In 1112, at the age of 22, Bernard chose to enter a poor, crumbling monastery called Citeaux, a few miles from his home near Dijon, in France. The monks there, most of whom were elderly, faithfully followed the Rule of Saint Benedict. The monks at Citeaux lived a stricter life of prayer, silence, and penance. Thirty-one other men entered with Bernard.
Within three years, Citeaux was flourishing, and Bernard was sent to start a new monastery in a place that came to be named Clairvaux. As abbot in that first year, Bernard was strict about meals (sometimes only barley bread and boiled leaves), work, prayers, and sleep. Then he became sick and learned to be more understanding of human needs. After that, the monastery thrived.
During his busy years as abbot, Bernard often longed for solitude and a simple monk’s life. Almost daily he received visitors and letters from people asking for advice and help. He gave time and effort to each request. Because of his ability to settle disputes, Bernard was also called to various countries to give advice on affairs of Church and of government.
In 1130, the newly elected Pope Innocent II faced the popularity of an antipope named Anacletus. The latter’s claim to be pope threatened to split the Church. Bernard traveled to ask government and Church leaders to support the true pope. Finally, Anacletus lost his power, and Innocent II returned as the official bishop of Rome.
When Bernard was chosen as an official preacher for the Second Crusade, he inspired many to join the cause for Christ. The Crusade failed, however, because of the cruelty and greed of some crusaders, and Bernard was unjustly blamed.
Bernard died in 1153. He is known as one of the founders of the Cistercian order. He was named a Doctor of the Church for his many writings.
Excerpted from Christ Our Life, by Sisters of Notre Dame of Chardon, Ohio
Image credit: Vision of St. Bernard with Sts Benedict and John the Evangelist by Fra Bartolomeo, 1504. Public Domain via Wikimedia.