1090 - 1153 Author of "O what precious balm and healing" in The Lutheran Hymnary Bernard of Clairvaux, saint, abbot, and doctor, fills one of the most conspicuous positions in the history of the middle ages. His father, Tecelin, or Tesselin, a knight of great bravery, was the friend and vassal of the Duke of Burgundy. Bernard was born at his father's castle on the eminence of Les Fontaines, near Dijon, in Burgundy, in 1091. He was educated at Chatillon, where he was distinguished for his studious and meditative habits. The world, it would be thought, would have had overpowering attractions for a youth who, like Bernard, had all the advantages that high birth, great personal beauty, graceful manners, and irresistible influence could give, but, strengthened in the resolve by night visions of his mother (who had died in 1105), he chose a life of asceticism, and became a monk. In company with an uncle and two of his brothers, who had been won over by his entreaties, he entered the monastery of Citeaux, the first Cistercian foundation, in 1113. Two years later he was sent forth, at the head of twelve monks, from the rapidly increasing and overcrowded abbey, to found a daughter institution, which in spite of difficulties and privations which would have daunted less determined men, they succeeded in doing, in the Valley of Wormwood, about four miles from the Abbey of La Ferté—itself an earlier swarm from the same parent hive—on the Aube. On the death of Pope Honorius II., in 1130, the Sacred College was rent by factions, one of which elected Gregory of St. Angelo, who took the title of Innocent II., while another elected Peter Leonis, under that of Anacletua II. Innocent fled to France, and the question as to whom the allegiance of the King, Louie VI., and the French bishops was due was left by them for Bernard to decide. At a council held at Etampes, Bernard gave judgment in favour of Innocent. Throwing himself into the question with all the ardour of a vehement partisan, he won over both Henry I., the English king, and Lothair, the German emperor, to support the same cause, and then, in 1133, accompanied Innocent II., who was supported by Lothair and his army, to Italy and to Rome. When Lothair withdrew, Innocent retired to Pisa, and Bernard for awhile to his abbey of Clairvaux. It was not until after the death of Anacletus, the antipope, in January, 1138, and the resignation of his successor, the cardinal-priest Gregory, Victor II., that Innocent II., who had returned to Rome with Bernard, was universally acknowledged Pope, a result to which no one had so greatly contributed as the Abbot of Clairvaux. The influence of the latter now became paramount in the Church, as was proved at the Lateran Council of 1139, the largest council ever collected together, where the decrees in every line displayed the work of his master-hand. After having devoted four years to the service of the Pope, Bernard, early in 1135, returned to Clairvaux. In 1137 he was again at Rome, impetuous and determined as ever, denouncing the election of a Cluniac instead of a Clairvaux monk to the see of Langres in France, and in high controversy in consequence with Peter, the gentle Abbot of Cluny, and the Archbishop of Lyons. The question was settled by the deposition by the Pope of the Cluniac and the elevation of a Clairvaux monk (Godfrey, a kinsman of St. Bernard) into his place. In 1143, Bernard raised an almost similar question as to the election of St. William to the see of York, which was settled much after the same fashion, the deposition, after a time, if only for a time, of William, and the intrusion of another Clairvaux monk, Henry Murdac, or Murduch, into the archiepiccopal see. Meantime between these two dates—in 1140—the condemnation of Peter Abilaid and his tenets, in which matter Bernard appeared personally as prosecutor, took place at a council held at Sens. Abelard, condemned at Sens, appealed to Rome, and, resting awhile on his way thither, at Cluny, where Peter still presided as Abbot, died there in 1142. St. Bernard was next called upon to exercise his unrivalled powers of persuasion in a very different cause. Controversy over, he preached a crusade. The summer of 1146 was spent by him in traversing France to rouse the people to engage in the second crusade; the autumn with a like object in Germany. In both countries the effect of his appearance and eloquence was marvellous, almost miraculous. The population seemed to rise en masse, and take up the cross. In 1147 the expedition started, a vast horde, of which probably not a tenth ever reached Palestine. It proved a complete failure, and a miserable remnant shared the flight of their leaders, the Emperor Conrad, and Louis, King of France, and returned home, defeated and disgraced. The blame was thrown upon Bernard, and his apology for his part in the matter is extant. He was not, however, for long to bear up against reproach; he died in the 63rd year of his age, in 1153, weary of the world and glad to be at rest.
With the works of St. Bernard, the best ed. of which was pub. by Mabillon at Paris in the early part of the 18th cent. (1719), we are not concerned here, except as regards his contributions, few and far between as they are, to the stores of Latin hymnology. There has been so much doubt thrown upon the authorship of the hymns which usually go by his name,—notably by his editor, Mabillon himself,—that it is impossible to claim any of them as having been certainly written by him; but Archbishop Trench, than whom we have no greater modern authority on such a point, is satisfied that the attribution of them all, except the "Cur mundus militat," to St. Bernard is correct. "If he did not write," the Archbishop says, "it is not easy to guess who could have written them; and indeed they bear profoundly the stamp of his mind, being only inferior in beauty to his prose."
The hymns by which St. Bernard is best known as a writer of sacred poetry are: (1.) "Jesu duicis memoria," a long poem on the " Name of Jesus"—known as the "Jubilus of St. Bernard," and among mediaeval writers as the " Rosy Hymn." It is, perhaps, the best specimen of what Neale describes as the "subjective loveliness " of its author's compositions. (2.) "Salve mundi Salutore," an address to the various limbs of Christ on the cross. It consists of 350 lines, 50 lines being addressed to each. (3.) "Laetabundus, exultet fidelis chorus: Alleluia." This sequence was in use all over Europe. (4.) "Cum sit omnis homo foenum." (5.) " Ut jucundas cervus undas." A poem of 68 lines, and well known, is claimed for St. Bernard by Hommey in his Supplementum Patrum, Paris, 1686, p. 165, but on what Archbishop Trench, who quotes it at length, (Sac. Lat. Poetry, p. 242,) deems " grounds entirely insufficient." (6.) " Eheu, Eheu, mundi vita," or " Heu, Heu, mala mundi vita." A poem of nearly 400 lines, is sometimes claimed for St. Bernard, but according to Trench, “on no authority whatever." (7.) “O miranda vanitas." This is included in Mabillon's ed. of St. Bernard's Works. It is also attributed to him by Rambach, vol. i. p. 279. Many other hymns and sequences are attributed to St. Bernard. Trench speaks of a " general ascription to him of any poems of merit belonging to that period whereof the authorship was uncertain." Hymns, translated from, or founded on, St. Bernard's, will be found in almost every hymnal of the day, details of which, together with many others not in common use, will be found under the foregoing Latin first lines.
-John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907)
See also in:
Hymn Writers of the Church
Bernard of Clairvaux