Wednesday, March 28, 2012

People You’ve Maybe Never Heard Of But Should: Bernard of Clairvaux

Bernard was born in 1090 and died in 1153.  He was a French abbot who sought admission into the Cistercian order to be a monk shortly after the death of his mother.  He goes down in history as the “most powerful propagator of the Cistercian reform” not only of his day but probably of all time.  In 1115 he was sent to begin a new monastery in Clairvaux (hence the name).  Bernard was very instrumental in the Catholic development of Mary’s mediatorial role.  He was often sick throughout his life eventually succumbing to death in 1153.

Why You Should Know Him:

Bernard is one of those interesting writers for evangelical Protestants to enjoy.  His views on Mary’s mediatorial role obviously leave us shaking our heads and tempt us to confine him to the ranks of those that simply do not understand the gospel.  But then there is another side to Bernard where Protestants enjoy not only his spiritual and personable writing but also we rejoice at his conception of justification.  It sounds very close to that which Calvin and Luther would teach years later.  Bernard was passionate about imputed righteousness. 

Hundreds of years after the Protestant Reformation we are left confused at how someone could be so instrumental in formulating much of the Mariology present in the Roman Catholic Church today and ALSO someone that Calvin and Luther are able to look for in formulating a doctrine of imputed/alien righteousness. 

It is also quite possible that we owe some of the Reformation to Bernard’s monastic reforms.  In a time when the importance of Scripture reading, meditation, and prayer was drying up Bernard insisted on these—aided by the Spirit--as keys to Christian living. 


Ever heard the phrase, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions?”  Many believe that this pithy saying is to be originally attributed to Bernard. 

Here is an example of the devotional and heart searching way that Bernard wrote:

“There are those who seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge; that is Curiosity. There are those who seek knowledge to be known by others; that is Vanity. There are those who seek knowledge in order to serve; that is Love.”

Tell me this doesn’t sound like something you would hear from evangelicals in our day?

“What we love we shall grow to resemble.”

“So far from being able to answer for my sins, I cannot even answer for my righteousness!”

"Your sins are very great and beyond number. Never will you be able to make satisfaction for them, so many and so great are they, not even if you strip the very skin from your body.”

Further Reading:

I have no idea if you can find it anywhere—I’ll let you search—but I believe Danny Akin actually did his doctoral work on Bernard of Clairvaux.

Good quotes here from Just and Sinner


The Life and Miracles of St. Bernard of Clairvaux
Project Gutenberg
You’ll find quite a bit on Google Books

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