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Chapter 11

CHAPTER XI: ST. BERNARD (AD 1091-1153) PART I

St. Bernard was mentioned a little way back (p 209), when we were
speaking of the Cistercian order. But I must now tell you something
more specially about him; for Bernard was not only famous for his
piety and for his eloquent speech, but by means of these he gained
such power and influence that he was able to direct the course of
things in the Church in such a way as no other man ever did.

Bernard, then, was born near Dijon, in Burgundy, in the year 1091.
His father was a knight; his mother, Aletha, was a very religious
woman, who watched carefully over his childhood, and prayed
earnestly and often that he might be kept from the dangers of an
evil world. As Bernard was passing from boyhood to youth, the good
Aletha died. We are told that even to her last breath she joined in
the prayers and psalm-singing of the clergy who stood round her bed;
and he afterwards fancied that she appeared to him in visions,
warning him lest he should run off in pursuit of worldly learning so
as to forget the importance of religion above all things.

After a time, Bernard was led to resolve on becoming a monk. But
before doing so he contrived to bring his father, his uncle, his
five brothers, and his sister to the same mind, and when he asked
leave to enter the Cistercian order, it was at the head of a party
of more than thirty. It is said that, as they were setting out, the
eldest brother saw the youngest at play, and told him that all the
family property would now fall to him. "Is it heaven for you, and
earth for me?" said the boy; "that is not a fair division;" and he
followed Bernard with the rest.

We have seen that, although the Cistercian order had been founded
some years, people were afraid to join it because the rule was so
strict (p 209). But the example of Bernard and his companions had a
great effect, and so many others were thus led to enter the order,
that the mother-monastery was far too small to hold them. Bernard
was chosen to be head of one of the swarms which went forth from
Citeaux. The name of his new monastery was Clairvaux, which means
"The Bright Valley." When he and his party first settled there, they
had to bear terrible hardships. They suffered from cold and from
want of clothing. For a time they had to feed on porridge made of
beech-leaves; and even when the worst distress was over, the
plainness and poverty of their way of living astonished all who saw
it.

Bernard himself went so far in mortification that he made himself
very ill, and would most likely have died, if a bishop, who was his
friend, had not stepped in and taken care of him for a time. Bernard
afterwards understood that he had been wrong in carrying things so
far; but the people who saw how he had worn himself down by fasting
and frequent prayers were willing to let themselves be led to
anything that so saintly a man might recommend to them. It was even
believed that he had the gift of doing miracles; and this added much
to the admiration which he raised wherever he went.

Perhaps there never was a man who had greater influence than
Bernard; for, although he did not rise to be anything more than
Abbot of Clairvaux, and refused all higher offices, he was able, by
the power of his speech and by the fame of his saintliness, to turn
kings and princes, popes and emperors, and even whole assemblies of
men in any way that he pleased. When two popes had been chosen in
opposition to each other, Bernard was able to draw all the chief
princes of Christendom into siding with that pope whose cause he
had taken up; and when the other pope's successor had been brought
so low that he could carry on his claims no longer, he went to
Bernard, entreating him to plead for him with the successful pope,
Innocent II, and was led by the abbot to throw himself humbly as a
penitent at Innocent's feet.

Some years after this, one of Bernard's old pupils was chosen as
pope, and took the name of Eugenius II. Eugenius was much under the
direction of his old master, and Bernard, like a true friend, wrote
a book "On Consideration," which he sent to Eugenius, showing him
the chief faults which were in the Roman Church, and earnestly
exhorting the pope to reform them.

PART II

Bernard was even the chief means of getting up a new crusade. When
tidings came from the East that the Christians in those parts had
suffered heavy losses (AD 1145), he travelled over a great part of
France and along the river Rhine in order to enlist people for the
holy war. He gathered meetings, at which he spoke in such a way as
to move all hearts, and stirred up his hearers to such an eagerness
for crusading that they even tore the clothes off his back in order
to divide them into little bits, which might serve as crusaders'
badges. And he drew in the emperor Conrad and king Lewis VII of
France, besides a number of smaller princes, to join the expedition,
although it was so hard to persuade Conrad, that, when at last he
was brought over, it was regarded as a miracle.

It had been found, at the time of the first crusade, that many
people were disposed to fall on the Jews of their own neighbourhood,
as being enemies of Christ no less than the Mahometans of the Holy
Land, and the same was repeated now. But Bernard strongly set his
face against this kind of cruelty, and was not only the means of
saving the lives of many Jews, but brought the chief preacher of the
persecution to own with sorrow and shame that he had been utterly
wrong.

Although, however, a vast army was raised for the recovery of the
Holy Land, and although both the emperor and the French king went at
the head of it, nothing came of the crusade except that vast numbers
of lives were sacrificed without any gain; and even Bernard's great
fame as a saint was not enough to protect him from blame on account
of the part which he had taken in getting up this unfortunate
attempt.

These were some of the most remarkable things in which Bernard's
command over men's minds was shown; and he was able also to get the
better of some persons who taught wrong or doubtful opinions, even
although they may have been men of sharper wits and of greater
learning than himself.

In short, Bernard was the leading man of his age. No doubt he
believed many things which we should think superstitious or
altogether wrong; and in his conduct we cannot help noticing some
tokens of human frailty--especially a jealous love of the power and
influence which he had gained. But, although he was not without his
defects, we cannot fail to see in him an honest, hearty, and
laborious servant of God, and we shall not wish to grudge him the
title of saint, which was granted to him by a pope in 1173, and has
ever since been commonly attached to his name. Bernard died in 1153.