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St. Bernard of Clairvaux

AUGUST 20 is the traditional memorial of ST. BERNARD (+1153). Bernard is known as one of the preeminent Doctors of the Church.

In the early Middle Ages, Christianity was almost exclusively the sacraments. Bernard, as a young student, studied literature and grew to see Jesus, and His mother Mary, as people who led model lives that should be imitated. This reasoning became the basis of his approach to “immediate faith”, a personally held faith, not a faith based on reasoning.

He felt the call of God to the monastic life and, with his personal faith that he spoke of, he encouraged thirty men to come with him to Citeaux, a community of reformed Benedictines. He progressed so quickly that only three years later, Bernard and twelve other monks moved to another diocese to found a new house, which became the famous Clairvaux. This small monastery grew tremendously, attracting 130 more men, due to his acknowledged holiness. Within four years, monks were sent out to found more houses, three in four years.

Bernard, not yet thirty, was present at the first general chapter of the order, contributing to the regulations of the order. His written works include homilies and an Apology on the order’s regulations.

During the schism which divided Europe between two popes for years, Bernard negotiated between rival nobility and rival towns to support only one pope and get back to peace.

In 1146, Bernard was asked to preach for the Second Crusade, a second attempt to get Christians to the Holy Land. He toured France and Germany, getting men to volunteer. But two things happened that were not planned for: His preaching was reinterpreted by a fanatical French monk named Radulphe, inspiring massacres of Jews. This new crusade attracted royalty, and many were killed. By 1149, the crusade was a failure and Bernard was seen as solely responsible for its failure. He never recovered completely.

As Bernard’s health failed, Pope Eugenius III, his dearest friend and confident, died. He died the same year, August 20, 1153.

"Certainly because among other things there is one thing which especially disturbs the Holy Church, namely, false repentance, we warn our confreres and priests lest by false repentance the souls of the laity are allowed to be deceived and to be drawn into hell."

Lateran Council II, 1139


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