SAINT BERNARD DE CLAIRVAUX (1090-1153), abbot and Doctor of the Church – Patron saint of the Cistercian Order, candlemakers and beekeepers
Today, the universal Church honors Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, a Doctor of the Church, due mainly to his many writings and sermons which greatly influenced Europe during the 12th century, and is also known for his efforts which helped to avoid a schism in the Church in the year 1130.
Bernard was born into French nobility in the year 1090 at Fontaines-les-Dijon in the Burgundy region of France. Bernard was eighteen years old when his mother died. And at the age of twenty-two, being well-educated and passionate about his faith, and also fearing the ways of the world, he convinced four of his brothers, an uncle and 25 friends to join the Order of Cistercians at the abbey in Cîteaux; his father and another brother also joined the Order soon after.
Three years later, the abbot at Cîteaux sent the young Bernard, at the head of a band of twelve monks, to found a new monastery at the Vallée d’Absinthe, or Valley of Bitterness, in the Diocese of Langres. On June 25, 1115, Bernard named the abbey Claire Vallée, or Clairvaux (Valley of Light), and, from that point on, the names of Bernard and Clairvaux became inseparable. Bernard remained abbot at Clairvaux for the remainder of his life.
His ability as arbitrator and counselor became widely known. More and more, he was lured away from the monastery to settle long-standing disputes. Soon, it was Bernard himself who intervened in a full-blown schism and settled it in favor of the Roman pontiff, Pope Innocent II, against the antipope, Anacletus II, who contested the papal election in 1130. It was to both the Church and Europe that Bernard proved the canonical validity of the election and the moral character and merits of Pope Innocent, thus ending a schism that would have done great harm to the Church.
As both arbitrator and a preacher of God’s Truth, Bernard was renowned for his eloquence, preaching throughout France, Italy and Germany. Also, as abbot, the number of Cistercian monks continued to grow until his own abbey became overcrowded. He sent them out to new abbeys which he founded in Germany, Sweden, England, Ireland, Portugal, Switzerland, and Italy – numbering in total 163 monasteries throughout Europe.
Throughout Bernard’s lifetime, he wrote many theological and spiritual works, including sermons on the “Canticle of Canticles” (a Book of the Old Testament also called the “Song of Songs”). He was also well-known for his Marian devotion, especially in using and promoting the “Memorare” prayer.
Bernard died in his abbey at Clairvaux on August 20, 1153. He was canonized a saint in 1174 by Pope Alexander III and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1830 by Pope Pius VIII.
We commemorate his feastday on August 20.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, catholicculture.org and newadvent.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Proper for Saint Bernard de Clairvaux)
“Heavenly Father, Saint Bernard was filled with zeal for Your House and was a radiant light in Your Church. By his prayers, may we be filled with this spirit of zeal and walk always as children of light.
“We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”