Skip to comments.Saint Bernard of Clairvaux Abbot, Doctor of the Church
Posted on 08/20/2002 6:12:26 PM PDT by Lady In Blue
|SAINT BERNARD OF CLAIRVAUX ABBOT, DOCTOR OF THE CHURCH1153|
|Feast: August 20
|Bernard, son of Tescelin Sorrel, and Aleth, daughter of the lord of Montbard, was born in the family castle of Fontaines, near Dijon, in Burgundy. His pious French mother offered all her seven childrensix sons and one daughterto God at birth and devoted herself to their upbringing. According to the standards of that day, they were very well educated, the sons learning Latin and verse-making even before being trained in the profession of arms. Bernard was sent to Chatillon-on-the-Seine, to study in a college of secular canons. At school he gave evidence of a strong intellect as well as of a genuinely religious nature. During this period the death of his mother, to whom he was deeply attached, threw him into a state of prolonged and acute depression.
When Bernard finished his schooling at nineteen or thereabouts, he had, in addition to the advantages of noble birth and natural talent, the sweetness of temper, wit, and personal charm that make for popularity. Subject to strong temptations of the flesh, he often considered giving up the world, and even forsaking the study of literature, which was one of his greatest pleasures. He felt attracted to the Benedictine monastery at Citeaux, founded fifteen years before by Robert of Molesme, Alberic, and Stephen Harding. One day Bernard knelt in prayer in a wayside church, to ask God's guidance as to his future. On arising all doubt had vanished and he was resolved to follow the strict Cistercian way of life. His uncle, Gaudry, a valiant fighting man, and Bernard's younger brothers, Bartholomew and Andrew, declared they would accompany him, and an appeal was made to their eldest brother, Guy. He, however, had a wife and two children; but when his wife soon after entered a convent, he also joined them. Gerard, another brother, was a soldier, engrossed in his calling; still, after being wounded and taken prisoner, he also heard God's call, and on his release followed the others. Hugh of Macon was also won over, and others who had previously given no thought to the religious life. Such was Bernard's eloquence that within a few weeks he had succeeded in persuading thirty-one Burgundian nobles to go with him to Citeaux. Bernard and his brothers gathered to bid their father farewell and ask his blessing. Only one son was left behind, Nivard, the youngest, and as the party rode away, Guy called to him, "Farewell, little Nivard! You will have all our lands and estates for yourself." "Oh," answered the boy, "then you are taking Heaven and leaving me only the earth! The division is too unequal!" Such was the pervasive spiritual atmosphere of this age of faith.
When they at length arrived at Citeaux near Easter, 1112, there had been no new novices for several years, and Stephen Harding, the abbot, received them with open arms. Bernard, now twenty-two, wished to live hidden and forgotten, concerned only with God. From the start, he trained himself to obey the command he later gave to all postulants, "If you desire to live in this house, leave your body behind; only spirits can enter here." At the end of a year, he and his companionsall save onemade their profession and continued their cloistered life. When Bernard was unable to reap the grain as fast as the others, he was assigned to lighter work, but he prayed God to give him strength to use a scythe properly, and soon did as well as the best. He used to say, "Our fathers built their monasteries in damp, unwholesome places, so that monks might have the uncertainty of life more sharply before their eyes." The Cistercians had in fact chosen swampy, unproductive lands, but their diligence was rapidly transforming them into fertile fields, gardens, and pastures. In 1113 Stephen founded the monastery of La Ferte, and in 1114 that of Pontigny. The Count of Troyes offered a site on his great estates for a third new monastery Stephen, aware of Bernard's exceptional abilities, appointed him abbot, and ordered him to take twelve monks, including his own brothers, and found a house in the diocese of Langres, in Champagne. They settled in the Valley of Wormwood, which had once been a retreat for robbers. Here they cleared a piece of land, and, with the help of the people round about, built themselves a plain dwelling.
The land was poor and the monks lived through a period of extreme hardship. Their bread was of the coarsest barley; wild herbs or boiled beech leaves sometimes served as vegetables. Also, Bernard was at first so severe in his discipline that the monks, though obedient, began to be discouraged. Their apathy made him realize his fault, and as a penalty he condemned himself to a long silence. At length he was bidden by a vision to start preaching again. He now took care that food should be more plentiful, though it was still coarse and simple. The fame of the house and its holy abbot soon spread through that part of France. The number of monks grew to one hundred and thirty. The monastery was given the name of Clairvaux.
Bernard, a prey to many anxieties, suffered from stomach trouble, but he never complained or took advantage of an indulgence for the sick. In 1118 he became so ill that his life was in danger. One of the powerful ecclesiastics of the time, William of Champeaux, bishop of Chalons, recognized in the ailing abbot a predestined leader. He obtained from the Cistercian chapter held in that year at Citeaux the authority to govern him for twelve months as his superior. Knowing that Bernard required rest and quiet, he placed him in a little house outside the monastic enclosure at Clairvaux, with orders not to follow the rule and to free his mind from all concerns of the community.
Bernard, after living on a special diet and under a physician's care for this period, returned to the monastery in improved health. His old father and young Nivard had by then followed him there, and received their habits at his hands.
The four first daughter houses of Citeaux, namely, La Ferte, Pontigny, Clairvaux, and Morimond, founded in their turn other houses, Clairvaux having the most numerous offshoots. In 1121 Bernard performed his first miracle. While singing Mass he restored to Josbert de la Ferte, a relative of his who had been stricken dumb, the power of speech. The man was enabled to confess before he died, three days later, and to make retribution for many acts of injustice. There are also accounts of sick persons whom Bernard cured by making the sign of the cross over them, all attested to by truthful eyewitnesses. Another story has to do with the church at Foigny which was infested with pestilential flies; Bernard pronounced an excommunication upon them, at which all died. This occurrence gave rise to the old French saying, "the curse of the flies of Foigny."
Because of his continued poor health, the general chapter relieved Bernard of work in the fields and directed him to devote himself to preaching and writing. The change gave him an opportunity to produce a treatise on Degrees of Humility and Pride, which contains an excellent analysis of human character. In 1122, at the request of the archbishop of Paris, he went up and preached to the university students who were candidates for Holy Orders. Some of them were so deeply impressed by his preaching that they accompanied him back to Clairvaux. A band of German knights who stopped to visit at Clairvaux returned later to ask admission to the order. Their conversion was the more remarkable as their main interest in life up to that time had been wars and tournaments. Centuries later, in his Art of Preaching, Erasmus wrote, Bernard is an eloquent preacher, much more by nature than by art; he is full of charm and vivacity, and knows how to reach and move the affections." Bernard was always willing to receive monks who came from other orders or to release any of his who wished to transfer to another religious institution in the hope of attaining greater perfection.
Notwithstanding his longing for a retired life, for years on end Bernard was traveling about Europe on missions connected with the Church. His reputation for learning and sanctity and his talent as a mediator became so famous that princes called on him to decide their disputes, bishops asked his opinion on problems involving their churches, and popes accepted his counsel. It was said that he governed the churches of the West from his isolated monastery at Citeaux. Once he wrote that his life was "overrun everywhere by anxieties, suspicions, cares. There is scarcely an hour free from the crowd of discordant applicants, and the troubles and cares of their business. I have no power to stop their coming and cannot refuse to see them, and they do not leave me even time to pray."
The election of unworthy men to the episcopacy and to other Church offices troubled Bernard deeply, and he fought it with all his might. A monk, his enemies said, should stay in his cloister and not bother himself with such matters. A monk, he replied, was as much a soldier of Christ as other Christians were, and had a special duty to defend the He of God's sanctuary. Bernard's outspoken censures had their effect in changing the way of life of several high churchmen. Henry, archbishop of Sens, and Stephen, bishop of Paris, renounced their attendance at court and their secular style of living.
Abbot Suger of St. Denis, who as regent of France lived for a time in great state, now gave up his worldly habits, resigned his secular posts, and busied himself reestablishing discipline in his own abbey. Bernard wrote to the dean of Languedoc: "You may imagine that what belongs to the Church belongs to you, while you officiate there. But you are mistaken; for though it is reasonable that one who serves the altar should live by the altar, yet it must not be to promote either his luxury or his pride.
Whatever is taken beyond what is needed for bare nourishment and simple plain clothing is sacrilege and theft." Bernard also had a sharp exchange with Peter the Venerable, archabbot of Cluny, in which he criticized Peter's way of life and that of the Cluniacs.
Bernard was obliged to assist at many important synods. He also helped to found the celebrated order of the Knights Templars. A serious schism followed the death of Pope Honorius II in 1130. Innocent II was chosen pope by a majority of the cardinals, but simultaneously a minority faction elected one of their number, Cardinal Peter de Leone, who took the name of Anacletus. An ambitious and worldly man, Anacletus succeeded in getting the strongholds of Rome into his hands, and Pope Innocent fled to Pisa. A council of bishops was held soon afterwards at Etampes. Bernard attended and as a result of his vigorous defense, Innocent was recognized by the council. The new Pope soon went to France, where he was splendidly received by King Louis VI.
Bernard went with him to Chartres, and there he met King Henry of England, who was also persuaded to acknowledge Innocent; then the party continued on to Germany, and Bernard was present at Innocent's; meeting with the Emperor Lothaire II, who offered recognition if he were given the right to invest new bishops. Bernard's remonstrances caused Lothaire to withdraw his condition, which, indeed, Innocent had already promptly rejected.
In 1131 Pope Innocent visited Clairvaux. He was received by a simple procession of monks. At table the food consisted of coarse bread, vegetables and herbs, with one small fish for the Pope, which the others, writes the chronicler, had to view from a distance. The following year Bernard accompanied the Pope back to Italy, reconciled him with several cities, and went on with him to Rome. Innocent then made him legate to Germany, and along the way north Bernard preached in the Pope's behalf and converted sinners. Having brought more harmony to the Church in Germany, Bernard returned to Italy to assist at the council of Pisa. There it was voted to excommunicate schismatics. Later he went to Milan and persuaded the people to become reconciled with both Innocent and the emperor. The citizens helped him to establish at nearby Chiaravalle the first Cistercian monastery in Italy. Returning to Clairvaux, he took with him a number of postulants for admission, among them a young canon of Pisa, Peter Bernard, later to become Pope Eugenius III. As his first task after arriving at the monastery, the future pontiff was asked to stoke the fire in the calefactory.
A year before Bernard had been called into Aquitaine, where William, the duke of that province, was persecuting the adherents of Pope Innocent, and had expelled the bishops of Poitiers and Limoges. William was a prince of great wealth, gigantic stature, and exceptional ability, who from his youth on had been irreverent and aggressive.
Bernard's prayers and persuasion having failed to prevail on William to restore the bishops, he used a more powerful weapon. He went to the church to say Mass, while the duke and other schismatics stood at the door, as under excommunication. The kiss of peace before the Communion had been given, when suddenly Bernard laid the wafer of the Host on the paten, turned, and holding it high advanced with it to the door, his eyes flashing and his countenance all on fire. "Hitherto," he said, "I have entreated and besought you, and you have despised me. Other servants of God have joined their prayers to mine, and you have not regarded them. Now the Son of the Virgin, the Lord and Head of that Church which you persecute, comes in person to see if you will repent. He is your judge, at whose name every knee bows, in Heaven, in Earth, and in Hell. Into His hands your obstinate soul will one day fall. Will you despise Him? Will you scorn Him as you have done His servants?" Unable to bear more, the terrified duke fell on his face. Bernard lifted him up, and bade him salute the bishop of Poitiers. The duke did as bidden, abandoned the schism, and restored the bishop to his see. William afterwards founded a new Cistercian monastery and went on pilgrimage to Compostella, in the course of which he died.
Through Bernard's efforts other schisms were healed. The death of Anacletus in 1138 opened the way to peace, for though his adherents elected a successor, Bernard's preaching in Rome won them over to Innocent. After these valiant labors, Bernard returned to Clairvaux. He refused five bishoprics which were offered to him in order to concentrate on preaching to his own monks; his sermons on the Song of Songs became particularly famous.
We now come to one of the famous controversies of medieval times. Bernard was recognized as the most eloquent and influential man of his age. Next to him in stature was the brilliant and unfortunate teacher, Peter Abelard, who was a far greater scholar than Bernard. It was perhaps inevitable that the two should clash, for they represented opposite currents of thought. Bernard was a defender of traditional authority, of "faith not as an opinion but as a certitude"; Abelard spoke for the new rationalism, represented by Anselm, and for the free exercise of human reason. In 1121 Abelard's orthodoxy had been questioned, and a synod had condemned him to burn his book on the Trinity. Forced to keep away from Paris, where he enjoyed great popularity as a teacher, he had lived as a hermit for many years. He had returned to resume his lectures, and in 1139 William of St. Thierry, a Cistercian, denounced him as a heretic to the legate of the Holy See, and also to Bernard, saying they were the only men powerful enough to crush the error. Bernard had three private talks with Abelard, in which the latter promised to withdraw what was dangerous in his views, but he remained defiant. In 1141 at a council at Sens, Abelard was formally arraigned, charged with heresy on a number of counts. Bernard was at first unwilling to appear; but when Abelard's supporters claimed that he was afraid to meet the recalcitrant teacher face to face, he felt obliged to attend. Abelard listened to the charges drawn up by Bernard, and refused to make a defense, though told he might do so. He felt that the bishops were solidly massed against him, so with an appeal to the Pope he left the assemblage.
The bishops then condemned as heretical seventeen propositions taken from Abelard's writings, sentenced him to silence, and wrote an account of the proceedings for Pope Innocent, who confirmed the sentence. Stopping off at the monastery of Cluny on his way to Rome, Abelard heard of the Pope's confirmation. By this time he was completely broken in health and spirit; his death followed in April, 1142. Bernard has been severely criticized for his uncompromising attitude, but he felt that Abelard's brilliance made him extremely dangerous. He wrote to the Pope that Abelard was "trying to reduce to nothing the merits of Christian faith, since he seems himself able by human reason to comprehend God altogether."
One of Bernard's great friends was the Irish bishop, Malachy (Maelmhaedhoc l'Morgair), a zealous reformer of monasticism in his native isle. After retiring from the see of Armagh, Malachy came to Clairvaux, and died there some years later in Bernard's arms. He had brought a number of young men with him from Ireland to be trained under Bernard, and in 1142 the first Cistercian monastery was established in Ireland. In 1145 that same Peter Bernard of Pisa who had followed Bernard to Clairvaux in 1138 was elected Pope, taking the name of Eugenius III. Bernard felt a fatherly concern for Eugenius, a shy and retiring man, unaccustomed to public life. For his guidance he wrote the most important of his works, <On Consideration>. In it he impressed on Eugenius the varied obligations of his office, but reminded him to reserve time every day for self-examination and contemplation, a duty more vital than any official business. There was danger, he wrote, of becoming so preoccupied as to fall into forgetfulness of God; the reformation of the Church must begin at the very top, for if the Pope fails, the whole Church is dragged down. This book has been in high repute with the clergy ever since Bernard's time.
Arnold of Brescia, a pupil of Abelard, now attracted Bernard's noticeand his flaming opposition. Arnold had been condemned with Abelard by the council of Sens, but four years later, in Rome, he led a movement of the commune of citizens to overthrow the Pope and set up a government on the model of the ancient Roman republic. His stirring up of the populace compelled Eugenius to flee the city for a time. There were uprisings elsewhere against the temporal authority of the bishops, but the whole movement was confused and badly organized. Arnold was tried and condemned by the Church, and later executed by Emperor Frederick Barbarossa.
During this time the Albigensian heresy, with all its startling social and moral implications, had been making alarming progress in the south of France. In 1145 the papal legate to France, Cardinal Alberic, asked Bernard to go down to Languedoc. III and weak though he was, Bernard obeyed, stopping to preach along the way Geoffrey, his secretary, accompanied him, and relates various miracles to which he was an eyewitness. At a village in Perigord Bernard blessed with the sign of the cross some loaves of bread, saying, "By this you shall know the truth of our doctrines and the falsehood of what the heretics teach, if such as are sick among you recover their health on eating these loaves." The bishop of Chartres, who stood near Bernard, afraid of the possible outcome, added, "That is, if they eat with a right faith, they will be cured." But Bernard insisted on his own statement, "whoever tastes will be cured." And a number of sick persons were, in fact, made well after eating the bread. Although the supporters of the heresy were stubborn and violent, especially at Toulouse and Albi, in a short time he had apparently restored orthodoxy. Twenty-five years later, however, the Albigensians had a stronger hold on the country than ever. The great St. Dominic, whose story appears later in this volume, then came to win back the country once more.
On Christmas Day, 1144, the Seljuk Turks captured Edessa, chief city of one of the Christian principalities set up by the First Crusade. Appeals for help went at once to Europe, for the position of all Christians in Syria was jeopardized. King Louis VII of France announced his intention of leading a new crusade, and the Pope commissioned Bernard to preach the Holy War. Bernard began at Vezelay on Palm Sunday, 1146.
Queen Eleanor and a company of nobles, the first to take the cross, were followed by such a throng that the supply of cloth badges was exhausted and Bernard tore strips from his own habit to make more. Having roused France, he wrote to the rulers and peoples of England, Italy, Sicily, Spain, Poland, Denmark, Moravia, Bohemia, and Bavaria, and went in person to Germany. Bernard had to deal there with a half-crazy monk, who in his name was inciting the populace to massacre Jews. He then made a triumphant tour through the Rhineland. The Emperor Conrad III took the cross, and set out in May, 1147; Louis of France soon followed.
This Second Crusade was a miserable failure. Conrad's army was cut to pieces crossing the mountains of Asia Minor. Louis was diverted to the East and his forces were exhausted by a futile siege of Damascus. The chief reason for the collapse of the great enterprise lay within the crusaders themselves. Many were led by sordid motives; they committed every kind of lawless act on their march. Bernard, because he had seemed to promise success, was bitterly criticized. In reply he declared that he had trusted the Divine mercy to bless a crusade undertaken for the honor of His Name, but that the army's sins had brought catastrophe; yet who could judge of its true success or failure?
"How is it," he asked, "that the rashness of mortals dares condemn what they cannot understand?"
Soon after the return of the defeated crusaders, Bernard started to organize a third expedition to deliver the Holy Land from the Turks, working this time with Abbot Suger, who had opposed the previous venture. But early in 1151 Suger died; France was again on the verge of civil war and the project was dropped. Pope Eugenius died in 1153, and that same year Bernard was taken with his last illness. He had long dwelt in Heaven in desire, though he had ascribed his desire to weakness rather than piety.
"The saints," he said, "were moved to pray for death out of a longing to see Christ, but I am driven hence by scandals and evil." In the spring of 1153 the archbishop of Trier implored him to go to Metz and try to make peace between the citizens of Metz and the duke of Lorraine, who had subjugated them. Forgetting his infirmities, Bernard set out for Lorraine, and there prevailed on both sides to lay down their arms and later to accept the treaty he drew up for them.
Back at Clairvaux after performing this final work of mediation, the abbot's health failed rapidly. With his spiritual sons gathered round him, he received the Last Sacraments. He comforted them, saying that the unprofitable servant should not occupy a place uselessly, that the barren tree should be rooted up. On August 20 God took him. Bernard was sixty-three years old, had been abbot for thirty-eight years, and had seen sixty-eight monasteries established by his men from Clairvaux. According to one historian, he had "carried the twelfth century on his shoulders." Doctor Mellifluus, the Honey-Sweet Doctor, as he was called for his eloquence, had been the counselor of prelates and the reformer of disciplines; his writings have continued to inspire the faithful. Although he lived after Anselm of Canterbury, the great scholastic who used reason as a means to clarify faith, Bernard was on the side of the ancient doctors who trusted wholly to Scripture and faith and mystical experience. For the outstanding excellence of his life and works he is reckoned the last of the Church Fathers. He was canonized in 1174, twenty-one years after his death. His relics are at Clairvaux, his skull in the cathedral of Troyes; his emblems are a pen, bees, and instruments of the Passion.
<Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts>
Jesus, thou joy of loving hearts, Thou fount of life, thou Light of men, From the poor bliss that earth imparts, We turn unfilled to thee again.
Thy truth unchanged hath ever stood; Thou savest those who on thee call; To them that seek thee, thou art good, To them that find thee, all in all.
We taste thee, O thou living Bread, And long to feast upon thee still; We drink of thee the Fountain-head, And thirst our souls from thee to fill.
Our restless spirits yearn for thee, Where'er our changeful lot is cast; Glad, when thy gracious smile we see, Blest, when our faith can hold thee fast.
O Jesus, ever with us stay; Make all our moments calm and bright, Chase the dark night of sin away; Shed o'er the world thy holy light.
<Excerpts from> The Steps of Humility
iii, 6.... <We seek truth in ourselves, in our neighbors>, and in its own nature: In ourselves, judging ourselves; in our neighbors, sympathizing with their ills; in its own nature, contemplating it with a pure heart. First, let the Truth itself teach you that you should seek it in your neighbors before seeking it in its own nature. Later, you will see why you should seek it in yourself before seeking it in your neighbors. For in the list of the Beatitudes which He enumerated in his sermon, He placed the merciful before the pure in heart. The merciful quickly grasp the truth in their neighbors, extending their own feelings to them and conforming themselves to them through love, so that they feel their joys and troubles as their own. They are weak with the weak; they burn with the offended. "They rejoice with them that do rejoice and weep with them that weep." After the spiritual vision has been purified by this brotherly love, they enjoy the contemplation of truth in its own nature, and then bear others' ills for love of it. But those who do not unite themselves with their brethren in this way, but on the contrary either revile those who weep or disparage those who rejoice, not feeling in themselves that which is in others, because they are not similarly situated-how can they grasp the truth in their neighbors? For the popular proverb well applies to them: "The healthy do not know how the sick feel, nor the full how the hungry suffer." But sick sympathize with sick, and hungry with hungry, the more closely the more they are alike. For just as pure truth is seen only with a pure heart, so a brother's misery is truly felt only with a miserable heart.
But in order to have a miserable heart because of another's misery, you must first know your own; so that you may find your neighbor's mind in your own and know from yourself how to help him, after the example of our Saviour, who willed His passion in order to learn compassion, his misery to learn commiseration. For just as it is written of him, <Yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered>, so also he learned mercy in the same way. Not that he did not know how to be merciful before, he whose mercy is from everlasting to everlasting; he knew it by nature from eternity, but learned it in time by experience....
9. I do not say he became any wiser through this experience, but he seemed to be nearer, so that the feeble sons of Adam, whom he was not ashamed to make and call his brethren, should not hesitate to commit their infirmities to him who could cure them, having suffered the same things. Wherefore Isaiah calls him a <man of sorrows>, and <acquainted with grief>, And the Apostle says, <For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities>, and explains this by adding, <but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.>
For the blessed God, Son of the blessed God, in that form in which he thought it not robbery to be equal with the Father, that is, passionless, before he had made himself of no reputation and taken upon him the form of a servant, since he had not undergone misery or submission, did not know mercy or obedience by experience. He knew them intuitively, but not empirically. But when he had made himself not only lower than his own dignity but even a little lower than the angels, who are themselves passionless by grace, not by nature, even to that form in which he could undergo suffering and submission, which he could not do in his own form, as was said; then he learned mercy in suffering and obedience in submission. Through this experience, however, not his knowledge, as I said, but our boldness was increased, when he from whom we had long been astray was brought nearer to us by this sort of unhappy wisdom. For when should we have dared to approach him, remaining in his impassivity? But now we are urged by the Apostle <to come boldly into the throne of grace> of him who, we know from another verse, <hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows>; and because of his own passion we are sure of his compassion for us.. . .
12. Since then you see that Christ in one person has two natures, one by which he always was, the other by which he began to be, and always knew everything in his eternal essence but temporally experienced many things in his temporal essence; why do you hesitate to grant that, as he began in time to be in the flesh, so also he began to know the ills of the flesh by that kind of knowledge which the weakness of the flesh teaches? Our first parents would have been wiser and happier to have remained ignorant of that kind of knowledge, since they could only attain it by folly and misery.
But God, their maker, seeking again what had perished, accompanied his creatures in pity. There whither they had fallen so pathetically, he also came down sympathetically, willing to experience in himself what they justly suffered for defying him, not because of a similar curiosity, but because of marvelous love, not to remain miserable with the miserable but to become pitiful and free the pitiable. Become pitiful, I say, not with that pity which he, ever blessed, had from eternity, but with that which he learned through sorrow, when in our form. And the labor of love which he began through the former, he finished in the latter, not because he could not finish it in the one, but because he could not fulfill our needs without the other. Each one was necessary, but the latter was more human. Device of ineffable love ! How could we conceive that marvelous pity produced by no previous pain? How could we imagine that superhuman compassion not preceded by passion but coexistent with impassivity? Yet if that pity free from pain had not come first, he would never have thought of this pity which is born of pain.
(<The Steps of Humility> trans. by G. B. Burch, Loeb Classical Library.)
l Citeaux or Cistertium was some sixteen miles from Dijon. Cisterdans have subsequently been divided into two Observances, the Common and the Strict. The latter, popularly known u the Trappists, requires perpetual silence except in cases of necessity, and abstinence from flesh, fish, and eggs, except in illness. Both Observances are rigidly cloistered and engage in manual labor, chiefly agricultural.
2 Suger and his abbey are both famous in French history. The abbey was founded by Dagobert I on the spot where St. Denis, the Apostle of Paris, was interred, a few miles north of Paris. As the burial place of kings and princes, it became one of the most powerful abbeys in France. Suger was an able and trusted adviser of the King. He began the rebuilding of the abbey in the then new Gothic style.
3 Peter the Venerable of the monastery of Cluny was a reformer of the Cluniac Order, but his zeal did not halt its decline, which proceeded rapidly after his time. It had been founded in 910 at Cluny, in eastern France, and by Bernard's time had spread to all parts of Europe and the Holy Land. During the two and a half centuries when it flourished, its influence was potent, and the authority of its abbot stood next to that of the pope. It was organized on the principle that performance of the Divine Office should be well-nigh the sole occupation of its monks, and all services were carried out with impressive ritual and splendor.
4 The Knights Templars, or Poor Knights of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, was one of the three great military and religious orders founded in the twelfth century for the defense of the Christian kingdom of Jerusalem and the protection of pilgrims to the Holy Land. The others were the Teutonic knights and the Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem, later called the Knights of Malta. The Templars were an order of warrior monks of the Rule of St. Benedict, much praised at the outset for disciplining and converting the rabble of "rogues and impious men, robbers and committers of sacrilege, perjurors and adulterers" who streamed eastward more for gain and adventure than for any religious purpose. Before Bernard's death the Templars were established in all parts of Latin Christendom and had grown fabulously rich
5 The calefactory was a room with a fire in it for warming oneself in winter. The only other fires in most medieval monasteries were in the kitchen (generally out of bounds for the community), the infirmary, and, perhaps, the guest house. The cells, church, corridors, library, scriptorium, etc., were unheated.
6 Compostella was the site of a famous pilgrimage church in the province of Galicia in northwestern Spain. According to legend, the Apostle James the Great preached the Gospel there and the church contained his bones. With Toledo it remained a stronghold of Christian faith when most of Spain was ruled by Mohammedans.
7 Of the many accounts of Abelard's life, Helen Waddell's novel, <Peter Abdard>, is one of the best for the clarity of its treatment of the theological controversies of the time.
8 This heresy, a revival of the Manichaeism of Augustine's day, flourished in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The Albigensians taught a dualistic doctrine, namely, that there were two opposing spirits in the universe, good and evil, and that all matter was evil and all spirit good. They denied the resurrection of the body. Their name was derived from the district of Albi in Languedoc. For a further account of this heresy, see below, <St. Dominic>, p. 225.
9 Crusaders were distinguished by cloth badges in the shape of a cross worn on their shoulders.
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Abbot, Doctor of the Church. Celebration of Feast Day is August 20.
Taken from "Lives of Saints", Published by John J. Crawley & Co., Inc.
Provided Courtesy of:
RHYTHMICAL PRAYER to the SACRED MEMBERS OF JESUS HANGING ON THE CROSS
Ascribed to St. Bernard
Crucifixion, Fra Angelico
Image courtesy of ChristusRex
TO THE FEET
O Saviour of the world, I cry to Thee; O Saviour, suffering God, I worship Thee; O wounded beauteous Love, I kneel to Thee; Thou knowest, Lord, how I would follow Thee, If of Thyself Thou give Thyself to Me.
Thy Presence I Believe; O come to me! Behold me prostrate, Jesus; look on me! How beautiful Thou art! O turn to me! O in Thy tender mercy turn to me, And let Thy untold pity pardon me!
With trembling love and feat I worship Thee; I kiss the grievous nails which entered Thee, And think on those dire wounds which tortured Thee, And, grieving, lift my weeping eyes to Thee, Transfixed and dying all for love of me!
O wondrous grace! O gracious charity! O love of sinners in such agony! Sweet Father of the poor! O who can be Unmoved to witness this great mystery,-- The Healer smitten, hanging on a tree?
O gentle Jesus, turn Thee unto me; What i have broken do Thou bind in me, And what is crooked make Thou straight in me; What I have lost restore Thou unto me, And what is weak and sickly heal in me.
O Love! with all my strength I seek for Thee; Upon and in thy Cross I look for Thee; With sorrow and with hope I turn to Thee,-- That through Thy Blood new health may come to me, That washed therein Thy love may pardon me.
O take my heart, Thou Loved One; let it be Transfixed with those dear wounds for love of Thee, O wound it, Jesus, with pure love of Thee; And let it so be crucified with Thee, that it may be forever joined to Thee.
Sweet Jesus, loving God, I cry to Thee; Thou guilty, yet I come for love of Thee; O show Thyself, dear Saviour, kind to me! Unworthy as I am, O turn to me, Nor at thy sacred Feet abandon me!
Dear Jesus, bathed in tears, I kneel to Thee; In shame and grief I lift my eyes to Thee; Prostrate before Thy Cross I bow to Thee, And thy dear Feet embrace; O look on me, Yea, from Thy Cross, O look, and pardon me.
O my Beloved, stretched against that Thee, Whose arms divine are now enfolding me, whose gracious Heart is now upholding me,-- O my Beloved, let me wholly be Transformed, forgiven, one alone with Thee!
TO THE KNEES
O Jesus, King of Saints, I worship Thee; O hope of sinners, hail! I rest on Thee; True God, true man, Thou hangest on the Tree Transfixed, with quivering flesh and shaking knees, A criminal esteemed,--I worship Thee.
Alas, how poor, how naked, wilt Thou be! How hast Thou stript Thyself for love of me, How made Thyself a gazing-stock to be! Not forced, but, O my God! How willingly In all Thy limbs Thou sufferest on that Tree!
Thy Precious Blood wells forth abundantly From all Thy open wounds incessantly; All bathed therein, O God, in agony Thou standest on the Cross of infamy, Awaiting the appointed hour to die.
O infinite, O wondrous majesty! O terrible, unheard-of poverty! Ah, who, returning so great charity, I willing, Jesus, thus to give for Thee His blood for Thine, in faithful love for Thee?
O Jesus, how shall I, then, answer Thee, Who am so vile, and have not followed Thee? Or how repay the love that loveth me With such sublime, such awful charity Transfixed, from double death to set me free?
O Jesus, what Thy love hath been for me! O Jesus, death could never conquer Thee! Ah, with what loving care Thou keepest me Enfolded in Thine arms, lest I should be, By death of sin, a moment torn from Thee!
Behold, O Jesus, how for love of Thee, With all my soul I trembling cling to Thee, And Thy dear Knees embrace. O pity me! Thou knowest why--in pity bear with me, And overlook the shame that covers me!
O let the Blood I worship flow on me, That what I do may never anger Thee; The Blood which flows at every pore from Thee Each imperfection may it wash from me, That I may undefiled and perfect be.
O force me, best Beloved, to draw to Thee, Transfixed and bleeding on the shameful Tree, Despised and stretched in dying agony! All my desire, O Lord, is fixed on Thee; O call me, then, and I will follow Thee.
I have no other love, dear Lord, but Thee; Thou art my first and last; I cling to Thee. It is no labor, Lord; love sets me free; Then heal me, cleanse me, let me rest on Thee, For love is life, and life is love--in Thee.
TO THE HANDS
Hail, holy Shepherd! Lord, I worship Thee, Fatigued with combat, steeped in misery; Whose sacred Hands, outstretched in agony, All pierced and dislocated on the Tree, Are fastened to the wood of infamy.
Dear holy Hands, I humbly worship ye, With roses filled, fresh blossoms of that Tree; The cruel iron enters into ye, While open gashes yield unceasingly The Precious stream down-dropping from the Tree.
Behold, Thy Blood, O Jesus, flows on me-- The price of my salvation falls on me; O ruddy as the rose, it drops on me. Sweet Precious Blood, it wells abundantly From both Thy sacred Hands to set me free.
My heart leaps up, O Jesus, unto Thee; Drawn by those nail-pierced Hands it flies to Thee; Drawn by those Blood-stained Hands stretched out for me, My soul breaks out with sighing unto Thee, And longs to slake its thirst, O Love, in Thee.
My God, what great stupendous charity-- Both good and bad are welcomed here by Thee! The slothful heart Thou drawest graciously, The loving one Thou callest tenderly, And unto all a pardon grantest free.
Behold, I now present myself to Thee, Who dost present thy bleeding Hands to me; The sick Thou healest when they come to Thee; Thou canst not, therefore, turn away from me, Whose love Thou knowest, Lord, is all for Thee.
O my Beloved, fastened to the Tree, Draw, by Thy love, my senses unto Thee; My will, my intellect, my memory, And all I am, make subject unto Thee, In whose dear arms alone is liberty.
O draw me for Thy Cross' sake to Thee; O draw me for Thy so wide charity; Sweet Jesus, draw my heart in truth to Thee, O put an end to all my misery, And crown me with Thy Cross and victory!
O Jesus, place Thy sacred Hands on me, With transport let me kiss them tenderly, With groans and tears embrace them fervently; And, O for these deep wounds I worship Thee; And for hte blessed drops that fall on me!
O dearest Jesus, I commend to Thee Myself, and all I am, most perfectly; Bathed in Thy Blood, behold, I live for Thee; O, may Thy blessed Hands encompass me, And in extremity deliver me!
TO THE SIDE
O Jesus, highest Good, I yearn for Thee; O Jesus, merciful, I hope in Thee, Whose sacred Body hands upon the Tree, Whose limbs, all dislocated painfully, Are stretched in torture, all for love of me!
Hail, sacred Side of Jesus! Verily The hidden spring of mercy lies in Thee, The source of honeyed sweetness dwells in Thee, The fountain of redemption flows from Thee, The secret well of love that cleanses me.
Behold, O King of Love, I draw to Thee; If I am wrong, O Jesus, pardon me; Thy love, Beloved, calls me lovingly, As I with blushing cheek gaze willingly Upon the living wound that bleeds for me.
O gentle opening, I worship Thee; O open door and deep, I look in Thee; O most pure stream, I gaze and gaze on Thee: More ruddy than the rose, I draw to Thee; More healing than all health, I fly to Thee.
More sweet than wine Thine odor is for me; The poisoned breath of sin it drives from me; Thou art the draught of life poured out for me. O ye who thirst, come, drink thereof with me; And Thou, sweet wound, O open unto me.
O red wound open, let me draw to Thee, And let my throbbing heart be filled from Thee! Ah, see! My heart, Beloved, faints for Thee. O my Beloved, open unto me, That I may pass and lose myself in Thee.
Lord, with my mouth I touch and worship Thee, With all the strength I have I cling to Thee, With all my love I plunge my heart in Thee, My very life-blood would I drawn from Thee,-- O Jesus, Jesus! Draw me into Thee!
How Sweet Thy savor is! Who tastes of Thee, O Jesus Christ, can relish naught but Thee; Who tastes Thy living sweetness lives by Thee; All else is void--the soul must die for Thee; So faints my heart,--so would I die for thee.
I languish, Lord! O let me hide in Thee! In Thy sweet Side, my Love, O bury me! And may the fire divine consuming Thee Burn in my heart where it lies hid in Thee, Without a fear reposing peacefully!
When in the hour of death Thou callest me, O Love of loves, may my soul enter Thee; May my last breath, O Jesus fly to Thee; So no fierce beast may drive my heart from Thee, But in Thy Side may it remain with Thee!
TO THE BREAST
O God of my salvation, hail to Thee! O Jesus, sweetest Love, all hail to Thee! O venerable Breast, I worship Thee; O dwelling-place of love, I fly to Thee, With trembling touch adore and worship Thee.
Hail, throne of the Most Holy Trinity! Hail, ark immense of tender charity! Thou stay of weakness and infirmity, Sweet rest of weary souls who rest on Thee, Dear couch of loving ones who lean on Thee!
With reverence, O Love, I kneel to Thee, O worthy to be ever sought by me; Behold me, Jesus, looking unto Thee. O, set my heart on fire, dear Love, from Thee, And burn it in the flame that burns in Thee.
O make my breast a precious home for thee, A furnace of sweet love and purity, A well of holy grief and piety; Deny my will, conform it unto Thee, That grace abundant may be mine in Thee.
Sweet Jesus, loving Shepherd, come to me; Dear Son of God and Mary, come to me; Kind Father come, let Thy Heart pity me, And cleanse the fountain of my misery In that great fountain of Thy clemency.
Hail, fruitful splendor of the Deity! Hail, fruitful figure of Divinity! From the full treasure of Thy charity, O pour some gift in Thy benignity Upon the desolate who cry to Thee!
Dear Breast of most sweet Jesus, mine would be All Thine in its entire conformity; Absolve it from all sin, and set it free, That it may burn with ardent charity, And never, never cease to think on Thee.
Abyss of wisdom from eternity, The harmonies of angels worship Thee; Entrancing sweetness flows, O Breast, from thee; John tasted it as he lay rapt on Thee; O grant me thus that I may dwell in Thee!
Hail, fountain deep of God's benignity! The fullness of the immense Divinity Hath found at last a creature home in Thee. Ah, may the counsel that I learn from Thee All imperfection purify in me!
True temple of the Godhead, hail to Thee! O draw me in Thy gracious charity, Thou ark of goodness, full of grace for me. Great God of all, have mercy upon me, And on Thy right hand keep a place for me.
TO THE FACE
Hail, bleeding Head of Jesus, hail to Thee! Thou thorn-crowned Head, I humbly worship Thee! O wounded Head, I lift my hands to Thee; O lovely Face besmeared, I gaze on Thee; O bruised and livid Face, look down on me!
Hail, beauteous Face of Jesus, bent on me, Whom angel choirs adore exultantly! Hail, sweetest Face of Jesus, bruised for me-- Hail, Holy One, whose glorious Face for me Is shorn of beauty on that fatal Tree!
All strength, all freshness, is gone forth from Thee: What wonder! Hath not God afflicted Thee, And is not death himself approaching Thee? O Love! But death hath laid his touch on Thee, And faint and broken features turn to me.
O have they thus maltreated Thee, my own? O have they Thy sweet Face despised, my own? And all for my unworthy sake, my own! O in Thy beauty turn to me, my own; O turn one look of love on me, my own!
In this Thy Passion, Lord, remember me; In this Thy pain, O Love, acknowledge me; The honey of whose lips was shed on me, The milk of whose delights hath strengthened me Whose sweetness is beyond delight for me!
Despise me not, O Love; I long for Thee; Contemn me not, unworthy though I be; But now that death is fast approaching Thee, Incline Thy Head, my Love, my Love, to me, To these poor arms, and let it rest on me!
The holy Passion I would share with Thee, And in Thy dying love rejoice with Thee; Content if by this Cross I die with Thee; Content, Thou knowest, Lord, how willingly Where I have lived to die for love of Thee.
For this Thy bitter death all thanks to Thee, Dear Jesus, and Thy wondrous love for me! O gracious God, so merciful to me, Do as Thy guilty one entreateth Thee, And at the end let me be found with Thee!
When from this life, O Love, Thou callest me, Then, Jesus, be not wanting unto me, But in the dreadful hour of agony, O hasten, Lord, and be Thou nigh to me, Defend, protect, and O deliver me.
When Thou, O God, shalt bid my soul be free, Then, dearest Jesus, show Thyself to me! O condescend to show Thyself to me,-- Upon Thy saving Cross, dear Lord, to me,-- And let me die, my Lord, embracing Thee!
TO THE SACRED HEART
Hail, sacred Heart of God's great Majesty! Hail, sweetest Heart, my heart saluteth Thee! With great desire, O Heart, I seek for Thee, And faint for joy, O Heart, embracing Thee; Then give me leave, O Love, to speak to Thee.
With what sweet love Thou languishedst for me! What pain and torment was that love to Thee! How didst Thou all Thyself exhaust for me! How hast Thou wholly given Thyself to me, That death no longer might have hold of me!
O bitter death and cruel! Can it be Thou darest so to enter greedily Into that cell divine? O can it be The Life of life, that lives there gloriously, Should feel thy bite, O death, and yield to thee?
For Thy death's sake which Thou didst bear for me, When Thou, O sweetest Heart, didst faint for me, O Heart most precious in its agony, See how I yearn, and longing turn to Thee! Yield to my love, and draw me unto Thee!
O sacred Heart, beloved most tenderly, Cleanse Thou my own; more worthy let it be, All hardened as it is with vanity; O make it tender, loving, fearing Thee, And all its icy coldness drive from me.
O sinner as I am, I come to Thee; My very vitals throb and call for Thee; O Love, sweet love, draw hither unto me! O Heart of Love, my heart would ravished be, And sicken with the wound of love for Thee!
Dilate and open, Heart of love, for me, And like a rose of wondrous fragrance be, Sweet Heart of love, united unto me; Anoint and pierce my heart, O Love, with Thee, How can he suffer, Lord, who loveth Thee?
O Heart of Love, who vanquished is by Thee Knows nothing, but beside himself must be; No bounds are set to that sweet liberty, No moderation,--he must fly to Thee, Or die he must of many deaths for Thee.
My living heart, O Love, cries out for Thee; With all its strength, O Love, my soul loves Thee; O Heart of Love, incline Thou unto me, That I with burning love may turn to Thee, And with devoted breast recline on Thee!
In that sweet furnace let me live for Thee, Nor let the sleep of sloth encumber me; O let me sing to Thee and weep to Thee, Adore, and magnify, and honor Thee, And always take my full delight in Thee.
Thou Rose of wondrous fragrance, open wide, And bring my heart into Thy wounded Side, O sweet heart, open! Draw Thy loving bride, All panting with desires intensified, And satisfy her love unsatisfied.
Unite my heart, O Jesus, unto Thine, And let Thy wounded love be found in mine. Ah, if my heart, dear love, be made like Thine O will it not be pierced with darts divine, the sweet reproach of love that thrills through Thine?
O Jesus, draw my heart within Thy Breast, That it may be by Thee alone possessed. O Love, in that sweet pain it would find rest, In that entrancing sorrow would be blest, And love itself in joy upon Thy Breast.
Behold, O Jesus, how it draws to Thee! O call it, that it may remain in Thee! See with what large desire it thirsts for Thee! Reprove it not, O Love; it loves but Thee: Then bid it live--by one sweet taste of Thee!
Reproduced from "Rhythmical Prayer to the Sacred Members of Jesus Hanging Upon the Cross," ascribed to St. Bernard, translated by Emily Mary Shapcote, found in "The Life of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" by St. Bonaventure, P.J. Kenedy and Sons (New York: 1881).
What a story! Can you imagine someone today having such fervor that they would convice thirty buddies to join them in the monastery?
"How is it," he asked, "that the rashness of mortals dares condemn what they cannot understand?"
Good question for some of the posters on FR who attack the Pope.
"O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary" of the Salve Regina is said to be attributed to St. Bernard.