bernard was chosen to judge between the rival popes. Bernard devoted himself with renewed vigour to the composition of the works which would win for him the title of "Doctor of the Church". In 1139, Bernard assisted at the Second Council of the Lateran. Bernard denounced the teachings of Peter Abelard to the Pope who called a council at Sens in 1141 to settle the matter. Bernard soon saw one of his disciples, Bernard of Pisa, and known thereafter as Eugenius III elected Pope. Having previously helped end the schism within the Church, Bernard was now called upon to combat heresy. In June 1145, Bernard traveled in Southern France and his preaching there helped strengthen support against heresy.
Following the Christian defeat at the Siege of Edessa, the Pope commissioned Bernard to preach the Second Crusade. The last years of Bernard's life were saddened by the failure of the crusaders, the entire responsibility for which was thrown upon him. Bernard died at age 63, after 40 years spent in the cloister. He was the first Cistercian monk placed on the calendar of saints and was canonized by Pope Alexander III 18 January 1174. Pope Pius VIII bestowed on him the title of Doctor of the Church.
Bernard's theology and Mariology continue to be of major importance, particularly within the Cistercian and Trappist orders. Bernard led to the foundation of 163 monasteries in different parts of Europe. At his death, they numbered 343. His influence led Pope Alexander III to launch reforms that would lead to the establishment of canon law. He was the first Cistercian monk placed on the calendar of saints and was canonized by Pope Alexander III January 18, 1174. Pope Pius VIII bestowed on him the title of Doctor of the Church. He is fondly remembered as the "Mellifluous Doctor," (the Honey-Sweet Doctor), for his eloquence. The Cistercians honour him as only the founders of orders are honoured, because of the widespread activity which he gave to the order. The works of Bernard are as follows:
- "De Gradibus Superbiae," his first treatise.
- Homilies on the Gospel "Missus est" written in 1120.
- "Apology to William of St. Thierry" against the claims of the monks of Cluny.
- "On the Conversion of Clerics," a book addressed to the young ecclesiastics of Paris written in 1122.
- "De Laude Novae Militiae," addressed to Hugues de Payens, first Grand Master and Prior of Jerusalem (1129). This is a eulogy of the military order instituted in 1118, and an exhortation to the knights to conduct themselves with courage in their several stations.
- "De amore Dei" wherein Bernard argues that the manner of loving God is to love without measure and gives the different degree of this love.
- "Book of Precepts and Dispensations" (1131), which contains answers to questions upon certain points of the Rule of St Benedict from which the abbot can, or cannot, dispense.
- "De Gratiâ et Libero Arbitrio" in which the Roman Catholic dogma of grace and free will was defended according to the principles of St Augustine.
- "De Consideratione" ("On Consideration"), addressed to Pope Eugenius III.
- "De Officiis Episcoporum," addressed to Henry, Archbishop of Sens.
His sermons are also numerous:
- On Psalm 90, "Qui habitat," written about 1125.
- "On the Song of Songs."
- There are also 86 "Sermons for the Whole Year."
- 530 letters survive.
Many letters, treatises, and other works, falsely attributed to him survive, such as the l'Echelle du Cloître, les Méditations, and l'Edification de la Maison intérieure.
Saint Bernard's Prayer to the shoulder wound of Jesus is often published in Catholic prayer books.
Saint Bernard's views on the Virgin Mary also influenced other saints, e.g. in the classic text on Mariology, The Glories of Mary, Saint Alphonsus Liguori based his analysis of Mary as the "Gate to Heaven" on Saint Bernard's statement:
No one can enter Heaven unless by Mary, as though through a door.
Dante Alighieri's "Divine Comedy" places him as the last guide for Dante, as he travels through the Empyrean (Paradiso, cantos XXXI–XXXIII). Dante's choice appears to be based on Bernard's contemplative mysticism, his devotion to Mary, and his reputation for eloquence.
He is also the attributed author of the poem often translated in English hymnals as O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.