Feast Day: August 20
Born in Burgundy, France, of a noble family, Bernard entered the abbey at Citeaux at the age of 23 taking with him thirty friends and relatives. This led to a revival of the Cistercian Order, and after three years Bernard became abbot at Clairvaux, a daughter house of Citeaux. But his life was not to be lived exclusively in the cloister.
Bernard lived during the twelfth-century Renaissance. This was an era of great flowering in music and poetry, as well as Gothic art and architecture. It was the time of the rise of Europe’s first universities, the age of the Crusades, and the birth of military orders such as the Knights Templars. And it was the time when devotion to the Blessed Mother became nearly universal throughout Western Christendom.
Bernard was an enthusiastic participant in all of these new movements. Bernard was truly the spiritual father of all Christendom in the first half of the twelfth century. He founded some sixty monasteries from Spain to Syria and from Sicily to Sweden, wrote many powerful sermons and treatises, and guided popes and kings, bishops and common folk. Because of him, the twelfth century is sometimes called the “Bernardine period.”
Bernard was completely dedicated to the primacy of the Roman See. It was Bernard who intervened in a full-blown schism and settled it in favor of the Roman pontiff against the antipope. Bernard was employed frequently as a peacemaker and venerated as much for his doctrine and interior life as for his numerous miracles. His literary output was impressive, comprising a treatise on grace and free will, the theology of Christian holiness, a commentary on the “Song of Songs,” and a treatise on the love of God. This saint knew how to combat the proponents of false spirituality, who are often more dangerous than the declared heretic.
The Holy See prevailed on Bernard to preach the Second Crusade throughout Europe. His eloquence was so overwhelming that a great army was assembled and the success of the crusade seemed assured. The ideals of the men and their leaders, however, were not those of Abbot Bernard, and the project ended as a complete military and moral disaster. Bernard felt responsible in some way for the degenerative effects of the crusade. This heavy burden possibly hastened his death.
St. Bernard had a great appreciation for friendship. He once repeated the words of Job: “He who does not feel affection for his own friend has lost the fear of God.” This Cistercian monk and devoted son of Mary teaches us how to approach God and neighbor along the pathway of love.
“There are those who seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge; that is curiosity. There are those who seek knowledge to be known by others; that is vanity. There are those who seek knowledge in order to serve; that is love.” – St. Bernard
St. Bernard, pray for us!
Craughwell, Thomas J. “Saints Preserved-An Encyclopedia of Relics.” New York, NY: Image Books, 2011.
Foley, Leonard, O.F.M., and Pat McCloskey, O.F.M. “Saint of the Day-Updated and Expanded.” Cincinnati: Franciscan Media, 2013.
Lodi, Enzo. “Saints of the Roman Calendar-Updated and Revised Edition.” New York: Alba House, 2012.