August 20

St. Bernard of Clairvaux

St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Early Life

Bernard was born in the year 1090 on the outskirts of Dijon in Burgundyto a family of the highest nobility. His parents were TescelindeFontaine, Lord of Fontaine-Les-Dijon and Alethe De Montbard. They raisedhim well so that he would follow in their footsteps and be a man ofvirtue. Bernard’s mother played a major role in molding his character.When his mother died in 1107, that was the turning point for Bernard whostarted his long road to complete conversion to Christianity.

After seeking the guidance of Stephen Harding, the abbot of Citeaux,Bernard made up his mind to join the small community called theCistercians. The order had been established in the year 1098 with amission to restore Benedictine monasticism to a more primitive andaustere state. Bernard expressed great enthusiasm in the order. Hemanaged to convince his brothers and 25 other people to join him atCiteaux in the year 1112.

Bernard was a radical Christian who fasted and deprived himself ofsleep. His physical health suffered as he developed different illnessessuch as anemia, migraines, gastritis and hypertension. He endured allthese challenges and focused on his spiritual life with a dedicationthat saw him being appointed abbot of the Cistercian monastery atClairvaux.

As a leader, his strict standards were upheld amidst complaints frommonks who felt that he was too radical. Despite these complaints, themonastery prospered under his leadership. By the year 1118 Clairvauxestablished its first daughter house, which increased to 100 monasteriesin Bernard’s lifetime.

Influence to the World

Bernard was instrumental in re-emphasizing the importance of LectioDivina and contemplation for monks. Bernard had observed that whenLectio Divina was neglected, monasticism suffered. He stated that peoplewho are their own spiritual directors have fools for disciples.

As Bernard’s influence and responsibilities increased, he had cordialrelationships with other orders. These orders included the Carthusiansand the Premonstratensians. He loved to be close to the seat of powerand was an advisor to five popes.

Bernard wrote the Knights Templar for men who took monastic vows andswore to defend the Holy Land militarily. However, Peter Abelard, aParis theologian criticised the way Bernard preached the gospel ofChrist. This did not sit well with Bernard who wrote a letter to thePope complaining about the way Abelard was criticising him. PopeInnocent III, an ally of Bernard, condemned Abelard’s teaching andforced him to retire to a monastery. The pope owed his position toBernard’s public support.

The political influence of Bernard was further enhanced when his formerpupil was elected to the position of Pope Eugenius III. Bernarddescribed the pope as a vicar of Christ who presided over all people.The influence he had in Eugenius III’s reign resulted in people sayingthat Bernard is pope, not Eugenius.

Eugenius enlisted Bernard as the chief promoter of the Second Crusade.Bernard travelled all over Europe drumming up support for the crusade.He encouraged people to put Jesus Christ first over anything else.However, the crusade was a disaster because effective leadership waslacking. This negatively affected Bernard’s reputation. He sent anapology to the Pope, and it is inserted in the second part of his “Bookof Considerations”. The excuse he gives is that the sins of thecrusaders were the cause of their misfortunes and failures.

Date of Death

Bernard died on 20 August 1153 aged 63, after 40 years of monastic life.He was buried at Clairvaux Abbey. His Feast Day is celebrated on August20.

Canonization and Patronage

Bernard was canonised on 18 January 1174 in Rome, by Pope Alexander III.In 1923 Pope Pius XI confirmed Bernard as the patron saint of the Alps.He is also a patron of beekeepers and candlemakers.

5 Interesting Facts About St. Bernard of Clairvaux

  1. In 1792 the French revolution government transferred Bernard’s
    remains to Troyes Cathedral from Clairvaux Abbey.
  2. He rallied soldiers to kill Muslims.
  3. He founded 163 monasteries in different parts of Europe.
  4. His Feast Day is celebrated on August 20.
  5. Bernard was sick after following a strict fasting routine and
    depriving himself of sleep.

Prayer to St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Heavenly Father,Saint Bernard was filled with zeal for Your houseand was a radiant light in Your Church.By his prayersmay we be filled with his spirit of zealand walk always as children of light.Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,who lives and reigns with Youin the unity of the Holy Spirit,one God, for ever and ever.Amen.