St. Bernard of Clairvaux
One of the most influential religious leaders in Church history, St Bernard of Clairvaux has sometimes been referred to the “THE man of the twelfth century”. His advice and counsel was sought by kings, bishops and common laborers alike, and the more he withdrew from the secular world to embrace monasticism and solitude, the more he was pursued. It is said that no person in the medieval Church brought more people to God than did St. Bernard.
Bernard of Clairvaux was born in 1090 in Fontaine-les-Dijon, France. After the death of his mother, Bernard in 1112 sought admission into the Cistercian Order, bringing 30 relatives into the Order with him.. Three years later, he was sent to found a new abbey at an isolated glen known as the Val d’Absinthe in Burgundy. According to tradition, Bernard founded the monastery in 1115, naming it Claire Vallée, which evolved into Clairvaux. Bernard’s spiritual writing as well as his extraordinary personal magnetism began to attract many to Clairvaux and to the other Cistercian monasteries, leading to many new foundations. It was at this time that he wrote one of his most controversial and popular works, his Apologia.
Bernard’s dynamism soon reached far beyond monastic circles. He was sought as an advisor and mediator by the ruling powers of his age. More than any other he helped to bring about the healing of the papal schism which arose in 1130 with the election of the antipope Anacletus II. It cost Bernard eight years of laborious travel and skillful mediation. During this same time he labored for peace and reconciliation between England and France, and settled disputes among many lesser nobles. His influence mounted when his disciple and protégé, Bernard of Pisa, was elected Pope Eugene III in 1145. At Pope Eugene’s command he preached the Second Crusade and sent vast armies on the road toward Jerusalem. He was devastated when they went on to ignominious defeat.
Bernard’s interests, activities and accomplishments were variegated. He was extremely devoted to the Blessed Mother and is considered to be one of the leading architects of Marian theology. In the year 1128, Bernard assisted at the Council of Troyes, at which he traced the outline of the Rule of the Knights Templar, who soon became the ideal of Christian nobility. In 1139, Bernard assisted at the Second Lateran Council, where he denounced the teachings of Peter Abelard. In 1145, Bernard traveled throughout Southern France where his preaching helped to strengthen support against heresy.In his last years he rose from his sickbed and travelled to the Rhineland to defend the Jews against savage persecution.
Bernard of Clairvaux died at the age of 63, after 40 years in the cloister. He was the first Cistercian monk placed on the calendar of saints, and was canonized by Pope Alexander III in 1174. Pope Pius VIII bestowed upon him the title of “Doctor of the Church.” His feast day is commemorated on August 20th.