Saints: Bernard of Clairvaux

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

Feastday: August 20



Click for a message from Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

Not all saints act saintly, at least in the eyes of the people who lived during their time. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux irritated a lot of people. He challenged the people around him to be their best and work hard. He pushed and worked hard for the things he thought were important. Sometimes his aggressive ways made people around him uneasy or mad. But sometimes the only way to get something done is to press and push hard. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux became a saint because he made a difference.

Bernard had a pleasant childhood. Born in 1090, he loved his parents and grew up in wealthy home in France. He trained to be a soldier but eventually convinced all those who served with him to become monks.  The idea of being a soldier for Christ was not new to Bernard. He was a child when the “warriors” left for Jerusalem in the first Crusade. The people who organized the crusades believed that fighting was alright if it was for God.  However, Bernard and many other wealthy young men didn’t want to kill other people. They wondered if there was something else they could do besides fight.

Bernard was so sure of himself and confident, that people embraced what he said about the life he proposed that they live. It was easy to convince people to become monks because Bernard was so passionate himself about the mission, lifestyle and concept of monastic life.

Bernard did not have to break away from the life and people he knew in order to live the life of a contemplative monk. He simply encouraged his family and friends to embrace the life as well! And they did. He always had his family and friends with him. He was a logical choice when the Cistercian monastery of Clairvaux was looking for an abbot.

He was dedicated to the idea that young men could live in community and serve God. To prove this to be true, he experimented with his own friends and relatives. He gathered 30 of them to live and work together in his parents’ home for about a year.

One problem with Bernard’s personality or way of thinking was that he suspected anyone who did not agree with the way he thought. If a person did not think the way Bernard did, there was little room for discussion. They were wrong and he was right. He even went so far as to accuse them of heresy (of being unfaithful to the Church). People claimed that once Bernard made up his mind about something, there was no going back. If you want to get things done, this is a good way to be, but sometimes you can make people mad who don’t agree with you. And we must admit that no one is right all the time.

He traveled extensively to get young men for the monastery. Once he even had a thief cut down from a hanging tree. Some people thought being in the monastery was worse than prison and that the thief’s punishment would last much longer than a hanging so they let him go with Bernard.

Bernard further developed the St. Benedict’s “Rule of Benedict” which guides young men on how to live as monks. It helps them understand what it means to be humble and not have great pride. Too much pride, Bernard knew, was not good in the eyes of God. Only humility would lead someone to God.

Bernard believed that people could reach perfect love, which is a love of one’s self only for the sake of God.  According to Bernard, there are four steps toward perfect love. Before arriving at that final stage, however, we might experience first a love for our own self for the sake of ourselves. The next stage involves a love of God because that love can bring rewards to us. In the third stage of love, we can love God for God’s sake.

Bernard had a profound influence on Western monasticism. His reputation for scholarship and holiness was remarkable. He preached tirelessly against heresy. He was consulted by popes and monarchs. At the time of his death there were some 400 Cistercian monasteries in Europe. He was canonized in 1174 and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1830. Without doubt, Bernard’s true calling in life was to invite others to love God more deeply and more fully. It is unclear why Saint Bernard is the patron saint of candle makers, perhaps because candles reflect Christ as the Light of the World. His feast is celebrated on August 20.


Connecting to Faith First® Legacy Edition
Junior High, church and Sacraments, chapter 4
Junior High, church History, chapters 5 and 6


Connecting to Faith First®
Junior High, Creed and Prayer, chapter 22
Junior High, Liturgy and Morality, chapter 22