Monastic reformer St. Bernard of Clairvaux remembered Aug. 20
On Aug. 20 the Catholic Church will honor St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the 12th-century monk who helped to build up the Cistercian order – some of whom are known today as the Trappists. Bernard is considered the last of the Church Fathers in the Western tradition.
Bernard was born during the year 1090, near the French town of Dijon. His father Tescelin and his mother Aleth belonged to the highest class of nobility in the region and had six other children. Bernard, their third child, received an especially good education in response to a local man's prophecy that he was destined for great achievements.
After his mother's death, Bernard began to consider a life of solitude and prayer. At Citeaux, near Dijon, a group of monks had gathered in 1098 with the intention of returning to St. Benedict's original rule of monasticism from the sixth century. Bernard, together with 30 other noblemen of Dijon, sought to join this monastery around the year 1113.
Three years into his life as a monk of Citeaux, Bernard received a commission from his abbot to become the head of a new monastery, practicing the same rule of life. Bernard himself dubbed the new monastery's location "Clairvaux," or "Clear Valley."
In his zeal to set an example for the Cistercian monastic reform, Bernard lived a life of such severe penance that his health suffered, and his superiors in the order had to persuade him to be more moderate. Meanwhile, the monastery thrived and attracted large number of men, including Bernard's five brothers and his widowed father.
In 1119, Bernard played an important role in the first General Chapter of the Cistercian Order, which drew up its constitutions and rules. The following year, he composed a treatise on the vice of pride and the virtue of humility, as well as a series of homilies in praise of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He also defended the Cistercians against charges from other monks, who claimed that their rule was too severe.
At the local Council of Troyes, in 1128, Bernard assisted the Cardinal Bishop of Albano in resolving internal disputes within the Church of Paris. At this same council, Bernard outlined the rule of life for the Knights Templars, the Catholic military order charged with the defense of the Holy Land. Bernard developed the ideals of Christian knighthood in his writings addressed to the Templars.
These were not the Abbot of Clairvaux's last forays into civil and religious controversies. He also defended the Church's freedom against the intrusions of temporal rulers and he admonished bishops who had abandoned their sees. In 1130, he had the responsibility of determining which of two rival clerics, both claiming to have been elected pope, would ultimately occupy the Chair of Peter.
Bernard became a close adviser to Pope Innocent II, who prevailed in the controversy. Further threats to the Church's peace and unity occupied him for much of the 1130s, although he continued to produce important writings, including his commentary on the Biblical "Song of Songs." He also sent monks to established new Cistercian monasteries throughout Western Europe.
One of Bernard's own Cistercian monks became Pope Eugene III in 1145, prompting Bernard to write him a letter of instructions that subsequent popes have also found valuable. When Eugene declared a crusade for the protection of Christians in Antioch and Jerusalem during 1146, he appointed Bernard to strengthen the faith of the crusaders with his preaching.
The "Second Crusade," however, failed in its attempt to take the Syrian city of Damascus. This was a heavy blow to Bernard's cause, and he received undue blame for a defeat more likely due to political intrigue and military misconduct. Bernard sent a letter to the pope, stating that the crusade failed because of the moral failings of its participants.
Pope Eugene III, Bernard's onetime disciple and close friend, died in 1153 and was eventually beatified. Bernard died the same year, at the age of 63, having spent 40 years as a monk. He personally founded 163 Cistercian monasteries, a number which had more than doubled by the time of his death.
Pope Alexander III canonized St. Bernard of Clairvaux in 1174. During the 19th century, Pope Pius VIII declared him to be a Doctor of the Church.
— CNA/EWTN News
Father Patrick Winslow: What can we learn from Pope Francis?It appears as if popes have something on their mind when first elected. One might call it a diagnosis and a proposed remedy for current ails. With Pope John Paul II, it was a message of hope to a world filled with fear. One can still hear him...
David Hains: Close that unhealthy health centerThe Gosnell abortion mill in Philadelphia and A Preferred Woman's Health Center in Charlotte have something in common: little regard for human life. It should come as no surprise that women are being mistreated in these facilities since...
Peggy Bowes: Honor thy mother: Devotions to Mary"We never give more honor to Jesus than when we honor His Mother, and we honor her simply and solely to honor Him all the more perfectly. We go to her only as a way leading to the goal we seek – Jesus, her Son." — St. Louis de Montfort,...
Father Shawn O'Neal: In this debate, remember Church teaching on human rightsAs a means to develop a comprehensive plan to reform our nation's current immigration system, a group of senators has introduced legislation formally called the "Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013."...
Father Matthew Buettner: Radical ChristianityRecently, the Boston Marathon came to an abrupt end when two bombs exploded near the finish line. Three young people died in the explosion, including an 8-year-old boy who received his first Holy Communion just 11 months ago. Along with these...
The Poor Clares: Joy and sacrificeSt. Paul was a man passionate with zeal and consumed by love for God and desire for the salvation of souls. His actions and words were geared toward one purpose: the claiming of souls from the dominion of the devil, and the deceit used by him...
Brian Williams:The honest 411 on Vatican III recently had the opportunity to take a class about the Second Vatican Council offered through a diocesan adult education program. While much was covered within a relatively short span of four classes, one subject occupied much of our time...
LETTERS FROM OUR READERS
Vatican II called for post-conciliar liturgical adaptationsThe April 26 Catholic News Herald commentary entitled "The Honest 411 on Vatican II" discussed a participant's experience at an adult education series in the diocese. The course, "The 411 on...
Warrior saints are found throughout historyRegarding the April 26 letter criticizing St. Nicholas of Flue, I am disgusted that an American would insinuate that a soldier who distinguishes himself or herself in combat is not following...
Who would be worthy?In a letter in the April 26 Catholic News Herald, St. Nicholas of Flue was referred to as someone who "did not follow those teachings" of Christ because he defended the faith with his sword and...
MOST POPULAR STORIES
FROM THE PASTORS
Read and listen to homilies posted regularly by pastors at parishes within the Diocese of Charlotte:
- Fr. Frank Cancro at Queen of the Apostles
- Fr. Patrick Earl at St. Peter in Charlotte
- Fr. John Eckert at St. John the Baptist in Tryon
- Fr. Timothy Reid at St. Ann in Charlotte
- Fr. Benjamin Roberts at Our Lady of Lourdes in Monroe
- Fr. Patrick Winslow at St. Thomas Aquinas in Charlotte
- Watch full Masses live and on demand, listen to homilies and reflections from Sacred Heart Church in Salisbury
- Listen to homilies from St. William Catholic Church in Murphy