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S. BERNARD OF CLAIRVAUX:
"THE MAN OF GOD."
"A man so devout, so holy, and so pure, that he is to be commended and preferred before all the fathers."—Luther.
[Authorities:—Full details of the life of S. Bernard will be found in the chronicles included in'the Abbe Migne's edition of his Works. See also Charles de Remusat, "Abelard" (1845); Acta Sanctorum; Neander's "Life of S. Bernard;" Dean Milman, "History of Latin Christianity;" Canon Robertson, "History of the Christian Church;" J. C. Morison, "Life and Times of S. Bernard;" Michelet, "Histoire de France," (3rd Vol.); Fuller, "Holy War;" Wilkins, Gieseler, &c.]
S. BERNARD OF CLAIRVAUX.
IN the castle of Fontaines, near Dijon, in Burgundy, to Tesselin, a brave Burgundian Knight, by his wife, Alith or Aletta, was born, in the year 1091, a son whom they christened Bernard.
He was happy in his parents. Tesselin was not only brave but gentle, a great lover of the poor, a champion of justice, a servant of God. His wife was a very noble woman; foremost in all works of charity, and distinguished by her lowliness of mind and ardour of piety. She bore to Tesselin seven children, six sons and a daughter; and she dedicated them all to the Lord. After receiving at home the rudiments of education, and profiting by the bright example set before him, Bernard was sent to the church of Chatillon as a preparation for the priesthood. There he fulfilled the promise which had already raised his mother's hopes. Studious and reserved, he showed a marked inclination for a contemplative life,1 yet he was not without literary ambition, and he entered freely into competition with his fellows in scholastic exercises. And we may well conceive that the fervent military spirit which he inherited from his father was not wholly dormant; that it would be kindled by the tales which could not fail to reach Chatillon of that grand movement of the First Crusade,
1 "Mire cogitativus."—S. Bernard (ii. 1063).
led by Godfrey of Bouillon, Tasso's hero, for the delivery of the Holy Land from the supremacy of the Crescent, in which the Duke of Burgundy, his father's suzerain, perished. He could not be uninfluenced by that chivalry of the Cross which was then giving a new direction to the enterprise and thought of Europe.
He was still in his boyhood when his mother died (1105.) It was her custom to celebrate the festival of S. Ambrose, patron of the church at Fontaines, by assembling beneath her roof a number of clergy; and to the glory of God, the Blessed Virgin, and the patron-saint, solemnly refreshing them with food and wine. A few days before the festival of 1105, it was revealed to her that she would die on that anniversary, and on the vigil she was seized with a violent fever. Next morning, she desired that the Holy Sacrament might be administered to her; and strengthened by the Body and Blood of her Lord, she bade the guests sit down to the feast she had provided. While they were at table, she sent for her eldest son Guido, and requested him, when they had eaten and drunk, to bring them to her chamber. As they stood around her bed, she announced her approaching departure, and entreated their prayers. They immediately began to chant a litany, Alith making the responses till her latest breath. At the words, "By Thy cross and passion, Good Lord, deliver us," she made the sign of the cross, and passed away.
His mother's death left Bernard free to determine his own career. At first he yielded to the social influences around him, and, like other young men of good family, engaged in military exercises and worldly pleasures; but this restless, feverish life was alien to his contemplative nature, and often in the hours of silent thought he seemed to hear the chime of convent bells, and the voice of his beloved mother, calling him to a nobler vocation. When his friends and brothers observed his leaning towards a monastic life, they endeavoured to divert him from it by engaging him in the study of Dialectics, then made popular by William of Champeaux and Peter Abelard. For a time this diversion stayed his spiritual growth; but even in his most engrossing mental labour he still saw the image of his mother warning him that she had bred and educated him in a higher and holier hope.1 On one occasion, he was proceeding to join his brothers who, under the Duke of Burgundy, were besieging the Castle of Granci, when this idea took firm possession of his mind. He seemed to hear his mother reproaching him for his worldliness and his selfish love of knowledge for selfish ends. Coming to a church by the wayside, he could not refrain from entering it, and there a sudden enthusiasm of devotion filled his soul; he wept and prayed; and lifting his hands to heaven, poured forth his heart like water in the presence of his Lord. From that day he never wavered in his resolve to assume the monastic habit, though he did not conquer his worldly tendencies without a struggle. He had to fight that battle which every man must fight and win before he can become a soldier of the Cross. "I am not ashamed to confess," he says, "that often, and particularly at the beginning of my conversion, I experienced great hardness of heart, and an extreme coldness. I sought after Him Whom my soul was fain to love; Him in Whom my chilled spirit might repose and rekindle itself. But no succour came; no heavenly rays to dissolve the strong ice which bound up all the spiritual senses, or to revive the sweetness and serenity of the spiritual Spring; and thus my soul continued weak and languid, a prey to grief, almost to despair, and murmuring internally. Who is able to abide His Winter? Then, all at once, perhaps by the first word or at the first sight of a devout-minded person, sometimes at the simple recollection of one dead or absent, the Holy Spirit would begin to breathe, and the ice-bound waters to flow ; and day and night, tears would be my meat."
It has been said that the instinct which leads us eagerly to impart to others the spiritual truth which has seized upon our own mind; the impulse to preach, to exhort, to labour, to convert; is one of the most beautiful in our nature. With Bernard it was very strong; and having thrown off the fetters of the world, he keenly desired that his brothers and kinsmen should rejoice in an equal freedom. With many of them he was successful; with his uncle, "a worthy man and powerful in the world," Gaudry, lord of Touillon; and with all his brothers, except Gerard, the second. He, a
1 "Conquerentem quia non ad ejusmodi nugacitatem tam tenere educaverat, non in hac spe erudierat eum."—S. Bernard, ii. 1066.