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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
Bernard of Clairvaux, St.
one of the most eminent names in the Mediaeval Church, was born of noble parents near Dijon, in the year 1091. He had five brothers and one sister, all of whom he persuaded to the same course of religious life with himself; and, after having lived for some time in seclusion in their father's house, the brothers all left it together in 111, and repaired to Citeaux, where they demanded of the abbot Stephen to be admitted. Besides his brothers, he took with him other companions, making in all thirty. Having distinguished himself by his piety, devotion, and learning, he was commissioned, in 1114, to conduct a colony of monks to Clairvaux, where, having built their monastery, he was appointed the first abbot. — His learning and consummate abilities could not be long concealed in the cloister, and very — soon he was called upon to take part in all the important affairs of the Church. In 1128 he was present in the Synod of Troyes, convoked by the legate Matthew, cardinal bishop of Albano, where, by his means, the order of the Knights Templars was confirmed, as well as the rule for their observation. In the schism between Innocent II and Anacletus, Bernard took the side of the former. In 1140 we find him strenuously opposing Abelard (q.v.), whom, both by word and by his writings, he resisted, especially in the Council of Sens held in that year. His arbitrary and persevering persecution of Abelard is one of the greatest stains upon his reputation. "About the year 1140, Bernard was involved in an important controversy concerning what was called the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary. Several churches in France began about that time to celebrate the festival consecrated to this pretended conception. It is reported by some authors that it had been introduced into the Church of England before this period, in consequence of the exhortations of archbishop Anselm. The Church of Lyons was the first which adopted this new festival in France, which no sooner came to the knowledge of St. Bernard than he severely censured the canons of Lyons on account of this innovation, and opposed the immaculate conception of the Virgin with the greatest vigor, as it supposed her to be honored with a privilege which belonged to Christ alone. Upon this a warm contest arose, some siding with the canons of Lyons, and adopting the new festival, while others adhered to the more orthodox sentiments of St. Bernard. The controversy, notwithstanding the zeal of the contending parties, was carried on during this century with a certain degree of decency and moderation. But in after times, as Mosheim remarks, when the Dominicans were established in the Academy of Paris, the contest was renewed with the greatest vehemence, and the same subject was debated on both sides with the utmost animosity and contention of mind. The Dominicans declared for St. Bernard, while the Academy patronized the canons of Lyons, and adopted the new festival." (See IMMACULATE CONCEPTION).
It was in the year 1145 that information was received in Europe of the perilous condition of the newly- established kingdom in the East. Edessa was taken by the Saracens; Antioch and Jerusalem were threatened. The news excited universal sorrow. Louis the Seventh, king of France, in a penitential spirit, was the first who prepared to arm in defense of the Holy Sepulchre. The French king's determination was approved by the pope, Eugenius III; and Bernard was commissioned to travel through France and Germany for the purpose of raising an army of crusaders. The success of Bernard was marvellous. The unwilling emperor, Conrad III, yielded at length to his impassioned eloquence. In his management of Conrad, the tact and good taste of Bernard were conspicuous. It was at Frankfort-on-Maine that he had his first private audience. When the emperor then gave him to understand how little interest he took in the matter, Bernard pressed the subject no farther, but awaited another opportunity. After having succeeded in making peace between several of the princes of the empire, he preached the crusade publicly, exhorting the emperor and princes to participate in it, at the diet held at Christmas in the city of Spires. Three days after this he again addressed the emperor in private, and exhorted him, in a friendly and affectionate manner, not to lose the opportunity of so short, so easy, and so honorable a mode of penance. Conrad, already more favorably disposed to the undertaking, replied that he would advise with his councillors, and give him an answer on the following day. The next day Bernard officiated at the holy communion, to which he unexpectedly added a sermon in reference to the crusade.
Toward the conclusion of his discourse, he turned to the emperor, and addressed him frankly, as though he had been a private man. He described the day of judgment, when the men who had received such innumerable benefits from God, and yet had refused to minister to Him to the utmost of their power, would be left without reply or excuse. He then spoke of the blessings which God had in such overflowing measure poured upon the head of Conrad — the highest worldly dominion, treasures of wealth, gifts of mind and body till the emperor, moved even to tears, exclaimed, ‘ I acknowledge the gifts of the divine mercy, and I will no longer remain ungrateful for them. I am ready for the service which He Himself hath exhorted me.' At these words a universal shout of joy burst from the assembly; the emperor immediately received the cross, and several of the nobles followed his example. On this occasion he went so far as to claim inspiration, and to prophesy the success of the undertaking. This is the most reprehensible part of his career, and he attempted to cover the failure of his prophecy by a poor quibble. In the same year a council was held at Chartres, where the Crusaders offered Bernard the command of the army, which he refused. In 1147, at the Council of Paris, he attacked the doctrine of Gilbert de la Porree, bishop of Poitiers, on the Trinity; and ia the following year, at the Council of Rheims, procured its condemnation. He was an earnest and zealous advocate of practical religion, and was undoubtedly one of the holiest men of his time. But it must be confessed that he was misled by the love of ecclesiastical conformity to false pretensions and persecuting principles. All ecclesiastical dignities he constantly refused; but his virtues and talents gained him a higher influence in the Christian world than was possessed even by the pope himself, and the disputes of the Church were often referred to his arbitration. Luther says of him, "If there has ever been a pious monk who feared God, it was St. Bernard; whom alone I hold in much higher esteem than all other monks and priests throughout the globe." His devotional Meditations are still read and admired, even among Protestants. They were translated into English by Stanhope. There can be no question but that he saw with sorrow many of the errors, corruptions, and defilements of the Church of Rome, nor did he hesitate to do all in his power to correct them. In the year 1152, just before his death, he put forth his Libri de Consideratione, addressed to Pope Eugenius III, in which he handles the subject at large, and strongly urges it. In the first book of this work he inveighs against the abuses of the ecclesiastical courts. In the second he admonishes Eugenius to consider, As to his person, who he is, and, as to the dignity of his office, what he is. He reminds him that he is not set over others to domineer over them, but to minister to them and watch over them; that he had indeed given to him the charge of all the churches, but no arbitrary dominion over them, which the Gospel disallows. "To you," he says, "indeed the keys of heaven have been intrusted, but there are other doorkeepers of heaven and other pastors besides you; yet are you so much the more above them as you have received the title after a different manner. They have every one a particular flock, but you are superintendent over them all; you are not only supreme pastor over all flocks, but likewise over all the shepherds." In the third book he treats of his duty toward inferiors, and complains heavily of the grievance caused by the appeals to Rome, which, he says, were the occasion of incalculable mischief, and, justly, a source of murmuring and complaint. He further inveighs against the multitude of exemptions which destroyed the ecclesiastical hierarchy. In the fourth book he admonishes the pope to mind his duty toward the clergy, cardinals, and other officers of his court, and. to repress their intrigues, luxury, and sumptuousness.
He advises him as to the qualifications of those whom he should retain near his person, and, lastly, makes a recapitulation of the qualities requisite for the due fulfillment of the papal office: "Consider that the Church of Rome, over which God hath placed you as supreme, is the mother, and not the mistress of other churches; and that you are not a sovereign lord over the other bishops, but only one among them; that you are a brother of those that love God, and a companion of such as fear him," etc. "His meditations have been translated by Dean Stanhope. His sermons have been the delight of the faithful in all ages. ‘ They are,' says Sixtus of Sienna, ‘ at once so sweet and so ardent that it is as though his mouth were a fountain of honey, and his heart a whole furnace of love.' The doctrines of St. Bernard differ on some material points from that of the modern Church of Rome; he did not hold those refinements and perversions of the doctrine of justification which the school divinity afterward introduced, and the Reformers denounced; he rejected the notion of supererogatory works; he did not hold the modern purgatorial doctrines of the Church of Rome; neither did he admit the immaculate conception of the blessed Virgin. He maintained the doctrine of the real presence, as distinguished from the Romish doctrine of transubstantiation. In his discourse on the Lord's Supper, he joins together the outward form of the sacrament, and the spiritual efficacy of it, as the shell and the kernel, the sacred sign, and tie thing signified; the one he takes out of the words of the institution, and the other out of Christ's sermon in the sixth of St. John. And in the same place explaining that sacraments are not things absolute in themselves without any relation, but mysteries, wherein, by the gift of a visible sign, an invisible and divine grace with the body and blood of Christ is given, he saith ‘ that the visible sign is as a ring, which is given, not for itself or absolutely, but to invest and give possession of an estate made over to one.' Now, as no man can fancy that the ring is substantially changed into the inheritance, whether lands or houses, none also can say with truth, or without absurdity, that the bread and wine are substantially changed into the body and blood of Christ. But in his sermon on the Purification he speaks yet more plainly: ‘ The body of Christ in the sacrament is the food of the soul, not of the belly, therefore we eat Him not corporally; but in the manner that Christ is meat, in the same manner we understand that He is eaten.' Also in his sermon on St. Martin: ‘ To this day,' saith he, ‘ the same flesh is given to us, but spiritually, therefore not corporally.' For the truth of things spiritually present is certain also." Bernard died August 20, 1153, leaving one hundred and sixty monasteries of his order, all founded by his exertions. The brief character of him given by Erasmus is this: "Christiane doctus, sancte facundus et pie festivus." He was canonized, with unexampled splendor, twenty years after his death, by Alexander III, and the Roman Church celebrates his memory on the 20th of August. Of all the editions of his works, by far the best is that by Mabillon (Paris, 1690, 2 vols. fol.; reprinted, with additions, Paris, 1839, 4 vols. imp. 8vo). Hook, Eccles. Biography, 2, 308 sq.; Mosheim, Ch. Hist. 1, 301 3-3; Neander, Ch. Hist. vol. 4, passim; Neander, Der heilige Bernhard und sein Zeitalter (Berlin, 1813, 8vo); Neander, Life of Bernard, transl. by Matilda Wrench (Lond. 1843, 12mo); Ellendorf, Der heil. Bernhard (Essen, 1837); Ratisbonne, Hist. de St. Bern. (Paris, 2 vols. 1843, 4th ed. 1860); Morrison, Life and Times of Bernard (1863, 8vo); and Niedner, Zeitschrift (1862, pt. 2, art. 1, by Plitt); Bohringer, Kirche Christi, 2, 436; Lond. Quar. Rev. July, 1863; Christian Remembrancer, 1864, 1.
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Bernard of Clairvaux, St.'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/b/bernard-of-clairvaux-st.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
the Third Week after Epiphany