Bernard of Clairvaux


b ?Les Fontaines, nr Dijon, Burgundy, France 1090, d Clairvaux, France 1153. In 1113 he fulfilled an early ambition when with 30 noblemen, including several of his family, he entered the monastery of Citeaux. Some were husbands leaving behind their wives and children. When after only 2 or 3 years the English abbot Stephen Harding asked him to select a new monastic site, he chose Clairvaux, which soon became a major centre for the Cistercian monks. In 1128 he was secretary to the Synod of Troyes, obtaining official status for the new order of Knights Templar. In 1130 he secured pope Innocent II’s victory against the ‘antipope’ Anacletus, and as a result gained great influence for his order. He practised and preached ascetic self-denial, some claiming that he would have preferred a quiet life of prayer and scholarship, but the following years found him constantly on the move, attacking heresy wherever he saw it, helping to condemn Peter Abelard and Henry of Lausanne, and stirring up what became the second Crusade which began in cruelty and ended in farce. History has given mixed verdicts; to some he was a saintly hero (Thomas Merton’s account is sublimely uncritical) and to others, a dangerous and murderous fanatic. Judged by his writings alone he has left much to move us, including verses not intended to be sung, even when some work previously attributed to him is discounted. Brief selections from his 86 sermons on the Song of Songs begun in 1135, originally running to some 600 pages and reaching a quarter of the way through the book, were re-issued in 1990; this slim volume was based on the 1901 edn, edited by Halcyon Backhouse with a brief biography, for the 900th anniversary of his birth. In the 15th sermon (‘The Name of Jesus’) he says ‘A book or a document has nothing worthwhile in it as far as I am concerned if it does not mention the name of Jesus. I have no interest in conferences where the name of Jesus is not heard. Like honey is to the mouth, melodious music to the ear and a song to the heart, so is the name of Jesus to the soul’. No.439.

Hymns and songs by Bernard of Clairvaux

Number Hymn Name
439 O sacred head once wounded