August 20: ST. BERNARD OF CLAIRVAUX, Doctor of the Church

August 20: ST. BERNARD OF CLAIRVAUX, Doctor of the Church

Bernard’s parents were Tescelin, Lord of Fontaines, and Aleth of Montbard, both belonging to the highest nobility of Burgundy. Bernard was the third of a family of seven children, six of whom were sons. At the age of nine years, he was sent to school at Châtillon-sur-Seine, run by the secular canons of Saint-Vorles. Bernard had a great taste for literature and devoted himself for some time to poetry. His success in his studies won the admiration of his teachers. He wanted to excel in literature in order to take up the study of the Bible. He had a SPECIAL DEVOTION TO THE VIRGIN MARY, and he would later write several works about the Queen of Heaven and many works of theology and spirituality. St. Bernard fought for PEACE AND UNITY IN THE CHURCH AGAINST SCHISM. OBEDIENCE AND LOVE FOR THE CHURCH were his primary concerns.

Bernard would expand upon Anselm of Canterbury’s role in transmuting the sacramentally ritual Christianity of the Early Middle Ages into a new, more personally held faith, with the life of Christ as a model and a new emphasis on the Virgin Mary. In opposition to the rational approach to divine understanding that the scholastics adopted, Bernard would preach an immediate faith, in which the intercessor was the Virgin Mary.

Bernard was only nineteen years of age when his mother died. During his youth, he did not escape trying temptations and around this time he thought of retiring from the world and living a life of solitude and prayer.

In 1098 Saint Robert of Molesme had founded Cîteaux Abbey, near Dijon, with the purpose of restoring the Rule of St Benedict in all its rigour. Returning to Molesme, he left the government of the new abbey to Saint Alberic, who died in the year 1109. At the age of 22, while Bernard was at prayer in a church, he felt the calling of God to enter the Cistercian Monks of Cîteaux. In 1113 Saint Stephen Harding had just succeeded him as third Abbot of Cîteaux when Bernard and thirty other young noblemen of Burgundy sought admission into the Cistercian order. Bernard’s testimony was so irresistible that 30 of his friends, brothers, and relatives followed him into the monastic life.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux was named a Doctor of the Church in 1830. At the 800th anniversary of his death, Pope Pius XII issued an encyclical on Bernard, DOCTOR MELLIFLUUS (The Honey Sweet-voiced Doctor for his eloquence in preaching), in which he labeled him “The Last of the Fathers.” Bernard did not reject human philosophy which is genuine philosophy, which leads to God; he differentiates between different kinds of knowledge, the highest being theological. Three central elements of Bernard’s Mariology are how he explained the virginity of Mary, the “Star of the Sea”, how the faithful should pray on the Virgin Mary, and how he relied on the Virgin Mary as Mediatrix. The following words are an example of his deep, tender and confiding love to Our Lady:

“In dangers, in doubts, in difficulties, think of Mary, call upon Mary. Let not her name depart from your lips, never suffer it to leave your heart. And that you may obtain the assistance of her prayer, neglect not to walk in her footsteps. With her for guide, you shall never go astray; while invoking her, you shall never lose heart; so long as she is in your mind, you are safe from deception; while she holds your hand, you cannot fall; under her protection you have nothing to fear; if she walks before you, you shall not grow weary; if she shows you favor, you shall reach the goal.”

With an intense love for Jesus Christ and Our Lady, St. Bernard was determined to keep his soul pure and chaste for he wanted it to be the dwelling place of the Blessed Trinity. Once he happened to fix his eyes on the face of a woman; but immediately reflecting that this was a temptation, he ran to a pond, and leaped up to the neck into the water, which was then as cold as ice, to punish himself, and to vanquish the enemy. On another occasion, an impudent woman assaulted him; but he drove her out of his chamber with the utmost indignation.


Dear friends, let us ask God, through the intercession of St. Bernard, so that with a great love for Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may be disposed to be detached from worldly fame and riches, live the virtue of holy purity with determination, and serve the Church and souls with the same zeal, obedience and love which St. Bernard demonstrated during his life.

-Fr. Rolly Arjonillo, priest of Opus Dei. CATHOLICS STRIVING FOR HOLINESS. We are also in Facebook:
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PHOTO SOURCE: Bartolomé Esteban de Murillo, San Bernardo de Claraval in


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