Today the Church commemorates Bernard of Clairvaux, Hymnwriter and Theologian. Our devotion comes from Celebrating the Saints.
Bernard is one of the beloved saints of the Church from the Middle Ages. He was born in 1090 to a noble family in Burgundy, France. Yet, at the age of 22 he chose to turn his back on the path of wealth and power. As many would before and after him, he became a monk. Bernard asked admittance to the monastery of Citeaux in the Cistercian Order. This monastery was devoted to a strict observance of the Rule of St. Benedict.
After only two or so years there, Bernard was dispatched to form a new monastery at Clairvaux. The monastery’s founding was quite trying. Benedict’s strictness resulted in damaged health and it finally took intervention from his friends to have Benedict reconsider the extreme asceticism he was enjoining. The monastery then grew by leaps and bounds.
Instead of the intellectually heavy approach to theology characterized by Scholasticism, Bernard was a champion of a warm faith that stressed trust in the Crucified. The hymns “O Jesus, King Most Wonderful!” and “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” derive from the heritage left us by Bernard.
His typically comforting, Gospel-drenched preaching stood at times in tension with the blindness of the age. He could preach the sweet comfort of the blood of Christ and then urge the recruits to the second crusade to atone their sin and appease God’s wrath by bloodying their swords.
There is in all of this a parallel with Martin Luther. Though not a noble, when he chose the monastery against his parent’s will, he chose the toughest one. He ruined his health as a monk with his austere practices. He had a fire of love when he preached that focused upon Christ and Him crucified. He brought comfort to the troubled conscience through Christ’s loving sacrifice. Luther wrote hymns that celebrated his Lord. And while he could write the most beautiful and comforting words, he also was capable of spewing out horrific things against the Jews and against the peasants at their revolt. Both men were called upon by civil authorities to help with various political troubles. Both were finally men who were indeed “earthen vessels” through whom God delighted to give His Church great treasures.
Devotion is adapted from Celebrating the Saints by William C. Weedon, page 146–47 © 2016 William C. Weedon; published by Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
O God, enkindled with the fire of Your love, Your servant Bernard of Clairvaux became a burning and shining light in Your Church. By Your mercy, grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline and may ever walk in Your presence as children of light; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Prayer is from the Treasury of Daily Prayer, page 638 © 2008 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.