Monday, August 20, 2012

St. Bernard of Clairvaux

The Virgin feeds St. Bernard from her breast.
Today is the Feast of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, one of the political and theological heavy-hitters of the Middle Ages, who counseled popes and kings and whose preaching and writing earned him the title of The Mellifluous Doctor. It is hard to know what to say of a saint so gifted and complex as St. Bernard, so I'll leave it to the older edition of the Cistercian Menology, where several other great saints of his era weigh in:
The feast of our very glorious Father St. Bernard, first Abbot of Clairvaux. Of noble birth, at the age of twenty-two, he succeeded in bringing to follow Christ thirty associates whom he led to Citeaux. In the Cloister his fasts, vigils and prayers were marvellous, and his life therein all heavenly. Soon, in spite of his youth, he was sent to Clairvaux. While assiduous about his own perfection, he labored zealously and successfully for the sanctification of those committed to his care. But circumstances compelled him to leave his solitude. He advises Popes, pacifices kings, converts the people, puts and end to the schism, crushes heresy, preaches the Crusades, refuses Bishoprics, works countless miracles, writes inestimable works, and when he dies at the age of 63, 160
Monasteries owe their existence to him, and 700 Monks weep for him at Clairvaux. Pope Alexander III canonized him and Pope Pius VI confirmed his title of Doctor of the Whole Church. St. Bernard, in truth, was the man of his century, and the glory not alone of Citeaux, but of the entire Monastic State. Henry of Hesse called him the principal propagator of the Cistercian Order, the very ardent furnace of Monastic life; Denis the Carthusian, the most excellent Doctor of all the Religious, the light and glory of Monks; Peter the Venerable, the pillar of milk and adamant, upon which rests the Monastic State, the radiant star, whose word and example, in his time, emitted marvellous light not alone to Monks, but also to the entire Chruch; Baronius, a divine trumpet, another Elias, the ornament and support of the Universal Church; Gerson, one of those fiery spirits whom the scripture calls Seraphim; and St. Hildegarde, an eagle fixedly gazing at the sun.
Today's Vespers hymn from the Cistercian Breviary doesn't hold back either:

Looking to heaven, rejected mitres at his feet.
BERNARD, the Doctor ever bright
Ascendeth now to heaven’s day,
Thy love doth draw him now aright,
Thou Splendour of the Father’s ray.

Let heaven’s exultant praises ring
With songs of Clairvaux’s holy shrine:
To Thee the Angels’ choirs sing,
Jesu, Redemption all divine.

Thou didst foreshow by wondrous sign,
A teacher like to heavens height,
Should Bernard be, from boyhoods’ time,
Creator of the stars of light.

The brilliant birth of Christ, Our King,
All lowly, shining in the night,
That gift doth Bernard ever sing,
O Trinity of blessed light.

The Virgins’ ever glowing way,
The secrets of Thy Sacred Word,
So doth he preach thy deeds alway,
Creator of the sky and world.

So, Bernard dwelleth happily,
And Mary, Christ’s blest Mother, sings;
With her, he tasteth lovingly
The eternal gifts of Christ the King.

To Thee all praise and glory be,
O God of power, passing thought,
Grant us, after these our miseries,
Blest joys for mighty wonders wrought. Amen.

Bernardus Doctor inclytus (Bernard, famed for his reaching)
Hymn for Vespers of St. Bernard