About St. Bernard of Clairvaux

"High and Holy God, give me this day a word of truth to silence the lies that would devour my soul and kind encourgements to strengthen me when I fall.  Gracious One, I come quietly to your door needing to receive from your hands the nourishment that gives life.    Amen and Amen."  

Early life (1090-1113)

 

Bernard's parents were Tescelin, lord of Fontaines, and Aleth of Montbard, both belonging to the highest nobility of Burgundy. Bernard was the third of a family of seven children, six of whom were sons. At the age of nine years, Bernard was sent to school at Chatillon-sur-Seine, run by the secular canons of Saint-Vorles. Bernard had a great taste for literature and devoted himself for some time to poetry. His success in his studies won the admiration of his teachers. Bernard wanted to excel in literature in order to take up the study of the Bible. He had a special devotion to the Virgin Mary, and he would later write several works about theQueen of Heaven.

 

Bernard would expand upon Anselm of Canterbury's role in transmuting the sacramentally ritual Christianity of the Early Middle Ages into a new, more personally held faith, with the life of Christ as a model and a new emphasis on the Virgin Mary. In opposition to the rational approach to divine understanding that the scholastics adopted, Bernard would preach an immediate faith, in which the intercessor was the Virgin Mary,

Bernard was only nineteen years of age when his mother died. During his youth, he did not escape trying temptations and around this time he thought of retiring from the world and living a life of solitude and prayer.

In 1098, St Robert of Molesme had founded the monastery of Cîteaux, near Dijon, with the purpose of restoring the Rule of St Benedict in all its rigour. Returning to Molesmes, he left the government of the new abbey to St Alberic, who died in the year 1109. In 1113, St Stephen Harding had just succeeded him as third Abbot of Cîteaux when Bernard and thirty other young noblemen of Burgundy sought admission into the Cistercian order.   

 

The Young Abbot

 

Bernard, the founding abbot of Clairvaux Abbey in Burgundy, was one of the most commanding Church leaders in the first half of the twelfth century as well as one of the greatest spiritual masters of all times and the most powerful propagator of the Cistercian reform. He was born in Fontaines-les-Dijon in 1090 and entered the Abbey of Citeaux in 1112, bringing thirty of his relatives with him, including five of his brothers-- his youngest brother and his widowed father followed later. After receiving a monastic formation from St. Stephen Harding, he was sent in 1115 to begin a new monastery near Aube: Clairvaux, the Valley of Light. As a young abbot he published a series of sermons on the Annunciation. These marked him not only as a most gifted spiritual writer but also as the "cithara of Mary," especially noted for his development of Mary's mediatorial role.

 

The Peacemaker

 

Bernard's spiritual writing as well as his extraordinary personal magnetism began to attract many to Clairvaux and the other Cistercian monasteries, leading to many new foundations. He was drawn into the controversy developing between the new monastic movement which he preeminently represented and the established Cluniac order, a branch of the Benedictines. This led to one of his most controversial and most popular works, his Apologia. Bernard's dynamism soon reached far beyond monastic circles. He was sought as an advisor and mediator by the ruling powers of his age. More than any other he helped to bring about the healing of the papal schism which arose in 1130 with the election of the antipope Anacletus II. It cost Bernard eight years of laborious travel and skillful mediation. At the same time he labored for peace and reconciliation between England and France and among many lesser nobles. His influence mounted when his spiritual son was elected pope in 1145. At Eugene III's command he preached the Second Crusade and sent vast armies on the road toward Jerusalem. In his last years he rose from his sickbed and went into the Rhineland to defend the Jews against a savage persecution.

 

The Writer

 

Although he suffered from constant physical debility and had to govern a monastery that soon housed several hundred monks and was sending forth groups regularly to begin new monasteries (he personally saw to the establishment of sixty-five of the three hundred Cistercian monasteries founded during his thirty-eight years as abbot), he yet found time to compose many and varied spiritual works that still speak to us today. He laid out a solid foundation for the spiritual life in his works on grace and free will, humility and love. His gifts as a theologian were called upon to respond to the dangerous teachings of the scintillating Peter Abelard, of Gilbert de la Porree and of Arnold of Brescia. His masterpiece, his Sermons on the Song of Songs, was begun in 1136 and was still in composition at the time of his death. With great simplicity and poetic grace Bernard writes of the deepest experiences of the mystical life in ways that became normative for all succeeding writers. For Pope Eugene he wrote Five Books on Consideration, the bedside reading of Pope John XXIII and many other pontiffs through the centuries.

 

Doctor of the Church

 

Bernard died at Clairvaux on 20 August 1153. He was canonized by Pope Alexander III on 18 January 1174. Pope Pius VII declared him a Doctor of the Church in 1830.

--from The Modern Catholic Encyclopedia (A Michael Glazier Book), Liturgical Press (1995) 82. 

 

To hear or read one of St. Bernard's Writings, click on the following link to the Christian Classics Ethereal Library:  Bernard, of Clairvaux, St. (1090-1153). On Loving God 

 

 This prayer is variously attributed to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Gertrude or St. Mechtilde:

 

'"O Loving Jesus, Meek Lamb of God, I miserable sinner, salute and worship the most Sacred Wound of Thy Shoulder on which Thou didst bear Thy heavy Cross, which so tore Thy Flesh and laid bare Thy Bones as to inflict on Thee an anguish greater than any other wound of Thy Most Blessed Body. I adore Thee, O Jesus most sorrowful; I praise and glorify Thee and give Thee thanks for this most sacred and painful Wound, beseeching Thee by that exceeding pain and by the crushing burden of Thy heavy Cross, to be merciful to me, a sinner, to forgive me all my mortal and venial sins and to lead me on towards Heaven along the Way of Thy Cross. Amen."

 

According to St. Bernard, he asked Jesus which was His greatest unrecorded suffering and the wound that inflicted the most pain on Him in Calvary and Jesus answered:

 

"I had on My Shoulder, while I bore My Cross on the Way of Sorrows, a grievous Wound which was more painful than the others and which is not recorded by men. Honor this Wound with thy devotion and I will grant thee whatsoever thou dost ask through its virtue and merit and in regard to all those who shall venerate this Wound, I will remit to them all their venial sins and will no longer remember their mortal sins."

 

In the twelfth century Pope Eugenius III approved of the promises with regards to this prayer. The modern version of the prayer bears the imprimatur of Bishop Thomas D. Bevan.

© 2015 St. Bernard Catholic Church | New Washington, Ohio 44854 | 419.492.2295 |Fr. George Mahas