Today, our church commemorates Bernard of Clairvaux, a commanding figure in the first half of the 12th century.
Born in 1090, he was, from an early age, devoted to literature, prayer and meditation.
Entering a monastery at age of 19, he became known for his sermons, his devoutness and his devotion to Mary. Sent to found a new monastery in a glen called Val d’Absinthe, he named it Claire Valle. It became known as Clairvaux. His efforts there resulted in the revitalization of Benedictine monasticism.
Despite his devotion to prayer and the Virgin Mary, Bernard became embroiled in religious controversies. Papal schism, the second crusade and heresy, he was tasked with all three.
The schism resulted in two popes, one Innocent II, the other Anacletus II. Europe and Spain adhered to Innocent, Italy and the patriarchs in Constantinople, Antioch and Jerusalem to Anacletus. The breach was eventually repaired, with a protégé of Bernard’s elected Pope Eugene III.
Asked by the Pope to spearhead the second crusade, to recover Jerusalem from the Turks, Bernard remained haunted by it the crusade’s failure for the rest of his life.
Heresy was next for him. Among others, he fought the so-called heresy of Peter Abelard, eventually causing Abelard to retire quietly.
Bernard was an abbot for 38 years. Though the controversies loomed large in his life, he is remembered for his sermons (86 of them), his piety and is often credited with hymns that live for us today: O Sacred Head Now Wounded, Jesus The Very Thought of Thee, and Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts. He died in 1153, and was canonized in 1174.
Thank you, God, for the life of Bernard of Clairvaux.
The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is a retired priest of the Diocese of Washington