August 20, 2007
volume 18, no. 232

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux


Crusading Hammer of Heretics


    The twentieth Doctor in chronological order on the Doctors of the Church was a man who turned his back on the world and took over thirty men with him to devote their lives to God. He built monasteries throughout western Europe. He was the confidant of popes and kings, beggars and paupers. He preached the Crusades, never compromising the Truths and Traditions. He was responsible for the revival of the Cistercian Order. This holy and mystic Abbot from France composed one of the most beautiful prayers ever created - the Memorare. He was Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.

    Bernard was born at the castle of Fontaines, in Burgundy near Dijon, in 1090. The grace of his person and the vigor of his intellect filled his parents with the highest hopes, and the world lay bright and smiling before him. But Bernard renounced it forever to join the monks of Citeaux, a few miles distant.He entered the Cistercian abbey in Citeaux, France in 1113, convincing thirty friends and relatives to join him. Four of his brothers and a group of friends, thirty young Christians in all, went when he did to Citeaux, leaving the youngest brother, Nivard, to be the mainstay of his father in his old age. “You will now be heir to everything,” they said to him as they departed. “Yes,” said the boy; “you leave me the earth, and keep Heaven for yourselves; do you consider that fair?” And he too left the world. At length their aged father came also, exchanging wealth and honor for the poverty of a monk in the monastery of Clairvaux, which Bernard with a band of monks founded in the diocese of Langres in 1115.

    One sister alone remained behind; she was married, and loved the world and its pleasures. Splendidly clothed, one day she came to visit Bernard, and he refused to see her. He finally consented to do so, not as her brother but as the minister of Christ. The words he then spoke moved her so deeply that two years later she retired to a convent with her husband’s consent, dying later in the reputation of sanctity.

    Bernard’s holy example attracted so many novices that many other monasteries had to be built. Unsparing for himself, he at first expected too much of his monks, who were disheartened by his severity. Soon perceiving his error, he led them forward to wonderful perfection by the sweetness of his correction and the mildness of his government. Naturally, this influx led to the revival of the Cistercian Order and within three years of becoming a priest, Bernard was sent with twelve others to establish a new monastery at Clairvaux which was to be the daughter house of Citeaux.

    Saint Bernard used to say to those who applied for admission to the monastery, “If you desire to enter here, leave at the threshold the body you have brought with you from the world; here there is room only for your soul.” Every day he asked himself the question: “Why have you come here, Bernard?”

    In spite of his desire to remain secluded, the fame of his sanctity spread far and wide, and many dioceses asked for him as their bishop. This special mission the Sovereign Pontiff had bestowed on him enabled Bernard to found many monasteries in France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Sicily and even Syria. Kings beseeched him to serve as a peacemaker whenever possible and Bernard was revered not only for his holy life, but for his great writings.

    One of the greatest prayers he wrote was the Memorare to Our Lady. He was devoted heart and soul to his Crucified Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The holy Abbot of Clairvaux received many visions and messages through private revelation, one of which was his zeal to help the suffering Christ so that he offered to help Him bear the terrible suffering of the cross. Christ comforted Bernard and inspired him to carry His word and faith to all parts of Europe and the mideast, entreating the saint to defend the true pontiff Pope Innocent II as opposed to the antipope Anaclete II.

    He served loyally the true popes of his time, becoming a close advisor to Pope Innocent's successors Pope Celestine II and Pope Lucius II, the 166th successor of Peter, who was struck by a lethal rock thrown by rioters. Lucius, a peacemaker, had waded into the crowd to quell the violence when he was hi

    Through the help of Lucius' successor Pope Eugenius III, St. Bernard's own former subject, he escaped this dignity. Nonetheless, his retirement was continually invaded. The poor and the weak sought his protection; bishops, kings, and popes applied to him for advice; and at length Blessed Pope Eugenius himself ordered him to preach the Second Crusade. By his fervor, eloquence, and miracles Bernard kindled the enthusiasm of Christendom, and two large armies were organized. Their defeat was only due, said the Saint, to their sins, but many had saved their souls by their dedication to the glory of God.

    Bernard died peacefully on August 20, 1153 five weeks after the death of his pontiff Blessed Eugene. His very precious writings have earned for him the title of the last Father of the Holy Church and one of its most famous Doctors. Along with Saint Anthony of Padua, Bernard was also known as "Hammer of heretics." He was canonized by Pope Alexander IIIin 1174, 21 yearrs after his death in, and was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1830 by Pope Pius VIII.


Note: [editor's bold, brackets and italicized for emphasis] Some of the sources taken from: Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894).




      30 Doctors of the Church
      August 20, 2007