Bernard Abbot of Clair Vaux (1091-1153)

 •  2 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Roman Catholic
Hymn #119.
Bernard was a monk and founder of monasteries. He was one of the most illustrious preachers of the Middle Ages. Born in 1091 at Fontaines, near Dijon in Burgundy, France, his father being a knight named Tecelin and his mother Aletta (Aleth) daughter of a noble house of Mon-Bar. His father perished in the crusades and his pious mother died while Bernard was yet a boy. He was physically unfit to bear arms and his mother wanted him trained for God. Bernard resolved to become a monk, though this was opposed by his close relatives. He was selected with twelve others to build a monastery in an area “haunted by robbers.” As they toiled they sang praises until at length it was called “Clair Vaux” or the “Bright Valley.” By his learning, eloquence and piety he obtained great influence in the affairs of the day.
However, his life was greatly influenced by the Scriptures. “He was saturated in its language and in its spirit—and it saved him from the grosser aberrations of medieval Catholicism” (Britannica). In his letters and sermons he seldom mentions the saints or the “lady.” They were overshadowed in his mind by the grace of God and the moral splendor of Christ. The preciousness of Christ comes out in his hymn: —
“Jesus, the very thought of Thee
With sweetness fills my breast,
But sweeter far Thy face to see,
And in Thy presence rest.”
Martin Luther held him in high esteem, saying, “He was the best monk that ever lived.”
It has been said that his heart overflowed with love to Christ and this was no doubt the result of his own enjoyment of the love of Christ. It is apparent too that contradictions of action were taken by him as the result of the darkness of the age and yet God’s grace lifted him above much. He died in 1153 at the age of 62 and is now with the One whose sweetness he learned on earth.
“We give Thee thanks unfeigned,
O Savior! Friend in need,
For what Thy soul sustained
When Thou for us didst bleed.
Grant us to lean unshaken
Upon Thy faithfulness,
Until to glory taken
We see Thee face to face.”