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MAY, 1843. Jei 3:17
1 Inc 18 to $10[l The Life and Times of St. Bernard. By Dr. Augustus Neander,
Professor of Theology in the Royal University of Berlin, TransPlated from the German, by MATILDA WRENCH. Rivington.
If the 'dim and partial ațmostphere through which remote évents and the characters of ancient men must of necessity be viewed, had nothing to counterbalance its disadvantages, the task of the historian ---the endeavour to separate the true from the false, would, indeed, be thankless, and even destitute of utility. Happily, however, to borrow a metaphor from things of sense, the mental telescope through which we examine the deeds of former ages, if it does not present to our view each particular point of the prospect with greater distinctness, yet widely increases our range, and brings much within our notice which our eye could not otherwise have embraced. At the distance of a few hundred years a child may sometimes decide with readiness and truth, upon a question which agitated all Europe, and on which the wisest minds and the most powerful intellects of the age in which it was mooted, wasted themselves in useless controversy.
Such reflections are especially apt to present themselves, as often as our attention is directed to the religious disputes of the middle ages. We can understand and admire the ambitious and finessing policy of the Church of Rome, and the art with which she by degrees grafted herself into the very essence of each European court; but it is melancholy to observe minds of the very first order exhausting their energies in the mazes of theroetic theology, and displaying zeal, activity, and talent, which would have adorned any age, without in the slightest degree civilizing that in which they flourished.
But though we may mourn over talents misapplied, there are still few pursuits more interesting than to contemplate the intellectual fencing of these spiritual gladiators ; nor is it useless to trace the effect of sincerity and the natural dignity of a mens conscia recti in securing for their possessors reverence and submission from the greatest potentates in their own times, and the universal esteem and admiration of succeeding eras.
VOL. II. (1843) No. I.
In these scholastic combats, the latter end of the eleventh and the commencement of the twelfth century was peculiarly prolific. Lanfranc, a Milanese monk, and Primate of England, a man celebrated for his learning and gentleness, attacked the doctrines of Berenger with unwonted acrimony. Anselm engaged in controversy with the subtle and eloquent Roscellinus, while St. Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux, was confronted as the champion of the church, against numerous adversaries ; among the most celebrated of whom are found the names of Abelard, Gillabut de la Porre, Arnold of Brescia, and Petude Bruys. Upon some of these controversies there will be occasion to animadvert, as they successively present themselves; but in the mean time a short sketch of the principal events in the life of St. Bernard may not be misplaced.
The youthful Bernard appears, from the testimony of his biographers, to have been peculiarly happy in his domestic relations. His father, Jecelin, or according to Du Pin, Jeschelin, was lord of the village of Fontaine in Burgundy; and if there were no peculiar marks of excellence in his character, at all events he appears to have been an inoffensive man, and an indulgent father. But Alethe, his mother, was a woman of no ordinary stamp, and was imbued with religious impressions almost amounting to enthusiasm. Six sons and one daughter testified by their useful and well-ordered lives her tender care and affection. But it was upon the third of these—the future abbot-that they were more peculiarly lavished. Even before his birth a dream-vision assured his mother that it was no ordinary being that she was about to usher into the world. The notion of becoming the mother of catellum totum candidum in dorso subrufrum et latrantem,” (for such the dream predicated,) appeared, to say the least of it, a dubious blessing! The venerable adviser, however, to whom Alethe applied for consolation, ingeniously asserted “that the dream was a happy one ; for the whelp which was to be born, should watch over the house of God, and should bark furiously against the enemies of the faith.”
The reassured Alethe, satisfied with this prophecy, conceived the greatest affection for her yet unborn babe, and inwardly determined to spare no pains to verify the flattering prediction. To this end she sent the young Bernard to be educated at Châtillon, where the boy speedily gave promise of the excellence to which he subsequently attained. Quickly outstripping his companions in the literature of the age, he spent that leisure time which his comrades consumed in idleness or mischief, in quiet meditation or religious exercises. As might be expected, this course of life in a mere child did not improve his health; and we accordingly find the youthful saint before long stretched upon the bed of sickness. Being in great pain, a little girl was sent to his bedside to amuse him in singing ; but Bernard perceiving that her songs were of a light and worldly nature, sternly
and with great marks of indignation, drove her away. The excitement consequent upon this action, adds the superstitious biographer who records the anecdote, overcame the disease, and Bernard rose from bis bed free from pain.
Alethe died when St. Bernard was still a youth ; but he was old enough to appreciate her excellence and his loss; and the remembrance of her parting wishes were of use to him subsequently, in determining him to retire from the world. From his mother's death, indeed, he began seriously to entertain this design, and to search about for the most suitable spot, whither to retire and dedicate himself to the service of God. The monastery of the Cistertians appeared to present peculiar advantages to one so desirous of mortifying the flesh, from its extreme poverty and the peculiar austerity of its regulations. Two hours after midnight, the unhappy Benedictines were aroused to vigils, -at daybreak matins were performed, while the intervening time was consumed in pious meditations or holy discourse. Neither did the stated occupations of the day belie the promise of its commencement, but consisted of alternate periods of devotion and manual labour.
The friends and relations of our youthful recluse in vain combated his design. The image of his sainted mother continually appeared to his excited imagination, urging him on to the sacrifice. The same appearance was seen also by several of his brothers, who in consequence not only desisted from their opposition, but even agreed to follow him to his retreat. Guido alone, the eldest, who was married, and had a large family, hesitated to take so vigorous a step, without the concurrence of his wife, who stoutly opposed a measure which would separate her from her husband. Bernard, enraged at her opposition, prophecied her speedy illness in the event of her non-compliance. Her husband, whose eagerness to escape from the matrimonial yoke is somewhat amusing, determined upon the desperate measure of resigning all his property and working for his bread, in order to try the subduing effect of hardship and poverty. As might be expected, the unfortunate lady, unused to such privations, fulfilled the predictions of her stern brother-in-law, and fell ill. Upon this she gave up the useless struggle, and retired into a religious house.
It was in the year 1113 that Bernard, at the age of two-and-twenty, submitted himself cheerfully, and even with eagerness, to the severe rule of St. Benedict. He took with him more than thirty of his companions, who emulated his zeal if they could not share all his privations. And although it was doubtless his design in thus enrolling himself among an order known only at that time for its poverty and ascetic rigour, to separate himself for ever from the world, it will be seen that the Divine will was that the name of St. Bernard should be bruited in courts and palaces, and that his dictum should be decisive in questions of the greatest moment.
In the monastery of Citraux, Bernard remained for three years, and many are the miracles and wonders said to have been performed by him even at this early period. These, however, it would be tiresome to enumerate ; but the account of the conversion of his only sister appears
too curious and characteristic to be omitted. Hombeline, for such was her name, determined shortly after her marriage, upon paying her brother a visit in his retirement, probably with a lurking hope of exciting in his mind, regret, if not envy, at the sight of the splendour of her fortunes. With this view she arrayed herself in her most costly attire, and with a great crowd of attendants, presented herself at the door of the monastery. Bernard, who often appears to have allowed his zeal to outrun his amiability, on being told of the manner of her arrival, did not content himself with refusing to see her, but broke out into curses against her vanity and luxuriousness. Hombeline, overwhelmed with confusion, burst into tears, and touchingly exclaimed, “ although I am a sinner, for such Christ died! Because I am a sinner, on that account, the more I require the counsel and conversation of good men. If my brother in truth despises my body, let not the servant of God despise my soul! Let him come and give me his commands. Whatever he bids me, that I am prepared to do.” Relying on this promise, her brother gave way and went out to her; and finding he could not prevail on her to abandon her husband, contented himself with interdicting the pomps and vanities of the world, and particularly that of dress, to which the lady seems to have been peculiarly given. In the selfdenying course thus prescribed to her, Hombeline persisted during the remainder of the life of her husband, and after that event retired to the nunnery of Juilly.
Clairval, the scene of St. Bernard's future ministrations, was formerly known by the less auspicious name of Vallis Absinthialis (Valley of Wormwood). Here, during the space of fifteen years from his abbotical ordination, “the Last of the Fathers," as he is emphatically called, devoted his energies to the reformation of abuses in the church, and the performance of his active duties as a monk. His ascetic severities, however, soon reduced him to such a state of emaciation and debility, as almost totally to unfit him for his position. Made sensible from this warning of the sinfulness of such extreme mortifications, he from that time somewhat relaxed from the severity of the discipline to which he formerly subjected himself.
The name and reputation of St. Bernard was by this time widely spread; but the boldness which he displayed in expostulating with prelates of the highest rank, when he perceived anything in their conduct which he deemed inconsistent with their position, was by no means acceptable in the eyes of the papal see. That power, ever jealous at the appearance of over-righteousness in any of its children, directed its chancellor, Heimerich to convey to the energetic abbot a
friendly hint that such interference in extrinsic matters, did not become his position as a monk. Bernard, whose ardent zeal could ill brook interference, and who, it is probable, had he lived a few centuries later, would have been equal to the position of even Luther himself, justified his conduct with considerable spirit, though with that deference to the court of Rome, which his opinion of the divine origin of papal authority required. But at this time he was diverted from rebuking the irregularities of the dignitaries of the church, and thereby, as he conceived, watching over her true interests, by a controversy in which he engaged, in a quarter which touched him more nearly as a monk and the superior of an order.
Peter the Venerable, as he is usually called, the well-known Abbot of Cluni, was a man who united many of Bernard's own virtues to the additional merit of a gentle spirit and mild demeanour. Such a man, however estimable, was not well fitted to coerce the luxury for which the Cluniac monks began by this time to be especially distinguished. St. Bernard, while he mercilessly reproved the worldliness and luxury of distant orders, was not likely to abstain from animadverting upon the indecorous splendour of a monastery which had ever affected a bitter rivalry to his own. His strictures, accordingly, enforced with the additional sting of truth, so aggrieved the Cluniac brethren, that one of their abbots charged Bernard with having maliciously slandered their order. This remonstrance gave occasion to his celebrated " Apologia ad Guilielmum abbatem,” in which he chastised the vanity and extravagance of the monks of Cluni, with all the severity of his powerful pen. Notwithstanding however this unfortunate rivalry between their two orders, Peter the Venerable, with a candour and moderation which does him infinite honour, not only continued upon friendly terms with the Abbot of Clairval, but even professed the greatest admiration for his character and virtues.
But the time was now come when it became the fortune of Bernard to play a more important part on the stage of Europe, than exposing the mal doings of monks, or the peccadilloes of bishops. Upon the death of Pope Honorius II., which occurred in the year 1130, a dispute arose with respect to the succession. Sixteen of the cardinals instantly elected Gregory, cardinal of St Angelo, afterwards called Innocent II. ; while the remaining thirty nominated Peter of Leon, under the name of Anacletus. This latter pretender, who was of Jewish descent, and whose private character was not irreproachable, carried with him almost the whole of Italy, from his immense wealth and extensive influence. The contemporary historians of the time, with scarcely an exception, espouse the cause of Innocent II., although the relative number of votes, and the more exact observation of forms in his rival's election, would lead a modern to give the preference to Anacletus.