June 25 is the day, according to tradition, that Bernard (1090-1153) founded a new Cistercian monastery in Clairvaux in the year 1115. The monastery was such a success, and he was so linked with it, that “of Clairvaux” is now his last name. He was not the first Cistercian, but he was the perfect one. A few facts on Bernard:
*He is known as “the honey-sweet doctor,” Doctor Mellifluus, for the sweetness of his teaching.
*The Roman Catholic Church recognizes him as one of the Doctors of the Church (on a short list of 33 from all church history).
*Pope Pius XII (in 1953) called him “the last of the fathers.”
*He wrote an extensive devotional commentary on the Song of Songs, perfecting the mystical interpretation of it.
*He preached the second crusade.
*He is prominent in Dante’s Paradiso as the last person in the celestial rose, who hands Dante off to Mary.
*His message was about direct intimacy with God, but always mediated through Mary. Boy did he love Mary.
*Martin Luther called him “the best monk that ever lived.”
*He wrote the Latin original of “O Sacred Head Now Wounded,” which sounds so Lutheran in a Bach passion.
*John Calvin loved his works, quoted him more than any church father except Augustine, and was deeply shaped by Bernard’s spirituality.
*The hymn “Jesus the Very Thought of Thee,” popular with evangelicals until recent decades, is based on Bernard’s Latin hymn.
*The best place to start reading Bernard of Clairvaux is his treatise On Loving God.