St. Bernard of Clairvaux – Promoter of the Religious Life Par Excellence

St. Bernard of Clairvaux inspired many vocations to the newly founded Cistercian Order. Famously, he managed to bring his uncle, his brothers, and a group of young nobleman to the same vocation. He even convinced his sister to leave her husband and become a nun. His charisma transformed Europe in the 12th Century. Benedictine Jean Leclercq, O.S.B. (1911-1993), known for his magisterial The Love of Learning and the Desire for God, wrote this informative paragraph as part of an introduction to Bernard of Clairvaux: Selected Works (this paragraph shows you how much a contemplative can do):

“In 1115, just three years following his arrival at Citeaux, Bernard was sent to found a monastery at Clairvaux in Champagne, to which he led his brothers and companions, and attracted many other young men as well. Soon he was in a position to make other foundations, in 1118, 1119, 1121, and almost every year after that. He made 68 foundations in thirty-five years and was the principal promoter of his Order, which, at the time of his death, comprised some 350 houses, of which 164 were answerable more or less directly to his authority. They extended across the whole of Europe, from Scandinavia to southern Portugal, from northern England to central Europe. A spiritual motivation had to be ensured in each monastery, beginning with the motherhouse. It has been estimated that between 800 and 900 monks had been part of the community of Clairvaux before Bernard’s death. Some of them were sent to daughterhouses that, in turn, made other foundations. Thus, there were thousands of men, generally young, who left society and often a military career to take up cloistered life. If to this number one adds the members of some 290 other Cistercian monasteries founded during Bernard’s lifetime, one has some idea of the tremendous peace corps, with tens of thousands of members, that Bernard helped to establish. What architect of peace has played such a role in his century or in any other?”

One thought on “St. Bernard of Clairvaux – Promoter of the Religious Life Par Excellence”

  1. One reason we have a vocation crisis, and it may be the ONLY reason we have a vocations crisis, is that people in the vocations promotion biz will not follow the example of St. Bernard and TRUMPET the glories of the priesthood and religious life

    One thing that has become overwhelmingly obvious to me over recent years is that while monasteries, convents and dioceses will have “come and see” weekends for young men and women who are interested in the priesthood or religious life, I never and I mean NEVER hear anything from the pulpit to get either them or their parents interested. I hear laments about the vocations crisis. I hear “we need priests,” but never is anything said much less trumpeted about the glories of religious life ( or of the priesthood), that it is superior to married life.

    So at this point, I wonder, do we have a “vocations crisis” or do we have a Church that is in the grip of a theological fad? And what is that fad? That no vocation is intrinsically superior to another, which is what the “universal call to holiness” is now taken to mean.

    Here is St. Bernard’s argument for religious life, the argument you are not hearing, nor are you likely ever to hear or see again in your lifetime.

    In religious life a man lives more purely,
    Falls more rarely,
    Rises more promptly,
    Walks more circumspectly,
    Receives the waters of grace more frequently
    Reposes more securely,
    Dies more confidently,
    Is cleansed from his faults more quickly,
    And in Heaven receives a more magnificent reward.
    —St. Bernard of Clairvaux

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