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Compelled by Love: The Life and Legacy of St. Bernard of Clairvaux ^ | August 2012 | Leo Zanchettin

Posted on 08/20/2012 5:14:13 PM PDT by Salvation

Compelled by Love

The Life and Legacy of St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Compelled by Love


In the year 1112, a bright young nobleman embarked on an adventure that pioneered new paths—politically, socially, and spiritually—throughout Western Europe.

His passion for the gospel and his charismatic personality were so attractive that he drew thirty other men—peers and elders—into the adventure with him.

Over the next thirty-five years, hundreds of others would join him on his mission. His advice was sought by kings and popes; he unleashed an international army with the goal of recapturing the Holy Land. He resolved the most complex of disputes between church and state. His sermons and letters on God’s love melted the coldest of hearts and endeared him to the most unlikely combination of people—young and old, rich and poor, noble and common. This was the legacy of Bernard of Clairvaux, a Cistercian monk who was both the busiest man of his century and an intensely personal, intimate lover of God.

Bernard was born in 1090 into a noble family in Fontaines, France. His father, Tescelin, was a knight, and all six of his brothers (he had one sister) were expected to follow in their father’s footsteps. Bernard, however, showed great intellectual promise, and he was sent to a renowned school at an early age. Both at school and at home, Bernard proved to be an active young man. He read all the literature he could get his hands on, and was always engaging his friends in debates and arguments. Like all the young noblemen of his time, he learned the ways of the court and, while there is no direct testimony, it is likely that he participated in some of the minor wars that were constantly springing up between the different noble families of his region.

A Pioneer. When he was twenty-three years old, Bernard entered the recently founded monastery of Citeaux, a few miles from his family’s castle. So compelling was his anticipation of the new life he was about to embrace that Bernard managed to persuade thirty other noblemen, including his uncle and all of his brothers, to enter as well. Citeaux was an experimental monastery whose goal was to breathe new life into the venerable Benedictine tradition, and such a prospect must have appealed to these young adventurers. Like the youth of today, the challenge of a new thing, the appeal of pioneering a new way of life, captured their imaginations as they asked how they could best serve God and his church.

Just three years after he entered Citeaux, Bernard was chosen to lead a group of monks in opening a new monastery in Langres, Champagne. Bernard named the monastery Clairvaux, or “Clear Valley,” reversing the tradition of calling the region “The Valley of Bitterness.” He was only twenty-five years old, but Bernard’s wisdom, his passionate love for God, and his obvious capacity for leadership made him the logical choice.

News of the success at Clairvaux—especially of the young noblemen who joined Bernard—spread, and soon the house was filled to capacity. In 1118, Bernard sent out a band of monks to start a monastery in Chalons. A year later, another group was sent to Dijon, and in 1121, another group went to Soisson. The pace continued throughout his thirty-five year administration, and by the end of his life Bernard was responsible for having founded sixty- eight monasteries, stretching from Scandinavia to Portugal and from England to central Europe.

A Counselor and Diplomat. In every house he founded, Bernard saw to it that the brothers were deeply rooted in Christ through personal prayer, scripture, and the liturgical rhythm of Benedictine life. His primary responsibility was to foster a deep love for Jesus in his brothers so that whatever work they undertook would be marked by humility, wisdom, and gentleness. To this end, he wrote a treatise entitled On The Steps of Humility and Pride and A Letter on Love, both around the year 1124.

As Bernard’s men spread throughout Europe, his influence and reputation grew as well. In 1128, at the request of the Archbishop of Sens, he wrote another treatise: On the Conduct and Duties of Bishops. This was a somewhat risky undertaking, since it had the potential of putting him on the wrong side of the hierarchy. His worst fears went unrealized, however, and Bernard was invited to participate in the Council of Troyes later in that year. From that point, Bernard’s place in higher circles of church and state was secured. He alternated his attention between the care of his monasteries and the public arena, all the time preserving and deepening his love for Jesus through his treasured monastic life.

Bernard spent five years trying to resolve a split in the church that had given rise to the election of two rival popes. He crisscrossed Europe preaching the Second Crusade, urging knights and rulers throughout Christendom to fight, not for treasures or land, but out of love for Christ. They were not to give in to the bloodthirstiness that characterized previous wars. Rather, they were to lay down their lives to liberate the Holy Land from the hands of unbelievers. Needless to say, Bernard was deeply saddened by the soldiers’ inability to uphold such spiritual aims—the reason, he believed, why the Crusade was a massive failure.

An Active Lover of God. Bernard was an intense man, and he brought this intensity into his relationship with God. Not content simply with reciting prayers and psalms, Bernard wanted to know this God to whom he had dedicated his life. Unless he had experienced God, he felt he could not speak about him. Unless he had experienced God’s love, he felt he could not urge others to seek this love.

Bernard’s writings testify that his seeking was rewarded far beyond his expectations. Throughout his commentaries and sermons he consistently refers to his own experiences of God, personal and intimate though they were. With as capable and talented a mind as he had, Bernard could easily have focused his attention on the intellectual sphere alone, becoming a noted theologian. But this was never enough. If God is love, then to know God is to know love—living, active, effective. If Scripture spoke about Jesus as a bridegroom and a lover seeking his bride, then those who wanted to follow the Lord were invited to experience an embrace of love so intimate that the only human analogy that drew close to it was the union of a husband and wife.

This is the logic behind Bernard’s Sermons on the Song of Songs, a project he pursued for almost twenty years, even as he kept up with all his other responsibilities. Rather than produce a verse-by-verse commentary, Bernard used this biblical love poem as a pretext for speaking about the way Jesus had won his heart. It is a telling fact that Bernard wrote eighty-six sermons on the Song, yet he only made it up to the first verse of the third chapter!

A Man of Contemplation and Action. For Bernard, it was an ever-deepening encounter with the transforming love of God that gave him the motivation to take up such an active and public life. Even when he threw himself into his roles as diplomat or administrator or arbiter, in his heart was always a desire to return to his home of Clairvaux. More than anything, he treasured his times of intimacy with the Lord, when he could allow the limitless love of his Savior to flood his heart and mind. In one of his sermons on the Song of Songs, Bernard explained this relationship:

After the Bridegroom has gazed on the soul with kindness and mercy, his voice softly whispers the divine will. His voice is love itself, and love never rests but is continually urging the heart to do God’s bidding. The spouse also hears the call to rise up in haste and take up the work of saving souls. The nature of true, pure contemplation is such that, while kindling the heart with divine love, it sometimes fills it with great zeal to win other souls for God. The heart gladly gives up the quiet of contemplation for the work of preaching. Once its desires are fulfilled, the heart quickly returns to contemplation, as to the source of good works. In the same way, once it has tasted anew the delights of contemplation, it joyfully dedicates itself to new works. (57.9)

When he died in 1153, Bernard left behind the witness of a man who was a successful politician, businessman, and diplomat because the man was a successful lover of Christ. As he was filled with God’s love, he rightly understood the challenges and demands of his age and responded to them effectively. Increasingly freed from the self-love that is at the root of all sin, Bernard moved beyond his own needs and desires to meet the needs of those around him.

Leo Zanchettin is editor of The Word Among Us.

TOPICS: Catholic; History; Orthodox Christian; Theology
KEYWORDS: apologetics; catholic
Abbot and Doctor of the Church.
1 posted on 08/20/2012 5:14:22 PM PDT by Salvation
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To: nickcarraway; NYer; ELS; Pyro7480; livius; ArrogantBustard; Catholicguy; RobbyS; marshmallow; ...

Saint of the Day Ping!

2 posted on 08/20/2012 5:17:43 PM PDT by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: Salvation
Compelled by Love: The Life and Legacy of St. Bernard of Clairvaux
The Search for Wisdom by St. Bernard
Why I Am Catholic: For All the Saints: Bernard of Clairvaux
On St. Bernard of Clairvaux
St. Bernard on the Most Holy Name of Jesus [Ecumenical]
"The Baptist Press" vs. Saint Bernard
St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Angelus, August 20, 2006
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux Abbot, Doctor of the Church
3 posted on 08/20/2012 5:20:01 PM PDT by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: All
Vultus Christi

O Doctor Mellifluus

 on August 20, 2012 8:06 AM | 


Inflamed With Zeal

The liturgy describes Saint Bernard as a man all ablaze with zeal for the house of the Lord. The little phrase, "inflamed with zeal," tells us, in effect, that God gave Saint Bernard to the Church as a new Elias, the ardent prophet given to Israel of old. When Elias was on Mount Horeb, the Lord visited him in "the whistling of a gentle air" (1 K 19:12). "And when Elias heard it, he covered his face with a mantle, and coming forth stood in the entering in of the cave, and behold a voice unto him, saying: 'What dost thou here, Elias?" And he answered: 'With zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of hosts'" (1 K 19:14).

By way of Psalm 68:9, one of the great prophetic psalms of the sufferings of Our Lord, the same expression, "inflamed with zeal," identifies Saint Bernard with Our Lord Jesus Christ in the mysteries of His Passion. After Jesus had driven the moneychangers out of the temple, His disciples remembered that it was written, "The zeal of thy house hath eaten me up" (Ps 68:9). The same burning zeal for the glory of the Father was to consume Jesus in the holocaust of His Sacrifice on Calvary.

The Mystical Embrace

The traditional iconography of Saint Bernard shows the monk held fast in the embrace of Jesus Crucified, who detaches His arm from the cross to draw Bernard to himself. The theme of the amplexus, or mystical embrace, is repeated in depictions of Saint Bernard again and again. The fire that burned in the pierced Heart of the Crucified passed into Bernard, filling him with an astonishing capacity to suffer and to love for the Church, Christ's Bride and Mystical Body.


Good Zeal

Zeal, then, characterizes Saint Bernard. A burning passion for Christ and for the Bride of Christ, the Church, consumed him. In Chapter 72 of the Holy Rule, Saint Benedict distinguishes between two kinds of zeal. The first he calls "an evil zeal rooted in bitterness, which separates from God and leads to hell" (RSB 72:1).

Evil zeal -- coldhearted, pharisaical, and grim -- always leads to rancour and strife in a community. Good zeal "separates from vice and leads to God and to eternal life" (RB 72:2). The Holy Ghost infuses the grace of good zeal into souls. Good zeal is gentle, and winning, and sweet. It is warm and attractive. It inflames others but it doesn't scorch them. It attracts souls by means of a gentle, steady radiance.

Burning and Shining

The fire of a prophetic charism made Saint Bernard burn and shine in the Church. In the 5th Chapter of Saint John, Our Lord, speaking of the Baptist, says, "He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light" (Jn 5:35). Like the Holy Forerunner, Saint Bernard was, and remains even today, a burning and shining lamp set upon a lampstand in the Church so that all might enjoy his brightness. By burning, he enkindled others; by shining, he enlightened others.

Those who read the works of Saint Bernard know that his fire has not been extinguished nor has his flame become less bright. When the Holy Ghost sets a heart aflame, nothing earthly can extinguish the blaze. "Love is strong as death," says the Canticle, "the lamps thereof are fire and flames. Many waters cannot quench charity, neither can the floods drown it" (Ct 8:6-7). Many waters and great floods have come and gone, assailing the Church over the centuries, and sweeping away the grandest monuments in their torrents. Still, after the nine centuries that separate us from Saint Bernard, his fire burns with the same intensity and his light is undimmed.


The Most Contagious Man of His Century

It was said in the twelfth century that Saint Bernard was -- spiritually -- the most contagious man alive. So powerful was his very presence that when Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux passed through a village or town, women would hide their husbands and sons, fearing that their menfolk, seduced by Bernard's preaching, might abandon wives and mothers, children and homes to follow him into the cloister. And so it happened! When Saint Bernard preached in the universities, the lecture halls would be packed with eager young listeners. Scores of students would follow him, like a kind of monastic pied-piper, begging for the grace of the holy habit and for a place in his abbey. When Saint Bernard preached, fire leaped out of his mouth into the hearts of his hearers and, when he explained the Scriptures, souls were flooded with light.

The Mediation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Like John the Baptist hidden in his mother's womb, Saint Bernard received the grace of Christ and grew in it, day by day, through the mediation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. "This, he says, "is the will of Him who wanted us to have everything through Mary.... God has placed in Mary the plenitude of every good, in order to have us understand that if there is any trace of hope in us, any trace of grace, any trace of salvation, it flows from her.... God could have dispensed His graces according to His good pleasure without making use of this channel (Mary), but it was His wish to provide this means whereby grace would reach you." This not mere theological speculation on the part of Saint Bernard, it is testimony to his personal experience. For Saint Bernard the Virgin Mother is the Mediatrix of All Graces. All that comes to us from Christ, our one Mediator with the Father, comes, necessarily, through Mary, Mother of us all, and Mediatrix with the Son.

The Liturgy

Again like Saint John the Baptist, Bernard saw himself as "the friend of the bridegroom who rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice" (Jn 3:29). Saint Bernard heard the voice of the Bridegroom in Sacred Scripture proclaimed, and sung, and held in the heart during long hours of the Opus Dei. The friend of the Bridegroom never seeks to draw the bride to himself or to possess her in any way; his whole desire is to hear the bride say: "As the apple tree among the trees of the woods, so is my Beloved among the sons. I sat down under His shadow, whom I desired, and His fruit was sweet to my palate. He brought me into the cellar of wine, he set in order charity in me" (Ct 2:3-4).



The friend of the Bridegroom is jubilant when the bride is brought into the banqueting house; there, the banner of love is raised over her head. Bernard, the friend of the Bridegroom became the servant of the Divine Hospitality; he was, in truth, the herald of the Bridegroom-King sent out of his cloister into the streets and lanes of the city, into the highways and the hedges, at the hour of the wedding banquet, to bring in "the poor, and the feeble, and the blind, and the lame" (Lk 14:21).

The misery of mankind was never far from Saint Bernard's heart, never absent from his prayer. Having experienced the sweet compassion of the Mother of God in his own life, Saint Bernard looked upon the world even as she does from her place of glory in heaven, with "eyes of mercy." Addressing Our Lady in a sermon for her Assumption, he asks her to obtain "pardon for the guilty, health for the sick, courage for the fainthearted, help and deliverance for the endangered."

The Bread of Life and the Water of Wisdom

Ecclesiasticus describes Divine Grace coming in the form of a mother and of a virgin bride to meet Bernard. What is warmer than the welcome of a mother? And what more enthusiastic than that of a young bride? Again, the grace of Christ came to Saint Bernard through Mary. "With the bread of life and understanding, she shall feed him, and give him the water of wholesome wisdom to drink: and she shall be made strong in him.... And in the midst of the Church she shall open his mouth, and shall fill him with the spirit of wisdom and understanding, and shall clothe him with a robe of glory" (Eccl 15: 3-5).

Devotion to Sacred Scripture

"By what doth a young man correct his way? By observing thy words" (Ps 118:9). The Abbot of Clairvaux knew that when God speaks, He communicates Himself. For Saint Bernard to be steeped in the Word of God was, as Origen teaches, to be steeped in the very Blood of Christ. Saint Bernard's lifelong attraction to Sacred Scripture was an expression of his lifelong attraction to the Sacred Side of Jesus, the wellspring of purity and of love.


The Prayer of Christ

The effect of the monastic life, with its relentless immersion in the Word of God, is that the soul loses herself, her own words, desires, inclinations, and aspirations in the prayer of the Heart of Jesus to the Father. One seasoned in monastic life begins to be able to say, "It is no longer I who pray, but Christ who prays in me." In the presence of the Father, the soul shaped by the monastic tradition has no words apart from the words of the Word, uttered in the power of the Holy Ghost.

And this, of course, is the great reality of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. When the priest goes to the altar as the representative of Christ and of the Church, he lifts his hands in prayer. At that moment, it is no longer we who pray for ourselves and by ourselves. It is Christ the Eternal High Priest who, through the priest standing before the altar, prays for us to His Father.

In every Mass, too, the embrace of Jesus Crucified is offered to each of us as it was offered to Saint Bernard. Detaching His arm from the cross, Our Lord draws us sacramentally to the wound in His Sacred Side. Through that mystic portal we pass over to the Father, in the Holy Ghost. The secret of Saint Bernard was this: guided by the Virgin Mother of Jesus, he yielded to the embrace of the Crucified and drank deeply from His open Side. May Mary, "our life, sweetness, and our hope," obtain that same grace for us today.

4 posted on 08/20/2012 5:35:54 PM PDT by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: Salvation

Great post! I do not think we could begin to know these so many canonized saints. The number is ten thousand plus. But amazing are their stories.

5 posted on 08/21/2012 1:33:15 AM PDT by johngrace (I am a 1 John 4! Christian- declared at every Sunday Mass , Divine Mercy and Rosary prayers!)
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