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BERNARD, SAINT

certain propositions of the scholastic theologian Gilbert de la Porrée (q.v.). From whatever cause—whether the growing jealousy of the cardinals, or the loss of prestige owing to the rumoured failure of the crusade, the success of which he had so confidently predicted—Bernard’s influence, hitherto so ruinous to those suspected of heterodoxy, on this occasion failed of its full effect. On the news of the full extent of the disaster that had overtaken the crusaders, an effort was made to retrieve it by organizing another expedition. At the invitation of Suger, abbot of St Denis, now the virtual ruler of France, Bernard attended the meeting of Chartres convened for this purpose, where he himself was elected to conduct the new crusade, the choice being confirmed by the pope. He was saved from this task, for which he was physically and constitutionally unfit, by the intervention of the Cistercian abbots, who forbade him to undertake it.

Bernard was now ageing, broken by his austerities and by ceaseless work, and saddened by the loss of several of his early friends. But his intellectual energy remained undimmed. He continued to take an active interest in ecclesiastical affairs, and his last work, the De Consideratione, shows no sign of failing power. He died on the 20th of August 1153.

The greatness of St Bernard lay not in the qualities of his intellect, but of his character. Intellectually he was the child of his age, inferior to those subtle minds whom the world, fired by his contagious zeal, conspired to crush. Morally he was their superior; and in this moral superiority lay the secret of his power. The age recognized in him the embodiment of its ideal: that of medieval monasticism at its highest development. The world had no meaning for him save as a place of banishment and trial, in which men are but “strangers and pilgrims” (Serm. i., Epiph. n. 1; Serm. vii., Lent. n. 1); the way of grace, back to the lost inheritance, had been marked out once for all, and the function of theology was but to maintain the landmarks inherited from the past. With the subtleties of the schools he had no sympathy, and the dialectics of the schoolmen quavered into silence before his terrible invective. Yet, within the limits of his mental horizon, Bernard’s vision was clear enough. His very life proves with what merciless logic he followed out the principles of the Christian faith as he conceived it; and it is impossible to say that he conceived it amiss. For all his overmastering zeal he was by nature neither a bigot nor a persecutor. Even when he was preaching the crusade he interfered at Mainz to stop the persecution of the Jews, stirred up by the monk Radulf. As for heretics, “the little foxes that spoil the vines,” these “should be taken, not by force of arms, but by force of argument,” though, if any heretic refused to be thus taken, he considered “that he should be driven away, or even a restraint put upon his liberty, rather than that he should be allowed to spoil the vines” (Serm. lxiv.). He was evidently troubled by the mob violence which made the heretics “martyrs to their unbelief.” He approved the zeal of the people, but could not advise the imitation of their action, “because faith is to be produced by persuasion, not imposed by force”; adding, however, in the true spirit of his age and of his church, “it would without doubt be better that they should be coerced by the sword than that they should be allowed to draw away many other persons into their error.” Finally, oblivious of the precedent of the Pharisees, he ascribes the steadfastness of these “dogs” in facing death to the power of the devil (Serm. lxvi. on Canticles ii. 15).

This is Bernard at his worst. At his best—and, fortunately, this is what is mainly characteristic of the man and his writings—he displays a nobility of nature, a wise charity and tenderness in his dealings with others, and a genuine humility, with no touch of servility, that make him one of the most complete exponents of the Christian life. His broadly Christian character is, indeed, witnessed to by the enduring quality of his influence. The author of the Imitatio drew inspiration from his writings; the reformers saw in him a medieval champion of their favourite doctrine of the supremacy of the divine grace; his works, down to the present day, have been reprinted in countless editions. This is perhaps due to the fact that the chief fountain of his own inspiration was the Bible. He was saturated in its language and in its spirit; and though he read it, as might be expected, uncritically, and interpreted its plain meanings allegorically—as the fashion of the day was—it saved him from the grosser aberrations of medieval Catholicism. He accepted the teaching of the church as to the reverence due to our Lady and the saints, and on feast-days and festivals these receive their due meed in his sermons; but in his letters and sermons their names are at other times seldom invoked. They were overshadowed completely in his mind by his idea of the grace of God and the moral splendour of Christ; “from Him do the Saints derive the odour of sanctity; from Him also do they shine as lights” (Ep. 464).

The cause of Bernard’s extraordinary popular success as a preacher can only imperfectly be judged by the sermons that survive. These were all delivered in Latin, evidently to congregations more or less on his own intellectual level. Like his letters, they are full of quotations from and reference to the Bible, and they have all the qualities likely to appeal to men of culture at all times. “Bernard,” wrote Erasmus in his Art of Preaching, “is an eloquent preacher, much more by nature than by art; he is full of charm and vivacity and knows how to reach and move the affections.” The same is true of the letters and to an even more striking degree. They are written on a large variety of subjects, great and small, to people of the most diverse stations and types; and they help us to understand the adaptable nature of the man, which enabled him to appeal as successfully to the unlearned as to the learned.

Bernard’s works fall into three categories:—(1) Letters, of which over five hundred have been preserved, of great interest and value for the history of the period. (2) Treatises: (a) dogmatic and polemical, De gratia el libero arbitrio, written about 1127, and following closely the lines laid down by St Augustine; De baptismo aliisque quaestionibus ad mag. Hugonem de S. Victore; Contra quaedam capitala errorum Abaelardi ad Innocentem II. (in justification of the action of the synod of Sens); (b) ascetic and mystical, De gradibus humilitatis et superbiae, his first work, written perhaps about 1121; De diligendo Deo (about 1126); De conversione ad clericos, an address to candidates for the priesthood; De Consideratione, Bernard’s last work, written about 1148 at the pope’s request for the edification and guidance of Eugenius III.; (c) about monasticism, Apologia ad Guilelmum, written about 1127 to William, abbot of St Thierry; De laude novae militiae ad milites templi (c. 1132-1136); De precepto et dispensatione, an answer to various questions on monastic conduct and discipline addressed to him by the monks of St Peter at Chartres (some time before 1143); (d) on ecclesiastical government, De moribus et officio episcoporum, written about 1126 for Henry, bishop of Sens; the De Consideratione mentioned above; (e) a biography, De vita et rebus gestis S. Malachiae, Hiberniae episcopi, written at the request of the Irish abbot Congan and with the aid of materials supplied by him; it is of importance for the ecclesiastical history of Ireland in the 12th century; (f) sermons—divided into Sermones de tempore; de sanctis; de diversis; and eighty-six sermons, in Cantica Canticorum, an allegorical and mystical exposition of the Song of Solomon; (g) hymns. Many hymns ascribed to Bernard survive, e.g. Jesu dulcis memoria, Jesus rex admirabilis. Jesu decus angelicum, Salve caput cruentatum. Of these the three first are included in the Roman breviary. Many have been translated and are used in Protestant churches.

St Bernard’s works were first published in anything like a complete edition at Paris in 1508, under the title Seraphica melliflui devotique doctoris S. Bernardi scripta, edited by André Bocard; the first really critical and complete edition is that of Dom J. Mabillon Sancti Bernardi opp. &c. (Paris, 1667, improved and enlarged in 1690, and again, by Massuet and Texier, in 1719), reprinted by J. P. Migne, Patrolog. lat. (Paris, 1859). There is an English translation of Mabillon’s edition, including, however, only the letters and the sermons on the Song of Songs, with the biographical and other prefaces, by Samuel J. Eales (4 vols., London, 1889-1895). See further Leopold Janauschek,