Bernard of Clairvaux, Saint

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Bernard of Clairvaux, Saint

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (klrvō´), 1090?–1153, French churchman, mystic, Doctor of the Church. Born of noble family, in 1112 he entered the Cistercian abbey of Cîteaux, taking along 4 or 5 brothers and some 25 friends. In 1115 he headed the group sent to found a house at Clairvaux. There he remained abbot all his life, despite many efforts to elevate him to higher ecclesiastical office. A holy life, a reputation for miraculous cures, and unusual eloquence made Bernard renowned, and he became the most powerful religious influence in France and, in time, in all Western Europe. His example and mystical theology had decisive influence on the Cistercian order, and he is sometimes called its second founder. During his lifetime 68 houses were founded out of Clairvaux alone. It was he who led the long struggle to seat Innocent II, the canonically elected pope, and persuaded Lombardy to accept Emperor Lothair II. He procured the condemnation of Peter Abelard and Arnold of Brescia (1140), and he preached the Second Crusade (1146). He was the adviser of popes, especially of his friend Eugene III. He was tireless in journeys to make peace, and he undertook many arduous charitable missions; he stopped a wave of pogroms in the Rhineland (1146) and he repeatedly saved luckless peasants from the powerful. Through his writings, St. Bernard exerted a profound influence on Roman Catholic spirituality. His deep devotion to the Virgin Mary and to the Infant Jesus is evident in his work, which consists of about 330 sermons, some 500 known letters, and 13 treatises. His style, strong and eloquent, full of biblical allusions, and intensely personal and direct, has earned him the name Mellifluous Doctor. Among his sermons, the series of 86 on the Canticles have been favorites (St. Bernard on the Song of Songs, tr. 1952). The most important treatises are On the Steps of Humility and Pride (c.1125; tr. by Geoffrey Webb and Adrian Walker, 1957), On Consideration (1149–53; tr. by E. Kennan, 1989), and On the Love of God (c.1127; tr. by T. L. Connolly, 1951). He was canonized in 1174. Feast: Aug. 20.

See W. Williams, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1952); T. Merton, The Last of the Fathers (1954, repr. 1970); O. J. Egres, Saint Bernard, His Life and Teaching (1971); J. R. Sommerfeldt, The Spiritual Teachings of Bernard of Clairvaux (1991).

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