A highlight from DC26-Bernard-pt1
Discerninghearts .com presents The Doctors of the Church, the Carerism of Wisdom with Dr. Matthew Bunsen. For over 20 years, Dr. Bunsen has been active in the area of Catholic social communications and education, including writing, editing, and teaching on a variety of topics related to church history, the papacy, the saints, and Catholic culture. He is the faculty chair at the Catholic Distance University, a senior fellow of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, and the author or co -author of over 50 books, including the Encyclopedia of Catholic History and the best -selling biographies of St. Damien of Malachi and St. Kateri Tekakawisa. He also serves as a senior editor for the National Catholic Register and is a senior contributor to EWTN News. The Doctors of the Church, the Carerism of Wisdom with Dr. Matthew Bunsen. I'm your host, Chris McGregor. Welcome, Dr. Bunsen. Great to be with you, Chris. I'm really looking forward to talking about our next doctor, St. Bernard of Clairvaux. Tell us why he's really quite special in the rankings of the doctors. Well, he's known as the Doctor Malifluous. He's known as the Ophthalmaturgist. In other words, he's a healer and a miracle worker. He was also kind of one of those doctors that was all -encompassing for his era, but who also imparted then important lessons for us today. He was a reformer who helped build the Cistercian Order, who helped reform much of monastic life. He was also a brilliant theologian who defended the teachings of the Church. He had a particular devotion to the Blessed Mother. But there's also one other thing that we're going to talk about, and that, of course, was his impact on the society of his time. And it came, as we're going to see, especially where the Second Crusade was concerned, at great price to him personally. And that's one of the other hallmarks of the Doctors of the Church. We always think of them as brilliant, as magnificent writers and theologians, but they were also saints. They were also people who put themselves totally at the service of Christ and his Church. And there, I think, was one of the areas where St. Bernard of Clairvaux really shined forth across the medieval sky, but it's a brightness that we can still see today. Help us to understand a term like mellifluous. What we mean by mellifluous is somebody who is perfectly capable of speaking, who's gifted as an orator, who is a brilliant speaker. Somebody who, we always say that the words just seem to roll off their tongue. Well, that certainly was St. Bernard. But there's also implied in the use of the term mellifluous, a smoothness, an elegance. Now, it's something of an apparent contradiction to think of somebody who lived a life of such severe austerity as St. Bernard of Clairvaux as being elegant. And yet, his theology, his mind, his love for the Church were indeed very elegant. He had a beautiful turn of phrase. He had a way of expressing himself that was indeed intellectually elegant. So mellifluous, I think, really works quite well when we're discussing a Doctor of the Church like this. What do we know of his upbringing? Well, we know that he was born into a noble family. And he, in France, he was born probably around 1090 to a very prominent family. His father, in fact, was a nobleman, a lord of what was known as Fontaine. His name was Tesselyn and his mother was named Alith of Mont Barde. They were part of Burgundy. So when we think of France, we think of the Burgundy region as creating these beautiful wines, the Burgundy wine. Burgundy, during this time, was emerging onto the French scene and then the European scene as one of the most prominent of the great duchies in medieval Europe. It was positioned sort of between France and Germany, but then the Burgundians would also influence the great and terrible Hundred Years' War in a couple of centuries. So the family itself enjoyed quite a bit of prominence, which meant that Bernard, as one of seven children, was given the opportunity for a great education. He was then sent to a very prominent school of chatillon that was run by a group of canons. And he quickly showed himself very capable of great learning. He enjoyed poetry. He had a skill, an aptitude for literature. And he demonstrated that ability to speak well, to be mellifluous. And he had two interesting devotions. The first was a great love of the Bible, and then the other was a particular devotion to the Blessed Mother that was going to carry him forward for the rest of his life. What led him into the Benedictine Order? Yeah. Well, Bernard himself always had a rather low opinion of himself. He was tempted by the great opportunities of life, by the temptations of the flesh, but also of the mind. He was somebody who probably would have excelled, and boy we have seen this with so many of the Doctors of the Church, he could have excelled at anything he chose to do. He could have become a very, very powerful and prominent leader in the secular world, in the world of the nobility of the time. He understood that about himself though, and I think his mother had a great deal to do with that. His mother helped ingrain in him an abiding love of the faith. And when she died, when he was 19 years old, he understood that he was being called to something else. And as we have seen with other Doctors of the Church, he felt called by Christ to escape the world, to live a life of prayer, of solitude, of contemplation. And so, in order to control himself, he used the phrase that he was aware that his body needed strong medicine. And what he meant by that was that he needed strong spiritual medicine. He turned himself over to the Benedictine order. Now, as it happens, when Bernard was only 8 years old, a very famous saint at the time, named Robert of Mollem, had founded, near the great French city of Dijon, what was known as the Abbey of Citeaux. This was the foundation of the Cistercians. Their objective was very simple, to restore the rule of Saint Benedict. Now, there's no implication that the great house, for example, of Cluny, that was the dominant institution of the time from monasticism, was corrupt. Rather, it simply did not have the same devotion to the rigor of the rule of Saint Benedict that there were some who felt it needed to have. Robert of Mollem was one of them. So, the Cistercian monastery really looked to recapture the vigor of the original rule of Saint Benedict. And it began attracting many people, many young men, who also sought what Bernard was seeking. And, as it happened, in 1113, another saint, by the name of Stephen Harding, became abbot of Citeaux. And Bernard arrived, along with a group of other young noblemen, who followed him from Burgundy and the surrounding regions, with a desire to enter the Cistercians. And Bernard proved himself, really from the very beginning, a most apt postulant. And he found his true life in Citeaux, in the Cistercians. And it was clear, in short order, that the Cistercians saw in him somebody with almost unlimited potential. You mentioned his great love for scripture. He's known for some of the most beautiful teachings, from one book in particular of the Bible, that being the Song of Songs. Yes, yes. What's interesting about his love of scripture is that he was able to reflect on scripture, but how did he do it? He did it through a series of sermons, in particular, as you note, on the Song of Songs. Now, the Song of Songs is one of the most controversial, so to speak, of the texts of scripture, of the books of the Bible, because so many people interpret it in almost exclusively sensual terms. And yet, here we have Bernard preaching on this beautiful book of the Old Testament. And for him, it was not just simply a rhetorical device to use sermons, but it was a way of imparting to every possible audience some of his most important teachings. And so we have, aside from his sermons on the Song of Songs, we also have in excess of a hundred sermons that he delivered throughout the year, throughout the liturgical year. And then he gave sermons as well on a variety of other subjects, and then of course we also have his letters. We'll be talking more, I know, about his writings in a little bit. What are some of those marks of those early years in his involvement with the Cistercians, or his living out that Cistercian call? We know, as I said, that Bernard was acutely aware of his own failings, of his own temptations, and the need, as he said, for strong medicine. The environment, Cistercian with its stress on prayer, on contemplatio, on contemplative prayer, on discipline of the monastic life, on the full embrace of not just the rigor, but also the deep humanity of the Benedictine rule, of the rule of St. Benedict, I think had a really profound influence on him. He was able to control himself, to focus his mind as he needed to have it focused. And within a short amount of time, I mean, consider that he entered around 1113, what happened within three years. He was chosen by the Cistercians to set out and do something that was almost impossible to imagine at the time. This young man was sent out to establish a new house, and it became the great founding of Clairvaux. Now, where he was sent was in the Diocese of Langres in France, in what was called the Valley of Desolation. It gives us a little visual of what we're actually talking about. This was a virtual swamp where they chose to establish this new community. And this is around 1115. And it soon became a place of almost ceaseless toil. But imagine trying to convert a swamp into a new community of religious life, and yet this is exactly what Bernard was able to accomplish. But he did it with austerity, with prayer, with almost ceaseless toil, and that took its toll on him. And always of a somewhat frail disposition, he consistently embraced austerity to the point that he wrecked much of his health, but he saw it as a worthy gift in order to get this institution of Clairvaux up and running. Now what you've just described sounds so unappealing. We're really honest with ourselves, and yet it attracted so many to the extent that it would thrive. Yes, that's the thing precisely. The harder the life was at Clairvaux, the more people seemed to be attracted to it. Now, it's not a sense of, oh, I want to embrace suffering. What it is, rather, is I want to conform my life to what the Cistercians, what Clairvaux had to offer. Think about the Sons of Nobility, who a century from now would be joining the mendicant orders of the Dominicans and especially the Franciscans. We're seeing a similar impulse toward a lifestyle of the rejection of the self, of giving up everything we have, picking up their cross and following Christ. This was the appeal of Clairvaux. This was the appeal of the Cistercians. And it was accomplished. Why? Because Bernard was able to create an environment that, yes, it was difficult, there was work and toil for everyone. But two things. One, that prayer life, but also the joy. The valley, which had once been called a place of desolation, a valley of desolation, soon acquired the title of the Valley of Light. Why? Because it was a place of prayer. It was a place of joy. And young men in growing numbers came to Clairvaux to embrace that life, but also to place themselves under the spiritual direction of Bernard. Among them were Bernard's brothers. His father, after the death of his mother, of course, embraced this life. And even his sister, Humboldtine, remained out in the world and yet she eventually, with the permission of her husband, became a Benedictine nun. This is the influence of Bernard. Bernard's brother Gerard became the master of the cellars of the Cistercians. And, of course, what soon happened, this small community of Clairvaux was bursting at the seams. They simply had no more room for the young men. So, they themselves then went out and found, established new houses, new Cistercian communities based on the model that Bernard had established at Clairvaux. And by the time of his death, more than 160 new establishments were flourishing across, not just France, but increasingly across the whole of Christendom. And if we want a testament as to what the Church thought of all of this, one of the Popes came for a visit one night and he was asked, Bernard was asked, to make it possible for the Pope to dine at Clairvaux. And he certainly gave what was a very warm welcome to the Pope and the whole papal court. Well, what was the meal? It was a humble meal of bread and a few fish. The analogy, of course, being very obvious to the Pope. Wine was not really served, but rather he received water that was filled with herbs to give it some taste. So, in other words, the Pope came to this monastery and he was not served a feast. He was given loaves in the fishes and a cup of bitter herbs. And yet, the Pope was grateful and found the entire experience to be so powerfully edifying that it confirmed once again Bernard's value to the Church, but also his value to the Popes. And that was something that many Popes availed themselves of. We'll return in just a moment to The Doctors of the Church, the terrorism of wisdom with Dr. Matthew Monson. Did you know that Discerning Hearts has a free app where you can find all your favorite Discerning Hearts programming? Father Timothy Gallagher, Dr. Anthony Lillis, Monsignor John S. of Deacon James Keating, Father Donald Haggerty, Mike Aquilina, Dr. Matthew Monson and so many more. They're all available on the free Discerning Hearts app. Over 3 ,000 spiritual formation programs and prayers, all available to you with no hidden fees or subscriptions. Did you also know that you can listen to Discerning Hearts programming wherever you download your favorite podcasts, like Apple Podcasts, Google Play, iHeartRadio, Spotify, even on Audible, as well as numerous other worldwide podcast streaming platforms? And did you know that Discerning Hearts also has a YouTube channel? Be sure to check out all these different places where you can find Discerning Hearts Catholic podcasts, dedicated to those on the spiritual journey. A prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and call my own. You have given all to me. To you, Lord, I return it. Everything is Yours. Do with it what You will. Give me only Your love and Your grace. That is enough for me. Amen. Show your support for Discerning Hearts by liking and leaving positive reviews on your favorite streaming platforms, such as Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, and more. With a collection of insightful podcasts led by renowned Catholic spiritual guides such as Father Timothy Gallagher, Monsignor John S .F., Dr. Anthony Lillis, and more, Discerning Hearts is your gateway to a deeper understanding of discerning life's mysteries and growing deeper in your relationship with Christ. Your likes and reviews not only affirm the value these podcasts bring to your spiritual journey, but also help others discover the guidance and inspiration they seek. Share your thoughts, spread the word, and be part of a community that's committed to elevating hearts and minds through meaningful conversations. Your feedback fuels our mission to help others climb higher and go deeper in their spiritual growth. Like, review, and let your voice be a beacon of light for fellow seekers on this spiritual journey. We now return to The Doctors of the Church, The Charism of Wisdom, with Dr. Matthew Bunsen. Is it possible for us to underestimate the power of the foundational element in all of this, of the Holy Rule of St. Benedict? And in particular, that very first paragraph, that very first exhortation by Good St. Benedict to listen with the ear of the heart. As you're describing this, that's exactly what Bernard was doing. Yeah, and in that sense we see in Bernard not something extraordinarily new, but something wonderfully old. In the sense that here was a reformer, here was in the great tradition of the church, a reformer who wanted to go back to recapture the original zeal, the fire of St. Benedict. But what was it that was always so remarkably successful about Benedict's rule? To pray, to work. All of these rules of St. Benedict are aimed at bringing the soul to Christ through work, through prayer. But there is this underlying practicality to Benedict's rule. Benedict knew people. He knew humanity. So that the rule itself was able to take a person, form them in Christ, and help them not to become less than they were with rules and other things, but rather through the rule to form them into more fully created humans, living as Christ really wants us to. Authentic freedom in giving up of ourselves for Christ. But in a way that still accommodates human frailty and human weakness, not by catering to it, but by understanding it and forming it. To use that word again, forming an authentic human person. And I think Bernard, while incredibly tough on himself, helped create an environment that was truly faithful to what Benedict had in mind. He's visited by the pope and the papal court. From this point forward, he becomes quite a, can we say, influential person within the life of the church. Very much so. In Bernard, we have one of those great voices within Christendom. And what did he use his voice for? He always placed it at the service of the popes. He defended the church against secular interference. He worked to diffuse potentially violent situations. Despite the fact that he wanted to stay at Clairvaux, he wanted to give his life exclusively to his monks, to his life of prayer. He was constantly being called out of the monastery to travel, to go forth on behalf of the popes. In 1128, for example, he took part in the Council of Troia that had been convoked by Pope Honorius II. Its was purpose to settle controversies that had developed among some of the bishops in France, as well as to try to make some sense of the ecclesiastical life of the Church of France. The church at the time in France was growing, but it was also being beset by the demands of secular rulers, of the need for internal reform. And what was Bernard given the task of doing? Well, he served as secretary of the council. He was asked to write the statutes of the synod. And as a result of it, one bishop was deposed and a real effort at reform was implemented. It's notable that coming out of this particular synod, though, there were those who did not like him. There were those who found him excessive in his call for reform. There were others in the church who felt that as a monk he had no business interfering in the life of diocese. And in one particular instance, a letter was sent to Bernard describing him as sounding like little more than a noisy and vexatious frog sitting in his marshes. Which of course was a phrase sort of going back to the very origins of Clairvaux. So here was this noisy and difficult frog croaking in the marshes and annoying as this one cardinal wrote the Holy See in the cardinals of the church. Well, of course, Bernard, using his sharp mind, made a reply to this cardinal by the name of Harmeric. And he said that he was the one who was asked by the pope to do this. And so he said, if you wish, forbid the noises of this vexatious frog. Don't allow him to leave his hole, to leave the marshes. And if that's the case, then your friends of the Holy See in the cardinals will not be forced to endure the accusations of pride and presumption that this frog is croaking in their direction. What it did was to diffuse the entire situation. And Bernard actually rose in the estimation of people because it implied two things. It showed that he had a sense of humor, which he did. He was able to do a fraternal correction of a cardinal, but in a way that everyone could appreciate. But it also pointed to his humility. It pointed to the fact that he'd been given these tasks against his will. There were other things that he would rather be doing. And yet he took up that task and he did it exceedingly well. And so in the next years, two years later, what happened? With the death of Pope Honorius, you had a new schism in the church. You had two popes who were rivals and, of course, Bernard entered the fray and helped to settle many of these issues. And then, of course, in the next years, he was so profoundly trusted that he was summoned to the second laddering council in which the schism was decisively put down. In which the rights of the real pope were validated. And then, in the coming years, he was asked by the pope to bring about the second crusade. And this, of course, became one of the great crosses that he was forced to bear. With some of the doctors that we've explored, their lives are so full and their teachings so rich that it takes us sometimes two, maybe even three episodes. And I think this is what we're encountering with St. Bernard of Clairvaux. So in conclusion of this particular conversation on his life, what's a final thought? The final thought is that we can trace in the life of St. Bernard from his earliest days a love of the faith, a desire to serve the faith. But as we have seen consistently with doctors of the church, serving in the way that God wills, not what he would rather do. And he was called, felt deeply the love of the contemplative life, but God had other plans for him. The wider service of the church. And he spent those years, his early years at Clairvaux, serving the church. And he was asked to serve on a wider plane. And he was going to give the rest of his life to that, regardless of the cost. And there, I think, is the lesson for all of us. I look forward to our future conversations, particularly about St. Bernard. So do I. Looking forward to it, Chris. God bless. Thank you.