Saint Bernard of Clairvaux: An Influential Monastic Reformer and Theologian
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, also known as Bernard of Fontaine, was born in 1090 into a noble family in Fontaine-lès-Dijon, France. He became one of the most important figures of his time, playing a key role in monastic reform and twelfth-century theology. His life and legacy continue to influence Christian spirituality.
Relic of Saint Bernard at Relics.es
Youth and monastic vocation of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux
Bernard comes from a noble family and he received a quality education. However, from an early age, he felt drawn to a life of devotion and spiritual research. Influenced by the Christian faith and the teachings of the Church, he nurtured an ardent desire to devote himself entirely to God.
At the age of 22, Bernard made a radical choice. He decides to give up a promising career in the world and follow the path of monastic life. He entered the monastery of Cîteaux in 1112. Cîteaux was a monastic community newly founded by Robert de Molesme, whose aim was to return to a stricter observance of the rule of Saint Benedict.
As soon as he arrived in Cîteaux, Bernard distinguished himself by his piety, his fervor and his exemplary discipline. He devotes himself to prayer, the study of the Scriptures and the practice of monastic virtues such as humility, obedience and poverty. His contemplative and austere life, marked by long periods of fasting and vigil, brought him closer to God and allowed him to cultivate a deep mystical union with the divine.
In 1115, Bernard was sent with a group of monks to found a new monastery at Clairvaux, located in a wooded valley in Champagne, France. He was appointed abbot of this monastery. Under his direction, Clairvaux quickly became a flourishing spiritual center and a model of monastic life. The community grew in number and fame, attracting vocations from all over Europe.
The monastic reform undertaken by Bernard is based on a vision of monastic life centered on simplicity, asceticism and the search for God in contemplation. It promotes strict observance of Benedictine rule, emphasizing prayer, manual labor and community life. It also encourages the practice of lectio divina, a method of meditation and scripture study to nurture spiritual life.
Bernard's reputation as an exemplary monk and reformer spread rapidly. He is called upon to give spiritual advice and teachings in many monasteries and religious institutions. His spiritual depth and his theological erudition make him a respected and sought-after figure.
The influence of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux
Monastic reform : As founder and abbot of the monastery of Clairvaux, Bernard played a vital role in the reform of the monastic order. His rigorous and spiritual approach to monastic life attracted many disciples and led to the establishment of many other Cistercian monasteries in Europe. His ideal of simplicity, discipline and deep prayer significantly influenced monastic practice and helped revitalize monastic commitment at the time.
Theology and spirituality : Bernard's theological writings, characterized by their depth and simplicity, had a major influence on theological thought of his time and of the following centuries. His treatises on grace, contemplation, and the love of God have been widely studied and have helped shape Christian spirituality. Bernard also promoted devotion to the Virgin Mary, notably through his famous treatise "De la Praise de la Nouvelle Chevalerie". His vision of God's love and contemplation has inspired many spiritual and mystical seekers.
Political and diplomatic role : Bernard was called upon by many sovereigns and political leaders for his advice and mediation in the conflicts of his time. He played a crucial role in the pacification of France, England and Scotland, as well as in resolving disputes between princes and kings. His moral authority and his wisdom have made him a respected and heard voice.
Promoting the Second Crusade : Bernard also played an important role in promoting the Second Crusade, a military effort to reclaim the Holy Land. His fiery preaching encouraged many knights and nobles to take up the cross. Although the crusade itself was a failure, Bernard's influence in promoting it was significant.
Literature and culture : Bernard's erudition and writing have also left a mark in the field of literature and culture. His writings were widely disseminated and studied, and they influenced other medieval writers and thinkers. His style of writing, marked by clarity and eloquence, was admired and imitated by many contemporaries.
Theology and writings of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux
Bernard was not only a monastic reformer, but also a prolific theologian. His writings had a lasting influence on Christian theology. Among his most famous works are "Of Grace and Free Will", where he discusses the issue of divine grace and the role of human will, and "Sermons on the Song of Songs", a collection of sermons deeply spiritual about the love of God.
Here is a detailed overview of his theology and writings.
The love of God and contemplation : Bernard's theology is centered on the love of God and mystical contemplation. He sees divine love as the engine of spiritual life and stresses the importance of union with God through prayer and contemplation. His writings on the love of God, such as "Treatise on the Love of God" and "The Degrees of Love", express his deep understanding of the mystical experience and the search for union with God.
Grace and Free Will : Another central aspect of Bernard's theology is the relationship between divine grace and human free will. He teaches that divine grace is essential for the transformation of the soul and for attaining spiritual perfection. However, he also insists on the need for active human cooperation with the grace of God. His treatise "On Grace and Free Will" explores these complex theological issues and seeks to find a balance between divine grace and human responsibility.
Mariology : Bernard is also known for his devotion to the Virgin Mary. He wrote several treatises on the Virgin Mary, notably "On the Praise of the New Chivalry" and "The Praises of the Virgin Mother". He views Mary as the "gateway to heaven" and encourages Marian devotion, emphasizing her unique role in God's plan of salvation.
Sermons and sermons : Bernard's sermons are among his best known and most influential writings. His preaching, often based on biblical texts, was renowned for its eloquence and spiritual power. Sermons on the Song of Songs figure prominently in his corpus and reflect his deep understanding of God's love and mystical union with the divine.
Correspondence : Bernard was an eminent letter writer, and his extensive correspondence offers insight into his theological thought, pastoral concerns, and spiritual wisdom. His letters to people from all walks of life, including kings, popes and disciples, testify to his pastoral concern and his desire to guide others on the path of spiritual life.
Tomb and reliquary of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux
The tomb of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux is located in the abbey church of Clairvaux Abbey, France. It is adorned with a magnificent reliquary in the form of a stone sarcophagus, which houses his relics . The tomb is a place of pilgrimage and prayer for the faithful who come to honor the memory of Saint Bernard.
Bernard was also involved in the theological debates of his time, particularly in the condemnation of the Albigensian heresy and the defense of Catholic doctrine. He participated in several councils and used his rhetorical talents to preach and teach the Christian faith.