Friday, August 20, 2010

August 20 - Bernard of Clairvaux, Doctor of the Church, Champion of Reconciliation

Bernard of Clairvaux was interested in not only the spread of the Church into the world but, also, the healing of the Church from its breaks, schisms, and self-inflicted wounds. Though the Church was a holy thing--the Kingdom of God in the world--it was also in need of reformation and perpetual healing. Bernard spent countless hours and moment focusing on this kind of healing and unity. He lent his considerable speaking skills to the cause of reconciling broken relationships and winning a friend gone astray. In this, Bernard was clearly called by God to mend relationships and help redeem friends and enemies.

In 1130, Pope Honorius II died and there was a dispute among Christian leaders as to who the next Pope should be. Through this dispute, two men (Analectus II and Innocent II) were chosen to be Pope by two separate, and now angered, groups. These two groups likely had their own reasons for preferring the pope they did but the king of France wanted to force a resolution. A council of bishops was convened to solve the problem and Bernard's presence was requested. This humble Cistercian monk was viewed by his contemporaries as a truly spiritual man with the qualities of leadership and peacemaking necessary to bring reconciliation even under the given circumstances. Bernard was not requested as a matter of civility and politeness but, rather, because the people wanted a spiritual man to lead them in those unsettling and troubling times. After prayer and consideration,Bernard judged for Innocent II. Many people would have retired back to their own lives after being handed the reins of power like Bernard had received. However, Bernard understood that this expectation came with an obligation--to help mend broken relationships required more than a decision. And, so, Bernard traveled to many countries with Innocent II making the case for his decision and reconciling those who favored Analectus II back to the Church.

Further, he reconciled his friend and colleague Peter Abelard back to the Church. Peter had always had a clever mind and capable intellect. He had also been corrected occasionally from steering too far afield in his theology. He had published and, upon Church admonition, recanted a book of theology on the trinity. However, eventually Peter published something else deemed not to fit within the tight bounds of orthodoxy. Bernard sent his admonition by letter to Peter hoping to jog Peter's mind into recognizing his own errors. Bernard's letter was met with a harsh reply from Peter. With the power and influence that Bernard had, many others would have reacted quickly to punish Peter for his response. However, Bernard was interested in his friend's reconciliation and, so, he had Peter summoned to Rome for a debate over the contested matter. In the debate, Bernard expounded the orthodox teaching so well and so convincingly that Peter withdrew his own point without speaking or replying. Bernard, by his love and devotion, was able to draw his friend back within the bounds of the Church's teaching.

Bernard did many great things and wrote many books but the most important things that Bernard ever did were rooted in the love that he had for people and for the Church. Through this great love, the humble monk was able to cause change and reconciliation even among those who opposed him. Since his first motive was love for the Church and his opponent, he was able to speak sincerely and effect reconciliation and redemption. In Bernard, the Church may need to see the path for continued reconciliation.


Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Here's a story that I think has been whitewashed. Bernard preached Crusades--and encouraged crusaders to pillage Jewish ghettos on the way to the Holy Land to kill Muslims.

"Champion of Reconciliation?" I think Bernard is one of the great villains of church history (like Eusebius, Constantantine, Innocent III) who has been admired when he should have been condemned and repudiated.

Joshua Hearne said...


I ran across the history you bring up last Friday as I was rereading material about Bernard. Perhaps I should have been more thorough in my research when I first wrote this.

It appears that in my haste to print a story some two years ago, I missed this information. I am also horrified by some of the other parts of his story and will not be running this one next year.

Thanks for voicing your appropriate displeasure.