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Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

Doctor of the Church - Last Father of the Early Church

 

Our story begins in the chateau of Fontaines-les-Dijon, in France.  It is 1090.  Here, and at this time, one of history's greatest Saints of our dear Church will be born to Tescelin Sorrel, a noble from Burgundy and his wife Aleth, also born of the nobility.  The curtain of this drama opens on Bernard's mother Aleth, who is expecting her third son's birth.  She awakens from a dream.  It appears her unborn child's future greatness is about to be revealed before he sees the light of day.  This night, when most likely she was wondering what would become of this child, she was about to bring into the world, she had a dream!  A child appeared to her as a small white dog with reddish-brown spots, and it was barking incessantly.

Becoming alarmed by the dream, she turned to a pious religious and inquired the meaning of the dream.  He shared:

"The child who will be born of you will be the guardian of the House of God; he will be an excellent preacher, utterly unlike so many unfaithful dogs who cannot bark."

The day Bernard was born, his mother raised him up to Heaven and consecrated him to God.  Although she was gentle and loving, she was also firm and resolute.  She was attentive to all her children, giving of  herself completely, but with this her third born son, she knew in her heart she had been given a special gift from God and she wanted to nurture him and prepare him for his role on earth.  The results: Bernard grew up obedient, brave, hardworking and surprisingly unspoiled, not unlike his other siblings.

He was one of seven children: Guy, Gerard, Humbeline and Nivard (who were all declared Blessed), Andrew and Bartholomew.  All were intelligent and had the finest education.  But whereas his brothers engaged in arts of knighthood, possibly preparing for military careers or knighthood, Bernard entered Châtillon on the Seine pursuing a career as a secular canon.  Even then he showed the spirit of a future contemplative, choosing to be alone.  He excelled, rising above all the dreams and aspirations his parents had for him.  He was an outstanding student!  His parents moved into one of their homes near the school their children were attending, so they could be close to them. 

Christmas Eve and the Child Jesus has a gift for Bernard

It was Christmas Eve and Aleth was preparing for the birth of Our dear Baby Jesus.  Bernard was waiting to go to church with his family and pray the Liturgy of the Hours, when he fell asleep.  He writes, he saw before him the entire scene of the Nativity, with the newly born Infant Jesus in the stable at Bethlehem.  The Babe was breathtakingly beautiful; an aura of luminous rays shone around him. 

It was so real!  Bernard, the boy, pressed close to the Baby Jesus and His Mother Mary.  He was deeply enchanted by the joy and glory of this moment, when his mother awakened him to go to church with his family.  This dream made such an impression on him, he remembered it all his life, often using it in his sermons.  Even when he reached the summit and pinnacle of his mystical experiences, he would share how the Infant came to him on the Eve of His Birth.

Saint Francis de Sales once wrote of Bernard and his experience:

"Although, like a sacred bee, he afterwards received from all the Divine mysteries the honey of a thousand sweet and Divine consolations, the Feast of Christmas always brought him a special peace, and he spoke of his Master's Nativity with unparalleled delight."

St. Bernard is forced to grow up!

They were such a happy family!  Then at age seventeen, Bernard lost his beloved mother.  Aleth prophesied her own death, weeks before she died.  On the Feast of a local Saint, Ambrosinian, patron of their parish church of Fontaine, as was their custom, Bernard's family invited priests to their home to celebrate the special Feast Day.  As evening approached, his mother experienced chills and then a high fever, but she insisted that not spoil the festivities.  The celebration proceeded, but sadly Aleth was too weak to serve her guests, as she always looked forward to doing.  She lay in bed.  Realizing how seriously ill she was, one of the priests brought her Holy Communion and gave her the Sacrament of the Sick (Extreme Unction).  When the meal was over, the guests all gathered around her bed to thank her for a delightful evening.  She thanked them for coming and told them this was the last time she would see them, as she was dying.  They all began to recite the Prayers for the Dying.  When they came to the part of the prayer, "By Your Passion and Your cross deliver her, Lord," Aleh raised her hand to make the sign of the cross and too weak, fell back.  She lowered her eyes, smiled and her soul soared to her Father in Heaven, Whom we are sure was waiting for her. 

Bernard grieved inconsolably.  With his mother's passing, he became aware how fragile life on earth was.  The boy grew up into a man!  His Mother's death taught him to face every moment, every decision, with: "What does this matter for eternity?"

But it was not the time for him to enter monastic life.  He had been given many gifts!  He was handsome, charming, talented; he came from an illustrious family.  The world looked good, and he looked good to the world.  Hence the temptations and snares of the world!  He was twenty years old and good looking.  Needless to say that meant trouble.  He could feel himself slipping!  He enjoyed the company of "friends."  It got so serious, he found himself nearing a temptation leading to a carnal sin; but by the Grace of God, he did not fall!  He knew God was allowing this to show him how tenuous his life was, how powerful evil was.  He threw himself into an icy pond, and remained there until he had completely vanquished the devil of temptation.  His biographers say that was the turning point in his life and his decision to enter religious life - the life he was meant to lead.  But it was not to be an easy road to the monastic life.  His father and for that matter, his whole family, tried to reason with him: Surely he was not going to waste all the talents God gave him, hidden away in a monastery

But God would not let loose of His young charge.  The Hounds of Heaven were after Bernard and he knew the only way to relieve the aching desire he had in his heart was to enter a monastery.  But which community would he choose, but the monastery of Citeaux, the strictest of Cistercian monasteries.  So convicted was he by his decision, he was able to recruit 30 men in all, to enter along with him.  One by one, first his uncle, and then his brothers joined him.  Bernard was so on fire, so filled with the zeal of the Holy Spirit, mothers and wives were afraid to have their men folk around him

There was only one son left, the youngest - Nivard.  As they were taking their leave, St. Bernard said to his brother Nivard,

"See, my Nivard, we are going away!  All this property will be yours!  You will be very rich!"

His brother replied,

"You are taking Heaven as your portion and you leave the earth for me.  I will not accept that share!"

At age sixteen, Nivard entered Citeaux, with his father not far behind.  And so, with the exception of Humbeline, the whole family was in the Abbey at Citeaux.

St. Bernard walks through the valley of darkness

Bernard's first year, or the "probation year" was the most difficult year of his life!  He often asked himself the question that has remained prominent and been repeated by other men seeking to follow the religious life:

"Bernard, what have you come here to do.”

His first biographer said,

"Bernard came with the intention of dying there to the hearts  and minds of men...."

Bernard's inner thoughts were:

"Only spirits have the right to enter here; flesh serves no purpose!"

What gave St. Bernard the courage to fight the good fight, the one within himself and the enemy without?  He best explained it in his sermon on The Song of Songs:

"At the start of my conversion, in place of the merits I did not possess, I took care to pick a bouquet of myrrh and place it on my heart.

"I fashioned it from all the anguish and bitter sufferings of my Lord, first His sufferings as a Child, then the labors and exhaustion He endured during His journeys and preaching campaigns, His vigils of prayer, His temptations in the desert, His tears of compassion, the dangers He encountered among false brothers, the insults, spittle, blows, sarcasm, ridicule, nails...., which filled His passion in such abundance.

"And among all these tiny stalks of fragrant myrrh, I did not forget to place the myrrh He was given to drink on the cross, or the myrrh used to anoint Him for His burial.  As  long as I live, I shall cherish the memories with which their perfume has saturated me.  I shall never forget those mercies: for in them I found life....

"This sheaf of memories has been preserved for me; no one will snatch it away from me, it will remain on my breast.... In these memories resides the perfection of justice and the plenitude of knowledge, the riches of salvation and the treasures of merit.

"Sometimes I quaff from these mysteries a potion of salutary bitterness, and at other times I find in them the sweet oil of consolation.  They sustain me in adversity and restrain me in prosperity.... That is why I so often have them on my lips, as you well know; and always in my heart, as God knows; and very often on the tip of my pen, as everyone knows.  To know Jesus and Jesus crucified is the sum total of my philosophy."

Clairvaux - "Valley of Light"

News of the entrance of thirty new monks in the monastery of  Citeaux spread and it necessitated the opening of more and more houses for centuries to come.  One of the houses was one to be established in the Valley of Absinthe, which would later be changed to the Valley of Light or Clairvaux.  Before sending forth St. Bernard and other monks to the new house, The Abbot of Citeaux - Stephen Harding- called St. Bernard to come forth on the Altar (of Citeaux) and, placing a crucifix in hands, declared him Abbot of the new monastery in the Valley of Absinthe.  The newly ordained Abbot set out with his companions armed with the cross and all the necessary implements to celebrate the Mass.

The spot where they were to build their monastery was up to St. Bernard and he chose the highest point in the Valley.  As usual, they first built the chapel; then the cemetery and then their meager huts, made of wood.

As soon as the building was completed, the matter of having St. Bernard ordained to the Priesthood came up.  As the monastery was to be placed under the protection of Our Lady, it was important his ordination be consummated before August 15th, so that the first Mass of our newly ordained St. Bernard be in conjunction with the Feast of Our Lady of the Assumption, which was to be the official Feast Day of the Monastery.

It was of some concern, as St. Bernard had to go before the Bishop of Châlons-sur-Marnes, Bishop William of Champeaux.  Now, St. Bernard was of slight build, not a very commanding figure, so that when he chose to go before the Bishop, he asked a monk who cut a very imposing figure to accompany him.  The monk who escorted him was so regal and commanding a figure, the Bishop thought he was the Abbot of Clairvaux, not St. Bernard.  But after they spoke awhile, the Bishop was so taken by St. Bernard, they became fast friends; it was said, "They became as but one heart and soul in the Lord."  The Bishop taught everyone to venerate Bernard as an "angel of God."  He not only ordained him before the Feast of the Assumption, but six years later, as the holy Bishop sensed death approaching, he asked to be professed as a monk at Clairvaux and to be buried there. 

Hard days ahead for Bernard and his thirteen monks

Although the Monastery in Clairvaux would become famous, with a pope visiting it one day, the beginnings were hard and arduous for the brave, little band of monks.  They were able to live off Mother Nature in the summer months, but when winter set in, they being so remote, away from all forms of civilization, and hopes of aid, had to follow the most severe forms of fasting.  Times became so dire, the monks began to implore Bernard to abandon their monastery.  Bernard resorted to the only help available, his Father in Heaven; and God answered his prayers.  Some people visited the monastery bearing the much needed provisions.

For years, one crisis followed another, testing the strongest of men, with the most absolute resolve.  But St. Bernard never gave up!  He placed his faith in the Father and the Father always came through - maybe a little late, but always there for His faithful band of monks.  One time, things were so bad, they did not even have salt to flavor their meager menu.  Bernard summoned one of his monks, Guibert, and told him: "My son, take the donkey and go the fair to bury some salt."  Whereupon the monk inquired, "And some money?"

St. Bernard gently replied, "My son, I haven't had gold or silver for a long time.  But there is Someone above Who holds all my treasures in His Hands."

The young monk insisted, "Father if I go off with nothing, I shall return with nothing!"

St. Bernard came back with, "Have no fear, my son, but trust!  He Who  has our treasures in His Care will accompany you and provide you with the means of completing your errand."

No sooner had the monk arrived at the fair, than he was approached by a priest who inquired where he was from and where he was going.  The little monk told him his story, and the priest was so touched, he took the young monk to his rectory and gave him enough salt to load a donkey.  And if that was not enough, he gave him fifty coppers (a considerable amount of money at that time).

We could never adequately express the joy our little monk had, when he brought his Abbot the treasures.  Abbot Bernard only comment was:

"I told you so, and I repeat it once more.  There is nothing a Christian needs so much as faith.  Have faith and you will profit greatly from it all the days of your life!"

But Bernard had to deal expediently with his monks.  The rigors of their diet and the coarseness of the food, was exacting a great price from the monks.  The severe discipline, he imposed on his monks, did not help either.  They were obedient, never complaining; but the wear and tear on their persons began to show.  Of himself, Bernard became aware of his lack of wisdom and charity and condemned himself to a period of long silence.  He did return to preaching and teaching.  As for the food, the monks ate more regularly, but the fare was not much better.

As you cannot hide a bright light, the obedience and piety of the monks, as well as the holiness of their Abbot became widely known and the number increased from the thirteen they started with to one hundred and thirty.

St. Bernard - Miracle Worker

While St. Bernard was singing the Mass, he restored the gift of speech to a certain prince, so that he could confess his sins and make restitution for injustices committed.  Three days later, he died in the state of grace.

As we know, Bernard loved Jesus and His Cross.  When the sick and hopelessly ill came before him to be healed, he made the Sign of the Cross on them and they were immediately healed!  One time, there was a church in Foigny which was plagued by flies that were swarming all over the church, biting and infecting worshippers and priests celebrating Mass.  When Bernard heard of this, he visited the church and excommunicated the flies, whereupon they all died!  This miracle became so popular and widespread, soon it became a proverb in France.

St. Bernard is condemned to "obey a brute!"

All the harsh food and horrendous fasting finally took a toll on St. Bernard.  His friend the Bishop, seeing his deplorable condition, and his refusal to take it easy, went to the chapter.  When he described Bernard's condition, the chapter asked  him to do whatever was necessary to save St. Bernard from  himself and his stubbornness.  The Bishop ordered him to refrain from serving in the field and ordered him to a time of rest and contemplation.  He had the monks set up a little hut for Bernard.  Then Bernard was assigned a doctor, who was known to have a fine reputation, but was instead turned out to be a charlatan.  His first biographer, William of St. Thierry, writes of his experience when he came to visit St. Bernard for the first time:

"I found him in his cell, a sort of cabin like the huts assigned to lepers at the crossroads.  But I witness before God that because of the one who dwelt there, this room inspired me with such respect as if I were approaching the altar of the Lord. I felt penetrated with such sweet affection for this man of God, I shared such a yearning to share his poverty, that if I had received permission, I would  have attached myself to his service that very day.  He welcomed us with such signs of joy, and as we were inquiring about the state of his health, he said with an arch smile:

"I feel very well, I who, until now was in command of reasonable men, by a just judgment of God am condemned to obey a brute!"

The brute he was referring to was his doctor, the charlatan.  In spite of all this, this time alone allowed him to write a treatise of the Degrees of Humility and Pride, the first of his published works.

When his year was up and Bernard returned to his community, the first thing he did was to relax somewhat the excessive acts of mortification.  This was not received by all the  monks equally.  Most agreed with their Abbot; but there were those who objected to the lessening of the rules of mortification, causing division and dissension.  St. Bernard turned to his friend Bishop William of Champeaux, who agreed with Bernard:

"If your food has a pleasing taste, it is to God's grace that you owe it.  So eat what is served to you gratefully and without qualms.  To refuse to do so out of a spirit of disobedience or incredulity is to resist the Holy Spirit."

This is the same thought that had come to Bernard during his hours of contemplation.  It also pleased Bernard that his problem had been to temper his monks' penances rather than to admonish them for their lukewarmness

Champion of Popes and Mother Church

As we wrote in our other books, in our 2000 year history, Mother Church has had to withstand the blows from the enemy within and without.  But the greatest wounds are always those inflicted by the family.  And so, it was with Mother Church in Bernard's time as well as at other times in our love story on Mother Church.

The Popes looked to Bernard for advice, treasuring it.  He was called "the oracle of Christendom."  He was regarded not only as the founder of a monastery, but as a theologian, a preacher, a reformer and a "crusader!"  He never backed down from a fight, if it was in defense of his Mother  Church.  He wrote to an ecclesiastic:

"You may imagine  that what belongs to the Church belongs to you while you officiate there.  But you are mistaken; for though it be 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 goes beyond bare nourishment and simple clothing is sacrilege and theft."

Bernard had not served as an Abbot fifteen years, when he was asked to join in the melee between a Pope and an antipope.  It was the year 1130, and Pope Honorius II was dying.  There were two warring factions in the Vatican, each family trying to have their Cardinal elected Pope.  As one was honest and pious, the other was ambitious and cunning.  There was a split among the Cardinals and both Cardinals were elected Pope.

Bernard was called into the fray, as by this time his reputation was well known and respected.  Bernard prayed for divine inspiration.  He wrote that the men should be judged based on their merits, their ability to lead Mother Church.  Their reputations preceded them.  But not only that, a Council was called and Bernard chose Innocent II, arguing that the consecration of Innocent II was more in accord with the traditional nomination of the Popes, having been performed by the Cardinal of Ostia, as well as having a majority of Cardinals voting for him.

All agreed with Bernard, even the King of France who had been in favor of the antipope.  Anacletus II, the antipope was called before the Council of Clermont, where an anathema was declared against him, in the presence of many Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops.

After the fiery papal elections were finally over and resolved, poor Bernard found himself on the road again, championing the cause of Pope Innocent II throughout France, Germany and Italy.  On one of his returns to Clairvaux, he brought a new postulant with him, a canon from Pisa, Peter Bernard, who would later become Pope Eugenius III.

Bernard attended the Tenth General Council in Rome, where he met St. Malachy of Armagh (Ireland).  They became fast friends and remained so, till the day St. Malachy died in the arms of St. Bernard nine years later.

The Battle rages on

Innocent II was declared Pope and the antipope Anacletus II had been declared anathema, but much of Italy and the city of Rome were for the antipope.  There were even those in France who, for their own reasons, supported the antipope's position.  Bernard fought hard and tirelessly and although he was not immediately successful, was able to finally persuade them to accept and support the real Pope - Innocent II.

Anacletus' popularity began to dim like a dying smoldering fire.  When they tried to revive interest, Bernard said:

"The universal Church has spoken.  It has declared itself against Anacletus and his accomplices.  The case has been decided.  It is not permissible to appeal to a special court a decision made by the whole of Christendom."

But no sooner was the battle raged and won with the real Pope seated on the chair of Peter, but another battle ensued.  As Bernard was considered the most eloquent and influential man of his time, there was another, possibly more knowledgeable: Peter Abelard.  Eleven years older than St. Bernard, this was a brilliant man who could easily have glorified God with the wisdom and knowledge which he was given.  At an early age, he taught in schools all over Europe.  He developed a great love for theology, and went on to teach future popes, cardinals and bishops.  Everyone was held breathless at his teachings.

Rather than using God's gift of wisdom and charisma to build His Kingdom, he allowed the evil one to touch on his greatest weakness, pride.  Peter Abelard became disenchanted with the teachers who had given him so much knowledge.  He attacked them.  He attacked teachings of the Church.  Bernard chose to glorify God and Abelard, with pride blinding him chose to glorify himself.  Bernard believed: "the weight of traditional authority and faith not as an opinion but a certitude."  Whereas Abelard proposed: "the new rationalism and exaltation of human reason."  Bernard saw this as a once great man lost to the sin of pride, as he wrote to the pope: "Peter Abelard is trying to make void the merit of Christian faith, when he deems himself able by human reason to comprehend God entirely."  Sounds like the heresies of Humanism and Rationalism, to me.

A scandalous affair sidetracked Abelard for a time.  He was forced to withdraw into a monastery as a monk.  However, he was in such demand, his tawdry affair was overlooked in favor of his brilliant rhetoric.  He began teaching again.  However, his errors and heresy, especially a tract he had written in 1121, Of the Unity and Trinity of God, was condemned and actually got him thrown in jail for a while.  However, he used his great charism to get a papal legate to have him released from jail.  Not long after, he was back on the road, preaching.  His greatest errors were trying to take Theology, Sacred Mysteries, such as the Trinity, the Incarnation, our Redemption and original sin, and treating them in a purely rational and humanistic way. 

St. Bernard met with Abelard, and tried to convince him of his errors, and pleaded with him to renounce them.  Abelard refused.  It became a battle between two great minds of the time, Bernard of Clairvaux and Peter Abelard.  Opinions were split down the middle.  Abelard was able to convince the Bishop of Sens to convene a Council, which in effect, became a debate between St. Bernard and Peter Abelard.  Bernard wanted no part of it.  He was not as eloquent a speaker as Abelard, who could twist words to his advantage.  However, it became such a popular proposition among theologians all over Europe, that Bernard could not back down.

However, Bernard presented the writings of Abelard to the Bishops the night before the debate, who all agreed that they had only to hear Abelard speak the words, and they would condemn him.  However, Abelard, who had suggested the debate in the first place, accused the bishops of not having authority, and would not obey their decision.  Bernard had to appeal to the Pope, Innocent II, whom he had helped before.  He condemned Peter Abelard, calling him "a precursor of Anti-Christ."  Abelard countered by calling Bernard "a devil masquerading as an angel." 

Pope Innocent II condemned Abelard, in support of Bernard's writings.  His books were to be burned; he was to be imprisoned.  However, prior to the Pope announcing his decision, Abelard had a change of heart, after having received a letter from the woman with whom he had had an affair, Heloise, who was now a nun.  Abelard confessed he did not want to contradict St. Paul or be separated from Our Lord Jesus Christ. He was allowed to live his days out quietly, teaching in the Abbey at Cluny.  However, the climate was not good for his health, and he died, less than two years after his condemnation.

Bernard became famous in the area of Theology, and also as a defender of the Church.  However, he also amassed many enemies, who would take any opportunity to discredit him.  However, he offered all his sufferings up to the Lord.

Eugenius III, Bernard's former protégé is elected Pope.  Although Bernard immediately offered his humble service, he was worried, as Eugenius was not forceful; he was rather shy and retiring, and definitely unfamiliar with public life.  But in spite of his misgivings, Bernard wrote a treatise outlining the duties of the Papacy, and reminded his former student of the need for time away from the busyness of being Pope to feed his soul with prayer and contemplation, lest he fall into the trap of forgetting God and develop a hardness of heart.  He further said, that the thought made him tremble for him (the Pope), for if the Pope falls, the whole Church is involved.  He reminded the Pope that he is in danger of falling by the magnitude of the tasks and problems facing him.  I feel certain Pope Eugenius heard and heeded his former Abbot's words, as he is known today as Blessed Eugenius III.

Albigensianism strikes and St. Bernard responds

This accursed heresy had started in Albi and spread throughout all of southern France.  It was called by the Catholic historian, Gibbons, the fourth great crisis in the Catholic Church.  It was really a re-packaged version of both the Manichean and the Gnostic heresies, which, in effect, taught that there were two principles at work in the world, God in the Spirit, which was good, and all matter, which was evil, including the body.  On that basis, it maintained that Christ had no body, therefore did not resurrect.  The Mass, and consequently the Eucharist were condemned.  It rejected the authority of the Church, and tried to manipulate the Gospel to its own advantage.  All the Sacraments were condemned by this group, especially Marriage.  Free sex abounded, but marriage was condemned.  They rejected the practice of Infant Baptism, and just about everything else we believe in. 

St. Bernard had been sent to do battle with a cult similar to Albigensianism in Cologne.  Now it was 1145 and Cardinal Alberic asked St. Bernard to once again fight the heresy, only now in Languedoc, an area deep in the south of France, encompassing Montpelier and Perpignan.  St. Bernard felt weak and too ill to even make the journey, no less fight!  But he obeyed!  He not only set out to do as he had been bid, but, tired and sick as he was,  he preached all the way.  His secretary Geoffrey traveled alongside him and recounted many miracles that came to pass through the intercession of Bernard.  He testified that in an area beset by the heresy of Albigensianism, Bernard took some loaves of bread and making the sign of the cross on each said,

"By this shall you know the truth of our doctrine, and the falsehood of that which is taught by the heretics, if such as are sick among you recover their health by eating these loaves."

The Bishop of Chartres, didn't possess the overpowering faith of St. Bernard, not only in God's ability to bring about the Miracle, but His willingness.  He qualified the statement, being apprehensive of the possible outcome, breaking in with,

"That is, if they eat with a right faith, they shall be cured."

But Abbot Bernard, with the conviction of a missionary set about bringing the truth to the people, with full faith that God is truly in control, countered with,

"I say not so; but assuredly they that taste shall be cured, that you may know by this that we are sent by authority derived from God and preach His truth." 

Bernard preached hard against the Albigensian heresy for three or four months.  It seemed as though he was having a great effect on the people.  Word spread about his coming to any particular area of southern France, at which thousands of people would show up to hear him.  His popularity became so great, the propagator of Albigensianism, Henry of Lausanne, ran away from the area, so as not to be compared with Bernard.  However, Bernard was told of an emergency in Clairvaux, which forced him to leave the area of southern France to return to Clairvaux.  There are those who felt he would have done far better staying and fighting.  His followers, who were sent to continue his work, were not able to accomplish anywhere near what he had done.  They actually became somewhat lax and allowed themselves to become very secular.  As it turned out, the heresy continued on for almost another hundred years, at which time, the work of St. Dominic and his order of Preachers finally put the heresy down.

No sooner had Bernard settled the problem in his abbey at Clairvaux, than he was called upon to preach in favor of a second Crusade in the Holy Land, the first having been a failure.  He had not been informed of what was happening to the Christians and the holy shrines in the Holy Land.  He also did not know that the Pope was trying to recruit the French to spearhead a second Crusade.  When all this was brought to his attention, he moved quickly, speaking throughout France, and then even into Germany to promote the Crusade.  At a council in Vézelay in the Spring of 1146,  the French king, Louis VII declared his intention to take up the cross of Crusade.  At the same time, Pope Eugenius III issued a bull in favor of the Crusade.

It turned out to be a disaster, for many reasons, one of which was it was not well coordinated.  There was infighting between the powers, and the Emperor of Constantinople wanted a restoration of the Byzantine Empire, and all the land that was being fought over.  That was not about to happen.  The French King and the German King, Conrad, both refused and became very bitter against Constantinople.  Although Bernard was not directly involved in the Crusade, he felt a great responsibility for saving the shrines in the Holy Land and the lives of the Christians there who were at the mercy of the Moslems.  An attempt at another Crusade was made, but it too failed.  For Bernard, the Crusades were over, and soon after, he was to go to his Heavenly reward.

St. Bernard had a conviction which he followed all his life.  Actually, he got it from St. Augustine.  He wrote:

"We do not have a permanent city here on earth and we do not yet possess the city to come, but we are searching for it. You must either ascend or descend, and if you stop you will infallibly fall.  Certainly, that man is not good who does not want to be better, and the moment you no longer want to become more virtuous you cease being good."

St. Bernard strived all his life to work in this direction.  He never felt he had accomplished his climb, but he always knew where he was going.  In 1153, he knew the end was near.  Even though he was not that old, 63 when he died, he did the same thing many of his predecessors and then successors did, they neglected their body with the hopes of controlling the senses.  Francis of Assisi and Dominic accomplished this, as did Bernard of Clairvaux, but it cut short their lives and their ability to give more of the gift the Lord had given them to the Church and to the world.  But who knows if less austerity would have given him the keen edge the Lord needed to work through St. Bernard.  Only God knows, and He did such a good job with St. Bernard, we can't criticize the methods.

His last days caused him much physical suffering, but spiritually, he lingered halfway between earth and Heaven.  His greatest sorrow was to see many of his famous and close friends pass before him, especially his spiritual son, Pope Eugenius III who died about a month before Bernard.

What could be considered his last will and testament was given his community on his deathbed.  He said "

"I have few good examples to bequeath to you, but there are three points I offer you to imitate and that I remember  having observed to the best of my power: I have always put less trust in my own views than in those of others.  When others wounded me, I never sought to avenge myself against the one who hurt me.  I have avoided as much as I could scandalizing anyone, and if scandal did occur, I made every effort to quiet it down."

St. Bernard went to the Father on August 20th, 1153.  He was canonized in 1174, and proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1830.  He is one of the most powerful Saints in our Church.  Learn about St. Bernard; embrace his teachings.  God speaks through this holy Saint.

 

More About Saint Bernard 

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