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Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

“What we love we shall grow to resemble.”

Saint Bernard was a Burgundian abbot and major leader in revitalizing Benedictine monasticism through the Cistercian Order. He founded Clairvaux Abbey, traced the outlines of the Rule of the Knights Templar and is a Doctor of the Church.

Saint Bernard came from a wealthy and noble family - his father, Tescelin de Fontaine was Lord of Fontaine-les-Dijon and his mother Alethe de Montbard likewise came from a well respected family. He was born around the year 1090 in Fontaine-les-Dijon, Burgundy, Kingdom of France and was the third of seven children total. As a child he developed a special devotion to the Virgin Mary and took a keen interest in literature and rhetoric. At ninteen his mother died and he began to consider a life of solitude and prayer. This consideration pushed him into joining a group led by Robert of Molesme at Citeaux Abbey who lived quite literally according to the Rule of Saint Benedict.

Three years after joining he was sent to found a new house at Vallee d'Absinthe and the house would become named Claire Vallee or Clairvaux on June 25th, 1115. Because the Abbey was so austere, Saint Bernard fell very ill. His faith became the greatest persuader for others to join and soon his father all of his brothers joined the Monastery. Only his sister, Humbeline stayed in the secular world but would later take the veil in the Benedictine nunnery of Jully-les-Nonnains.

“A saint is not someone who never sins, but one who sins less and less frequently and gets up more and more quickly.” - Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

Saint Bernard participated at the Council of Troyes, a council that hoped to settle disputes of the Bishops of Paris and regulate other matters of the Church in France. Saint Bernard was made secretary and asked to write several of the synodal statues. It was at the council of Troyes that Saint Bernard wrote a rule for the Knights Templar - a Rule that would soon become the ideal for Christian nobility. In his book Liber ad milities dempli de laude novae militiae (Book to the Knights of the Temple, in praise of the new knighthood) Saint Bernard praised the group and their efforts.

“Qui me amat, amet et canem meum. (Who loves me will love my dog also.)” - Saint Bernard

During the schism of 1130, Saint Bernard was a staunch defender of Pope Innocent II and took major steps to intervene for him including travelling along side Pope Innocent to Italy. For the next several years he travelled back forth until spending time at his cloister in Clairvaux where he would write the writings that would eventually gain hi the title of Doctor of the Church.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” - Saint Bernard

Following the Siege of Edessa in which Christen armies had been defeated by the armies of the the Seljuk Turks all of Christendom began to grow alarmed at the growing danger to the Holy Lands. On March 31st, with King Louis VII of France present, Saint Bernard preached to an enormous crowd at the field in Vezelay with one account writing that

His voice rang out across the meadow like a celestial organ

The Second Crusade had begun and it attracted royalty from throughout France. When the Second Crusade failed and caused massacres of Jews throughout the Rhineland, the blame was placed squarely at his feet. Saint Bernard spend the remainder of his life saddened and wrote the second part of his book "Book of Considerations" as a letter and apology to the Pope. It explained how the sins of the crusaders were the cause of their misfortune and failure.

When his fellow monk Sugar died in 1152, Saint Bernard began to understand that his own life would soon be ending as well. In a letter to Pope Eugene III he wrote:

"If there is any precious vase adorning the palace of the King of Kings it is the soul of the venerable Suger".

Saint Bernard died on August 20th, 1153 after 40 years of monastic life. He was buried first at Clairvaux Abbey and moved during the dissolution by French revolutionary forces in 1792 to Troyes Cathedral. In 1830, Saint Bernard was named a Doctor of the Church. Pope Pius XII wrote an encyclical about Saint Bernard named Doctor Mellifluus in which he named him the "Last of the Fathers". Saint Bernard was remembered for his Mariology, especially for the explination of the virginity of Mary, her title of Star of the Sea, and her role as Mediatrix.

“O wretched slaves of Mammon, you cannot glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ while you trust in treasures laid up on earth: you cannot taste and see how gracious the Lord is, while you are hungering for gold. If you have not rejoiced at the thought of His coming, that day will be indeed a day of wrath to you.” - Saint Bernard
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