St. Bernard of Clairvaux
Abbot Confessor, Doctor of the Church (1091-1153)
St. Bernard came from one of the leading noble families of Burgundy (France). Raised in piety by his mother, he decided at 22 to give up his knightly career and become a monk. His great persuasive powers were already evident when, in 1113, seeking admission from St. Stephen Harding to the Cistercian monastery of Citeaux, he brought along 30 like-minded companions, including his widower father, an uncle and four brothers!
Bernard's spiritual progress in the monastery was rapid, and after barely three years he was placed at the head of a group of 12 monks who were to establish a new foundation at Clairvaux, whose name meant "Valley of light". And at this place a new light emanated from his personal magnetism, enthusiastic love of God, mildness and purity, all of which, combined with courageous zeal, attracted large numbers of men from the most diverse walks of life, including a king's son, to the austerity of monastic life. During his 37 years as Abbot at Clairvaux, he founded 136 other monasteries, his monks going into Germany Sweden, Ireland, England, Portugal, Italy and Switzerland, thus eclipsing even the fame of Cluny. For this reason he is considered the second founder of the primitive austerity of St. Benedict's original rule and did much to revitalize the spiritual life in all monastic Orders. The best known branch of the Cistercians today is the Order of the Trappists.
Much as he would have preferred his quiet cell and solitude, Bernard, a man of outstanding erudition, was on account of his intellectual and persuasive powers, naturally drawn into every ecclesiastical controversy. Thus he ably exposed the fallacies in Abelard's teaching which exalted human reason and rationalism. At the request of Pope Eugene III, his former disciple, he wrote his much esteemed "Book of Considerations" to stress the need of personal sanctity in the visible head of the Church, all temporal matters being secondary.
When Jerusalem and Antioch were threatened by the fall of Edessa in 1144, the Pope ordered Bernard to preach the crusade which he did with the utmost eloquence and success throughout France and Germany, even moving the German Emperor Conard III and his nephew Barbarossa to tears. The whole continent was roused; ordinary business came to a standstill, or was entrusted to women while the men took up the Cross, miracles multiplying at every step. But lack of discipline, overconfidence, and certain intrigues and treason combined to bring the Crusade to naught, Bernard being made the scapegoat and blamed for the disaster.
A man of deep prayer, Bernard exhibited a profound theological understanding of the function of Mary in Catholic dogma with particular reference to the work of Redemption. The mystical writing he has left behind is among the finest in theological thought in general. The whole design of his theology can be summarized thus: God, i.e. charity, created man by love and by love redeemed him, the supreme proof of that love being the Incarnation of the Word and the Redemption (cfr New Catholic Encylopaedia Vol 2).
Bernard, who died on 20 August 1153, was canonized by Pope Alexander III on 18 January 1174 and declared Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius VIII in 1830. IN 1790 his head was enshrined in the Cathedral of Troyes while the rest of his relics were moved from Clairvaux to the church of Ville-sous-la-Ferte.
On the occasion of Bernard's 8th death centenary, Pius XII hailed him as the "Meellifluous Doctor" in his encyclical of the same name.
Reflection :"A person who prays carelessly, and yet expects his prayers to be heard, is like a man who pours bad grains into a mill, but expects to receive good flour in return" (St. Bernard).