Bernard of Clairvaux

1090-1153. Monastic reformer, mystic, and theologian. Born to a noble family in Fontaines, near Dijon, France, he joined the Cistercian* monastery at Cîteaux about 1111, where he soon was asked to found a new house. In 1115 the young abbot established a monastic community at Clairvaux which shortly became a principal center of the order. A firm believer in strict observance, in 1119 he attacked Cluny for its alleged disciplinary decadence. In 1128 he secured recognition for the order of Knights Templar,* whose rules he drafted himself. In the 1130 papal election controversy he sided with Innocent II; the new pope responded by bestowing privileges upon the Cistercians, and Bernard's influence was further enhanced with the election of Eugenius III, who had been his disciple at Clairvaux, as pope in 1145. He engaged in controversies with Abelard* in 1140 and Gilbert de la Porrée in 1148. He was officially charged with preaching the Second Crusade in 1146-47, and its outcome bitterly disappointed him. He obtained the condemnation of Arnold of Brescia's* reformist doctrines and attacked the heretical teaching of Henry of Lausanne.* He was canonized in 1174 and proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1830.

Because of his personality rather than any force of intellect, Bernard was the dominant figure in twelfth-century Latin Christendom, yet he was just as controversial in his day as now. He was both rigidly orthodox and aggressively self- righteous, and deeply pious and ascetic. He was simultaneously a contemplative mystic and an activist man of affairs in the world. In hundreds of sermons and letters and several treatises on theology and liturgy he expressed hostility to rationalism and set forth the value of contemplation and mystical experiences. In his theology he shifted the emphasis from God's judgment to His infinite love and mercy and the hope of redemption for even the worst sinner. As a mystic he stressed a christocentric union, the Word as the spouse of the soul. Because of his deeply felt devotion to the Mother of God, he gave impetus to the heretofore insignificant cult of the Virgin in the West.

A number of hymns are attributed to him, some translated as “Jesus, the very thought of Thee,” “O sacred Head now wounded,” and “Jesus, Thou joy of loving hearts.”

Works (tr. S.J. Eales, 5 vols., 1889-96); E. Vacandard, Vie de Saint Bernard (2 vols., 1895); E. Gilson, The Mystical Theology of St. Bernard (1940); W.W. Williams, Studies in St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1952); B. Scott- James, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1957).