Page 12, 29th July 1938

29th July 1938
Page 12
Page 12, 29th July 1938 — St. Bernard Of Clairvaux

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Organisations: Council of Pisa, Church of God
Locations: Milan, Jerusalem, Moravia


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St. Bernard Of Clairvaux

(1090-1153) Aug. 20 WE notice with pleasure that-not by design-the Saints we have written of during this month have been founders of two religious orders, the most famous member of a third, and a parish priest.

It is possible for Catholics, especially in England, to know maybe only one among the Church's great Orders because their parish may be entrusted to it : or they may develop an almost sectarian affection for one Order at the expense of the others; or even, for " religious " at , the expense of " secular " priests, as they are inaccurately called: or again, placard a kind of disrespect for " religious " as such.

All this, to me, is as ugly and undignified as it denotes an ignorance of history and a complete failure to appreciate the rich variety of the Church's creations. To be " petted " at the expense of his colleagues must be, I imagine, very unpleasant to any individual priest: a member of a religious order would feel very silly and ashamed did he hear himself flattered because he belonged to it-his personal conviction probably is that he is a very unworthy member of it : and it would seem to him quite grotesque were he told that he was liked because he belonged to the dear X's and not to the Y's: and any religious who spends, say, a weekend with a parish priest, knows very well that he, the visitor, probably has but half the responsibility, anxiety, and gruelling hard work of his host. Therefore, I am glad in conscience to observe that by instinct I have chosen for August, SS. Dominic, AIphonsus, Bernard, and John Baptist Vianney.

Sister Humbe line Bernard had five brothers and one sister, four of whom became " Blessed," including his sister Humbeline, a cheerful soul, who rescued him from a morbid brooding into which he fell when his mother died. He had every advantage: his family was noble; he was witty, sweet-tempered, very good-looking, susceptible and attractive. So difficult did he find chastity , that he began, though waveringly, to think of going to Citeaux, where SS. Robert and Stephen Harding had recently re-established the Benedictine rule with an austerity which caused it to be named "Cistercian." A positive troop of relatives-four of his brothers and afterwards his father-and friends followed him; thirty-one in all. After a while the smallest brother, Nivard, came too. After six month's preparation, they entered at Citeaux in 1112. Remember that these contemplative monks were pioneer agriculturists: Bernard had to pray specially that he might be able to keep pace with the others in their reaping; be maintained that it was the forest oaks and beeches that had taught him the Scriptures: this great lover of personal poverty argued that dirt was a mark of laziness or an affectation (I) and swamps turned everywhere around the Cistercians into orchards, meadows and gardens. New monasteries were founded, and finally Bernard, with twelve other monks, settled in a valley called the Vale of Wormwood, surrounded by a forest which was the haunt of brigands: by the time the monks had finished with it, it had to be called Clairvaux-the Vale of Light, so sunlit had it become.

• Nearly Always Ill

St. Bernard was practically always ill, and because of this, in 1121, he was set to writing and preaching instead of digging: the results were almost embarrassing : church students deserted their bishops to become monks; German gentlemen came to see the monastery, hung up their swords, and took the cowl; monks came trooping from easier-going monasteries and Bernard got into considerable trouble with Cluny ... In 1125 he again seemed at death's door: he dreamed that he was waiting to board a ship; but she stood out to sea and left him. Our lady took his hand and he was cured. Thenceforward, everybody turned to him for advice-" From his solitude he governed all the churches of the West" . . . He wrote that he had no power to stop the discordant crowd of applicants from visiting him: " I cannot refuse to see them; they do not leave me even the time to pray . . ."

This may be why he wrote to his disciple, the Cistercian Bernard of Pisa, when he became Pope in 1142, as Eugenius III, that he must never fail in " consideration," that is, in prayer, self-examination and meditation, lest, owing to multiplicity of business, he fall into forgetfulness of God and "hardness of heart "; if the Pope fails, the whole Church of God is involved . . . It must be acknowledged that Bernard wrote to the Holy See with a freedom which to us is startling.

Anti-Pope Eugenius was afterwards beatified: but Bernard was caught up into a more cruel situation when, in 1130, Innocent II was elected to succeed Honorius II, but a faction elected Peter de Leone as anti-pope under the name of Anacletus. Bernard attended a council; ensured the adhesion of Louis of France to Innocent; persuaded Henry I of England to take the right side; and the Emperor Lothair to do the same without reservations. Innocent, having held a council at Rheims, visited Clairvaux out of gratitude; the papal retinue ate bread made of unsifted flour and herbs, as the monks did; the Pope was allowed " one small fish," which, says the chronicler, the others were allowed to " admire from a distance . . ."

Innocent kept Bernard with him; the Saint reconciled Genoa to Innocent and was then sent as papal legate to pacify similar troubles in Germany; then he assisted at the Council of Pisa (whence he removed that Canon Bernard who became Pope Eugenius III, and made him stoker at Clairvaux) and finally reconciled Milan both with the Pope and with the Emperor. This is enough as sample of Bernard's activities on behalf of the genuine Pope: After Innocent's death (1138) another antipope was elected; but those activities had achieved their aim, and the new anti-pope surrendered to the real one.

Stiff Doctrine Bernard was constantly assisting at synods, largely in view of the reform of the clergy, the episcopate included. His doctrine was undoubtedly stiff; he maintamed that no cleric could use the goods of the Church for anything beyond his minimum sustenance : " what goes beyond bare nourishment and simple plain clothing, is sacrilege and theft." You would say that he turned a counsel into a command; still, there are many who do remember, and observe, the counsel. Meanwhile he himself refused five times a call to the episcopate.

This extraordinary man Was also occupied with theology, chiefly because of heresies, in particular those of Arnold of Brescia, of Peter Abaelard (who really was rationalist), and of the Albigensians, with whom his success was but temporary; Se Dominic had to be waited for.

He was, too, in active relation with these islands-about 1139 he made friends with St. Malachy, who, nine years later, died in his arms, and in 1142 the first Cistercian monastery was founded in Ireland-in ten years, six daughter houses had been opened. At the same time, Bernard was active in the matter of the succession to the See of YOrk which concerns St. William rather than our own subject.

Crusade I quoted the words: " Bernard governed the churches of the West "; another has

written: " Bernard carried the twelfth cen tury on his shoulders." And that century implied also the East. I am half glad that I have no space to detail Bernard's connection with C:rusades, so tragic do I feel the

Christian share in them to have been so enduring in its disastrous results has it been even to our day.

Anyhow, in 1144, the Seljuk Turks captured Edessa, a capital city in the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem : King Louis the Young declared he would lead a crusade: the Pope commissioned Bernard to preach it. He wrote to the peoples of Denmark, England, Italy, Sicily, Spain, Poland, Moravia, Bavaria, Bohemia, and in'Germany the Emperor Conrad III accepted the cross from him.

Owing to Greek imperial treachery, and the plunderous, lustful behaviour of so many of the Christian armies, the crusade was an unmitigated tragedy: this did not prevent a whole series of royalties (e.g., the King of Sardinia) becoming monks at Clairvaux, nor, would you believe it, did it prevent Bernard beginning to organise another, better, crusade in 1150, which he was indeed elected to lead.

But the end had approached. The Emperor died; so did the Pope: Bernard, after a final expedition in which he made peace between I.orraine and Metz, entered on his last illness, having spoken the only sentence of his in which I seem to see exhaustion. " The Saints prayed for death out of desire for seeing Christ. I am forced hence by scandals and evils. I confess myself overcome by the storm, and through cowardice." But even the strongest know that mood : nor was his actual death, in 1153, a coward's. Twenty years later he was canonised.

Beginning of an Age I should need a whole essay to describe St. Bernard's " psychology ": enough to say, here, that he, as it were, ended the period of the Christian Fathers, for his method was theirs. Yet his spirit was such as to make him also the beginning of the " Middle Ages " (of course all such statements are rough and clumsy), because of the exquisite tenderness that transfuses his writings which could be, when needed, so

severe and indeed fierce. His was the gentlest love for the Child Jesus, for Mary, for the Suffering Humanity of Christ. And I ask myself whether those hundreds of our young men who are christened " Bernard" have the slightest idea of what a colossus their patron was.

There are many " lives " of him, Catholic and otherwise which recognise his spiritual and social gianthood. But for popular purposes, we need a " life " written as, perhaps, Mrs. Yeo might write it: the strictly theological and political parts would have to be vividly but very briefly indicated: the humanity, yet the more-thanEuropean super-eminence of Bernard would have to be made lightning-clear. " Stab

my spirit wide awake."

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