St. Bernard was born of noble parentage in Burgundy, France, in the castle of Fontaines near Dijon around 1090. Under the care of his pious parents he was sent at an early age to a college at Chatillon, where he was conspicuous for his remarkable piety and spirit of recollection. At the same place he entered upon the studies of theology and Holy Scripture. After the death of his mother, fearing the snares and temptations of the world, he resolved to embrace the newly established and very austere institute of the Cistercian Order, of which he was destined to become the greatest ornament. He also persuaded his brothers and several of his friends to follow his example. In 1113, St. Bernard, with thirty young noblemen, presented himself to the holy Abbot, St. Stephen, at Citeaux. After a novitiate spent in great fervor, he made his profession in the following year.
His superior soon after, seeing the great progress he had made in the spiritual life, sent him with twelve monks to found a new monastery, which afterward became known as the celebrated Abbey of Clairvaux, St. Bernard was at once appointed Abbot. His saintliness and self-mortification - helped him transform the fledgling Cistercian Order, increasing its size to over 700 monks. During his lifetime he founded numerous monastic communities.
Bernard preached an immediate faith, in which the intercessor was the Virgin Mary. In the year 1128, Bernard assisted at the Council of Troyes, at which he traced the outlines of the Rule of the Knights Templar, who soon became the ideal of Christian nobility.
On the death of Pope Honorius II, which occurred on February 14, 1130, a schism broke out in the Church. King Louis VI convened a national council of the French bishops at Étampes, and Bernard was chosen to judge between the rival popes. In 1139, Bernard assisted at the Second Council of the Lateran. Bernard denounced the teachings of Peter Abelard to the Pope, who called a council at Sens in 1141 to settle the matter. Bernard soon saw one of his disciples, Bernard of Pisa, elected Pope. Having previously helped end the schism within the Church, Bernard was now called upon to combat heresy. In June 1145, Bernard traveled in Southern France and his preaching there helped strengthen support against heresy.
Following the Christian defeat at the Siege of Edessa, the Pope commissioned Bernard to preach the Second Crusade. The last years of Bernard's life were saddened by the failure of the crusaders, the entire responsibility for which was thrown upon him. Bernard died at age 63 on 20 August 1153, after 40 years spent in the cloister. He was the first Cistercian monk placed on the calendar of saints, and was canonized by Pope Alexander III on 18 January 1174. Pope Pius VIII bestowed upon him the title of "Doctor of the Church."
Propers for Bernard - Abbot of Clairvaux, Theologian and Poet
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who didst enkindle the flame of thy love in the heart of thy servant Bernard: Grant to us, thy humble servants, the same faith and power of love; that, as we rejoice in his triumph, we may profit by his example; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Epistle - Ecclesiasticus 39:1-10.
The Gospel - St. John 15:7-11.
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