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Bernard of Clairvaux

Bernard of Clairvaux


Bernard of ClairvauxSaint , the most illustrious representative of medireval monasticism, was born at Fontaines, near Dijon, in Burgundy, in 1091. Religiously inclined from early youth, be went into monastic seclusion at the age of twenty-two, entering the monastery at Citeaux. But he did not go alone: we are told that be drew thirty followers after him, among them his uncle and several of his brothers. So that from the very beginning he exerted that personal ascendancy that characterized his entire life. We are told that" mothers hid their sons, wives their husbands, companions their friends, If for fear that his persuasive and earnest eloquence should draw them away.


This monastery at Citeaux had been founded some years before by Stephen Harding, an Englishman, the strictness and austerity of whose rules appear to have attracted the handsome, blonde, refined, delicate young Bernard, who himself had the very qualities to make him the impersonation of an ideal monk." After two years, the abbot Harding 1115 chose this congenial spirit to aid in monastic reform by forming a new Cistercian convent in the forests of central France, in the valley of Wormwood diocese of Langres. Thus was founded that famous abbey of Clairvaux, of which Bernard became abbot, and with which his name is definitely associated in history. The hardships that had to be endured at first by these monks were such that their leader fen very in, and recovered his strength only after his friend, William of Champeaux, had compelled him to recruit his forces by Striking rest and observing a healthful regimen. He remained a delicate man all his life, however, subjugating the body to the spirit.


His earnest piety turned his monastery into a model of its kind, and it is said that on his death, 1153, he left behind him 160 monasteries formed after his plan. And yet this man, who had renounced the world to adopt the humble and retired life of a monk, was forced by circumstances, and by the very personal influence that he exerted, to take a most active part in the affairs of the world. His influence soon began to extend beyond the sphere of his monkish order; his opinion became eagerly sought after by all he was a "common arbitrator, counselor and judge," "the oracle of Europe," as Gibbon called him.


The wide reach of his influence was first notably shown after the death of Pope Honorius II., in 1130. There were two claimants to the pontifical chair, Innocent. and Anacletus II., and Christendom was divided into hostile factions. Bernard, summoned by King Louis VI. The Fat of France to attend a council, at Etampes, pronounced in favor of Innocent, and quelled the schism by finally, after several years, overcoming the partisans of the Anti-pope. But when this great work of unification was accomplished, two of the chief events of his life were yet to take place: his contest with Abelard, and the preaching of the second Crusade.


Peter Abelard, Bernard's senior by twelve years, formed a cause of disunion within the church. Attaining a great reputation as a subtle and dextrous reasoner, he had drifted from one school of philosophy to another, finally attacking theology. The French clergy, in alarm, again called upon their champion and guide, Bernard; but when a council was summoned at Seus in 1140, attended by the king, nobles, and prelates of France, Abelard came, confident of victory, while Bernard doubted his own power. But hardly had the latter begun his address, when, to the astonishment of all, Abelard refused to continue the contest, and left the assembly, with an appeal to Rome. But the Pope passed a sentence of condemnation upon Abelard, and the latter sought refuge at Cluny, where he died soon after. Soon there came news from the East that threw Christian Europe into a state of alarm and indignation: the infidel was in arms, Edessa was captured 1144, The Holy Land must again be freed from the yoke of the unbeliever, and the Pope appointed Bernard to preach the new crusade. The vehemence and eloquence of the Abbot of Clairvaux, notwithstanding his frail body and advanced years, rekindled the crusading fever into a blazing flame throughout France and Germany 1146. But the movement was an in-faled affair: the Christian armies met with utter ruin, and Bernard, as the chief promoter, had to bear bitter reproaches.


This and other troubles bore heavily on his spirit, although he continued to take all active part in public affairs. Always sickly, his fasting and his restless activity had now reduced him to a veritable shadow, and death finally came as a welcome friend. His monks, who were earnestly praying for his recovery, he bade to "spare him and let him depart," and thus passed away on the 25th of August, 1153.


He was a noble enthusiast, fearless in his denunciation of wrong, intrepidly censuring kings and nobles, popes and haughty prelates, and exerting on all that strange, powerful influence that bowed the most obstinate and uncontrollable to his wilt. Nor were any affairs too small or any wrongs too slight to hold his attention: the remarkable series of letters from his pen were directed to all manner of people all all kinds of subjects. And again, his tender affection found vent in such hymns as the beautiful O" sacred Head now wounded " and "Jesus, the very thought of Thee. There were greater men in his time, deeper thinkers; but it seems as though what was noblest, and purest, and most pious in his age was concentrated in him, nu heirloom from his devout mother. Notwithstanding bodily and mental afflictions, his spirit remained ever unconquerable. "Whenever a great necessity called him forth," says his friend and biographer Godfrey, "his mind conquered all his bodily infirmities." Though the church was everything to him, yet he sometimes showed a forbearance, a liberality not common in those times, as when he protected the Jews from popular fury. He won praise from writers varying greatly in character and opinions, the long list including such extreme cases as the austere Calvin and the irreverent Voltaire. And Pope Alexander III, who canonized him in 1174, hardly conferred a greater honor upon him than did Luther when be pronounced him a "God· fearing and holy monk."




At this period the spirit of wild warlike enterprise, and that of stern monastic asceticism stood in distinct contrast to each other, and ever and anon men were seen to recede from the rude career of knightly adventure, into the retirement of the cloister. The Crusades had effected an union between the warlike spirit and that of religious enthusiasm and the men who had taken part in these wars distinguished so remark· ably in their object from all others, naturally enough conceived the idea of separating themselves from all other warriors by a particular mode of life, so as to bring the Crusades into harmony with their calling. This idea of dedicating themselves by a solemn vow to the holy war for life, was a very attractive one; and thus the plans of monkish association were formed among the crusaders.


In the year 1118, nine men of illustrious descent united for the purpose of keeping the road to the Holy Sepulcher open for pilgrims, and consecrated their lives to this object; taking the vows of chastity poverty and obedience, as canons regular before the Patriarch of Jerusalem. From their place of residence, which was the site of Solomon's temple, now occupied by a Christian Church they were denominated Knights of the Temple Milites Templi". For ten years the association subsisted without the observance of any fixed rule, and without any great extension of their fame or any addition to their number. But at the council held for the dispatch of other ecclesiastical business, under the presidence of Mathew of Alba, the papal legate, at Troyes, in 1228, their order was to receive a more settled form and a more solemn consecration.


The most eminent French prelates, and the presiding abbot of the already important Cistercian order were required to attend and Abbot Bernard received a special summons from the legate, to participate in these affairs. He, however, excused himself on the plea of recent recovery from a severe illness, which had left him in a great stale of exhaustion he contrasts his position as a monk, with the state of restless employment into which he is impelled by the friends who refuse to listen to his excuses. "0 my God," he exclaims, "how is it that Thy judgment should have erred in my case alone, that Thou shouldst have sought to make a monk of me, to hide me in the evil days beneath Thy tabernacle me a man necessary to the world, and without whom bishops are not able to regulate their affairs." But the legate refused to receive his apology, and persuaded him to assist at the deliberations at Troyes.


Bernard had great influence in the determination of the form which the new order was to receive from the council, although the rule which has come down to us as from this council, carries with it undisputed traces of a later origin. His recommendation and influence contributed greatly henceforward to its rapid extension, and at a later period he was earnestly solicited by Hugo-a-Pagan's, the first grand-master, to endeavor, by his eloquence, to excite in the knights that spirit, which his own example had failed to arouse. He relied greatly on the effect of this appeal, and it was in consequence of this reiterated invitation, that Bernard wrote his "Commendation of the New Order of Knighthood.


Bernard begins by remarking those peculiarities of the Temple Order, which rendered it so attractive to the men of those times. "This is a new mode of warfare, unheard of in all former ages all incessant struggle of a twofold kind against flesh and blood on the one side, and' spiritual wickedness in high places' on the other, a most marvelous struggle, for both of which the inner and the outward man prepares himself alike with his sword. From hence he takes the opportunity of working on the minds of the knights, so as most effectually to arouse their courage. "They live, they fight, they triumph most gloriously for Christ and still more gloriously do they die, for Him, the martyrs death. Other wars are stirred up by human passions, for unjust causes and the soul of the victor is vanquished by the evil one, for he conquers as a murderer, and as a murderer he goes into condemnation and even the survivor, inasmuch as he had the intention of murder in his heart, is, when he dies, delivered over to eternal death. The case is somewhat different with regard to self-defense, but even then victory is no luck." In accordance with his general principles he then declares that even the unbelievers may not be put to death, excepting where there are no other means of preventing their aggressions, and of restraining them from grievously disturbing the Christians.


Bernard next draws a comparison between the general course of life of other soldiers and that of the Templars. love cover your horses with silken trappings and gay cloths float over your coats of mail ye paint your lances, shields and saddles; ye adorn your bridles and spurs with gold, silver and precious stones and are these the insignia. of warriors or of warnen? Ye yourselves have often experienced that three things are especially necessary to a knight; that he be bold, active and watchful light of foot, and prompt to strike. But ye, on the contrary, have you hair long, after the fashion of women, to the disgust of the beholders; your feet are entangled in your long and flowing robes i and your hands buried in the folds of your wide and spreading sleeves." with these he contrasts the templars. "They eschew chess and dice, and take no delight in having soothsayers, buffoons, vain diversions, and mad frolics they hold in abomination they cut their hair in remembrance of that saying of the apostle, 'It is a shame for a mail to have long hair.' They are never gaily dressed seldom washed, but choose rather to appear with uncombed hair, foul with dust, and embrowned by exposure to the sum. 


What Bernard here says of the Templars, is characteristic of his contemporaries in general, who, at the touch of this enthusiasm, abandoned a course of lawless turbulence, passion and vice, and hastened to join the oroer, in hopes of atoning for their past sins, by dedicating their future lives tothe holy war and many doubtless were indeed changed in heart, in consequence of this change in their external mode of life. "But, says Bernard, "the most salutary effect, the most auspicious aspect of the whole is, that this vast multitude that is streaming to your gates is, for the most part, composed of criminals, profane persons and robbers of the sacrilegious, the perjured, the adulterous, and the murderers; whose departure hath a twofold advantage, and is productive of a twofold joy, since their absence is no less desirable to their friends, than their presence to those whom they come to assist.


The Templars were divided into three distinct classes : the milites, or commanders the armigeri, or men-at-anus and the clientes, or servants. They were expressly forbidden to wear any superfluous trappings when ordered out to battle, either all themselves or their horses. Their dress was to be a surtout of white wool. When they assembled at Jerusalem, they made profession of the rule of Benedict to Stephen, patriarch of that city, and were by him invested with the white mantle, their distinguishing garment. In 1146, Pope Eugenius the Third desired that this might be charged with the red cross, .. to designate their readiness to shed their blood in defense of the Christian faith.


Their banner was white, "in token of their candor and ingenuousness and it was striped with black, to show how terrible were the effects of their valor to the enemies of the name of Jesus Christ, the black stripes being symbolical of death. Their cross had two horizontal bars (+). Forty years after their institution, when they held their first chapter at Jerusalem, their numbers were six hundred.-A. NEANDER.


Bernard of Clairvaux

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