It is said that Bernard’s mother, Aleth, dedicated her son to God at the moment that he was born and she had him educated at a chapter school of Saint Vorles. Bernard was her third son and whilst she was pregnant, she had a prophetic dream-in the dream a white dog was barking constantly. She went to a Holy Man and asked him to decipher the dream and he told her that the white dog was her son and that he would be a marvellous preacher, that his tongue would heal through his words and would “cure many of the evils that diseased mans’ soul.” Vita Primera
Bernard did indeed become a preacher and like a guard dog he became a defender of the Church against haters and its enemies. He was also a speaker, an orator of sermons on the faith.
He became regarded as a great teacher of the faith, said to be filled with the Holy Spirit, which had been bestowed upon him at his birth. Though he was canonised January 18th 1174, he was regarded by many as being controversial, he was involved in theological debates and conflicts with others such as Peter Abelard whom he accused of heresy and condemned, Bernard wrote a book about this titled ‘The Errors of Abelard’.
He is most commonly known as the Abbot of Clairvaux and spiritual leader of the Cistercian order and being involved in the formation of the Knights of the temple of Solomon, who became known as the Templars.
He was said to have had a variety of spiritual gifts, he was involved with the building of monasteries in many places, he was respected for having looked after the interests of the church, and for bringing sinners back to the spiritual path through his preaching and writing and he was regarded as a man of contemplation who had a connection with the Divine.
Bernard also preached to the people and not just to the monks, the people liked him and he became popular as he talked to the laity about the Glory of God. Bernard led an ascetic life, known for his piety. The Popes he was to serve venerated him for his good works for the church during the schisms that occurred during his life time.
Bernard interpreted and clarified the scriptures for others, especially those who could not read. He had a thorough knowledge of the Bible and would explain God’s Will that was described in the more obscure parts of the book. He constantly thought about the Lord God and Christ and taught that that was the way of a monastic life-to contemplate on spiritual things constantly and to gain dialogue with God.
There are two records of his life, written as a hagiography, they describe the miracles he had performed that deemed him worthy of sainthood and all the holy deeds he had done, the writers often comparing him to characters from the Old Testament. The main book is the Vitae Prima which began to be written in 1147 by William of Saint-Thierry and continued by the Abbot Arnold of Bonnevaux.
After his death miracles happened at his burial site, for example when Bernard lay in state a boy with a withered arm touched where the Abbot’s body lay and his withered arm was immediately healed.
At the time of his death, Bernard was most known for being a major instigator in the rise of the Cistercian Order. He had established monasteries for the Cistercian Order, which he had joined in its early days, the Cistercian Order had been founded in 1098 by Robert of Molesme. Cistercian monks regarded Bernard as their spiritual leader as he taught them how to live with the intention to be nearer to God. He wrote the ‘Apology’ which is a guidebook about the Cistercian lifestyle.
At the monastery he did not live like the other monks, but lived in a little hovel, which he preferred because he was free from distraction and could dedicate himself to spiritual contemplation. He liked silence and solitude to help him, which aided in his approach to God:
“First of all, ‘considering’ purifies the source from which it springs, i.e. the spirit. It also regulates our emotions, gives direction to our actions, corrects deviations, builds our character, bestows honour and order to our lives; to put it in one word: it provides knowledge of divine and human things.”
He had not been a good student as a child, he wrote about these times- “trust my experience: one learns more from between the trees of the forest than in books.”
Many came to his monasteries to practise under him, including a young novice called Bernard Paganelli, who would go onto become Pope Eugenius III, whom Bernard was advisor to.
Bernard was a peacemaker who was able to sort out the troubles with in the Church as well as those between the European Kings and the Church Authorities.
Bernard was called up to help deal with many ecclesiastical matters and he became known as the defender of the faith and the Apostolic See. He found himself caught up in a couple of rebellions within the Holy See, as popes battled anti-popes (legitimate v. illegitimate) as the seat of Peter was fought over.
He would also have to remind Church leaders that their roles are to promote and be an example of the Lord’s Work, with humility, piety and not anger, war and such like.
“Be an authority like Christ, not like Satan” He could see that many church leaders were working in contrary to the ways of the Christ and he would petition the Pope to have such people removed from office. This caused contention and made him enemies but he wanted a church that did as it preached-not arch bishops and bishops who took advantage of their roles.
“You are wrong if you think your apostolic power, which is supreme, is the only power instituted by God…” Bernard wrote in a missive regarding the Bishops power going to their heads.
He would remind them that there are other higher powers that can influence one, and the other higher powers can mislead, tempt one away from their religious rule. He reminded them to concentrate on attempting to reach The Highest power.
The responsibility one takes on as a priest, bishop or whatever religious role should be respected. He noted that many worked in such an ungodly manner, that he believed them to be servants of the anti-Christ.
Bernard’s father Tescelin was with Godfroy de Bouillon who was the leader of the first crusade into the Holy Lands. Tescelin was by Godfroy’s side when he entered Jerusalem and won it for the Christian world. So, from an early age Bernard knew how important it was for the Christian leaders to have their place in this Holy City.
In 1129, at the Church Council of Troyes in Champagne the Pope Honorius II made the Knights Templar an official order and put them under the guidance of Bernard.
He helped with the defence of the Holy City and lands by drafting the rule for The Knights of the Temple of Solomon (Templars). He also wrote ‘In Praise of the New Militia’ about the Order.
But the Holy Lands did not stay in the Christian hands for long and so Bernard promoted and preached for a second crusade (this crusade was a failure) and again for a third crusade which he was appointed leader at a council of Chatres. “Who am I to arrange armies in battle order, to lead forth armed men? I could think of nothing more remote from my calling…”
He would rather have used the word than the sword, as he states in a letter to the pope, whom he reminds that the Lord said “Sheathe your sword” (John 8:11) But he went on to explain that there are two swords; one is spiritual and the other material. The apostles said “Behold here we have two swords” (Luke 22:38)
These two swords can be wielded by the Pope as both belong to the church-spiritual to be drawn by the Church, the Pope and Clergy, the material to be drawn for the Church by knights, warriors and soldiers.
And Bernard would explain that Jesus Christ can have two swords because he is both King and High Priest and so he has the right to wield a spiritual and a material sword.
He would not take any of the promotions offered to him, wanting to remain a monk and abbot of the monasteries he had set up. A monastic life, he believed, was the only way to eternal salvation and he would attract many men to this way of life, which is why he became known as a ‘fisherman in God’s service’.