Saturday, August 20, 2016

Feast of St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Today, 20 August, is the feast of the great Doctor of the Church, St. Bernard of Clairvaux -- the Mellifluous Doctor.  St. Bernard was an early member of the Cistercian Order, a reform order of monks that sought to return to a more austere observance of Benedictine monastic life.  In 1115, St. Bernard founded a daughter house of Citeaux at Clairvaux, marking the start of another sort of monastic revival – more austere than Cluny.  Though a monk, he would be deeply involved in repairing schisms in the Church, supporting the Pontificate of Innocent II, working with St. Norbert, and giving advice to a great many crowned heads.  St. Bernard would be known for his beautiful writings on Our Lady and the Truths of the Faith, earning him the wonderful title of Mellifluous Doctor.  He died at Clairvaux in the year 1153AD.



St. Bernard of Clairvaux by Georg Wasshuber (+1732)


One of St. Bernard's associates, Bernard of Pisa, who was the abbot of the Cistercian monastery at Tre Fontane, the site of the martydom of St. Paul just outside Rome, was actually elected Pope, taking the name Pope Eugene III (1145-1153).  He would be a holy reforming pope in the mold of St. Leo IX, St. Gregory VII, and Blessed Urban II.

In December 1144 the city of Edessa – recall it was one of the Crusader states in the Middle East – fell to Seljuqs under Imad al-Din Zengi, Atabeg of Mosul (1127-1146).  Christendom was shocked, and the pope responded with another call to Crusade to defend the Holy Land and the Christians there.  This call to Crusade came on 14 December 1145.  St. Bernard of Clairvaux would be the preacher – and he sent out letters.  The next spring, 31 March 1146, St. Bernard of Clairvaux was preaching the Crusade in France – at Vezeley – and King Louis VII of France agreed to take up the cross. (Abbot Suger, credited with being the originator of Gothic architecture, would watch the kingdom while the king was gone)  St. Bernard then crossed into Germany, and at the famous Diet of Speyer, the Emperor Conrad III took the cross – this on Christmas 1146.  Despite the impressive recruits and good intentions, this Second Crusade would fall well short of its goals, and be abandoned, without recovering Edessa, in 1148.

St. Bernard also assisted in writing the rule and forming the Knights Templar. Indeed, to this end, he wrote an eloquent and robust letter giving advice to the members of this new Chivalrous order. He exhorts, "So go forth in safety, knights, and drive out the enemies of the cross of Christ with fearless intention, certain that neither death nor life can separate you from God’s love, which Jesus Christ embodies; in every moment of danger, fulfill through your own actions the principle: ‘Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.’ ‘How glorious the victors returned from battle! How blessed those martyrs who died in battle!Rejoice, brave fighter, if you live and conquer in the Lord; but rather exult and glory, if you die and are joined to the Lord. Life can be fruitful and victory can be glorious; but sacred death is properly to be preferred to either, for if ‘they are blessed who die in the Lord,’ are they not much more so who die on the Lord’s behalf?" and further on he observes, "If a Christian is not allowed to strike with the sword, then why did the Savior’s precursor bid knights be content with their earnings, instead of forbidding them knighthood altogether?" You can read the full text here: St. Bernard: Novae Militiae

This link provides a good account of the life of St. Bernard: Old Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Bernard

This webpage gives a brief overview with some images, links to other sites, and a few other details: Catholic Saints Info: St. Bernard

Finally here is the encyclical letter of Pope Pius XII from 1953AD on St. Bernard: Pope Pius XII, Doctor Mellifluus

Live well!

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