Tag Archives: St Bernard of Clairvaux

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

Saint BernardThe great Saint Bernard of Clairvaux has his feast day today. The Cistercian abbot and priest, preacher and counselor has left a permanent mark on the Church. His teachings reveal the depth of his love for God, particularly the second person of the Trinity. Moreover, he spoke often of God’s gaze upon us, His mercy for creation. We know from experience that God alone can satisfy our human desire; nothing can replace our desire for God and if we try to replace God with something, it will always eave us frustrated and empty.

From the writings of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux we read: “I am myself a Cistercian; do I therefore condemn the Cluniacs? God forbid! On the contrary, I love them, praise them, extol them. . . .If you ask why . . . I did not choose Cluny from the first, I reply that, as the apostle says…: ‘All things are lawful for me, but all things are not profitable for me.’ It is not that Cluny is not holy and just. It is rather that I am an unspiritual man, sold as a slave to sin. I knew that my soul was so weak that a stronger remedy was necessary. Different diseases call for different remedies; the more serious the illness, the more drastic the remedy.”

Three comings of the Lord

The Advent period of the Church in which we are asked to prepare for the coming of the Lord, and there are times we are left without much to ponder. The coming of the Lord, or rather, the comings of the Lord, are not merely about a supernal existence, but there is a incarnational, that is, a concrete, real aspect to the Lord’s presence in our life. But I have to ask, do we really believe this fact of the Christian faith? Perhaps today we ought to consider the words of the great Cistercian Father, Saint Bernard,

“We know there are three comings of the Lord. The third lies between the other two. It is invisible, while the other two are visible. In the first coming he was seen on earth, dwelling among us; he himself testifies that people saw him and hated him. In the final coming all flesh will see the salvation of our God, and they will look on him who they have pierced. The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within themselves and they are saved. In his first coming our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness; in the middle coming he comes in spirit and in power; in the final coming he will be seen in glory and majesty. Because this coming lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last. In the first, Christ was our redemption; in the last he will appear as our life; in this middle coming, he is our rest and consolation.”

The freshness of Saint Bernard

Saint Bernard was the brother of Saint Humbeline. At 22, he and four of his blood brothers with 25 friends, entered the new form of monastic life at Citeaux; at some point later, another brother and his father joined him. The monks at the Abbey of Citeaux were reformed Benedictines. In a short time Bernard became the abbot of Clairvaux with a constituency of nearly 700. One of his spiritual sons became Blessed Eugene III, pope.

Bernard (+1153), Cistercian abbot, saint, and Doctor of the Church, is no easy thinker to face alone. You really do need God’s grace to help you get through his works. Challenging is a good word when thinking of Saint Bernard.

History credits Bernard with the foundation of no fewer than 163 monasteries in his lifetime. When Bernard died, historians labeled the Cistercians as the first true Order in the Church with nearly 343 communities. He singularly did more than any other for the Cistercian order than any.

As one Benedictine nun said of Saint Bernard, he was angry a lot of the time, a brilliant writer even when he nothing to say, at odds with Abelard, condemned for preaching the Second Crusade, and kind to Jews at a time when no one was kind to Jews (we know of a German rabbi saying his community received help and protection from the holy abbot).

Bernard’s love of family, affection for others, and capabilities are well-known, but so are his limitations. One of the power-broker churchmen of the time, Cardinal Haimeric, thought that Bernard was meddling in matters above above his competence. The Cardinal cleverly said, “It is not fitting that noisy and troublesome frogs should come out of their marshes to trouble the Holy See and the cardinals.”

And Bernard’s response, “”Forbid those noisy troublesome frogs to come out of their holes, to leave their marshes . . . Then your friend will no longer be exposed to the accusations of pride and presumption.”

One of the theological positions Bernard held was not holding to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. This doesn’t make Bernard a questionable man of the Church because the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was not defined until the 19th century. And yet, he sang eloquently of the Virgin Mary.

Questions of the parameters of justification John Calvin to quote Bernard in his heretical teaching. Bernard was a solid theologian that led Pope Pius VIII to name him a Doctor of the Church and the “last of the Fathers.”

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

A poetic text for this great liturgical memorial …

The Father’s light of glory has drawn in to itself
The holy Doctor Bernard,
Come, praise with him the Lord!

On earth he spoke of Jesus,
His birth in human flesh,
And found therein a meekness
Which turns our hearts to God.

The mysteries of the Virgin concealed in
Scripture’s word, He opened as a fountain
Of God’s abounding love.

His speech flowed deep with wisdom
As though a mountain lake
Containing saving waters ran down in streams of light.

We ask today assistance to truly
know ourselves, and in our hearts to savor
The presence of the Word.

To Father, Son and Spirit
All praise and honor be,
In truth and love coequal
For all eternity.

Making a home with God

‘My Father and I will come to him’ – that is to say, to the holy of heart – says the Son of God, ‘and we will make our home with him.’ It seems to me that when the psalmist said to God: ‘You make your dwelling in the holy place, you who are Israel’s praise’, he had no other heaven in mind than the hearts of the saints. The Apostle Paul expresses it quite clearly: ‘Christ lives in our hearts through faith’, he tells us. Surely it is no wonder that the Lord Jesus gladly makes his home in such a heaven because, unlike the other heavens, he did not bring it into existence by a mere word of command. He descended into the arena to win it; he laid down his life to redeem it. And so after the battle was won he solemnly declared: ‘This is my resting place for ever and ever; here I have chosen to dwell.’ Blessed indeed is the soul to whom the Lord says: ‘Come, my chosen one, I will set up my throne in you.’


Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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