Holy Father Bernard of Clairvaux?

August 20, 2014

The Order of Preachers celebrates three men as “Holy Fathers:” St. Augustine,  St. Francis of Assisi and, of course, St. Dominic. Now three is a rich theological number, but a fourth saint may not be out of place in this triumvirate: St. Bernard of Clairvaux. Sure, Dominicans don’t use a Rule written by him (like St. Augustine); nor did St. Bernard develop a holy friendship with St. Dominic following a vision (like St. Francis); but there are at least three good reasons Dominicans should celebrate his feast day with particular joy. First, while not the founder of the Cistercians, St. Bernard was perhaps the most famous of their number. The first canonized Cistercian, he was a leader in the monastic reform movement in the twelfth century. But what does this have to do with St. Dominic? Quite a bit! It was Cistercians, after all, who were St. Dominic’s preaching companions when he and Bishop Diego decided to begin their historic mission. St. Dominic’s first models for itinerant preachers were the Cistercian monks he stumbled upon. Second, and going along with the first point, these preaching Cistercians were following in the footsteps of St. Bernard. While a monastic at heart, St. Bernard was called upon to preach for the unity of the Church, for the mission of the crusades, and for the truth of the faith. Contemplari et contemplata aliis tradere; “to contemplate and share the fruits of contemplation.” This familiar saying of the Dominicans clearly belongs to St. Bernard as well: gaining wisdom through monastic prayer he shared this mystical fruit with the world. Finally, Veritas, Truth, was as important to St. Bernard as it was to St. Dominic and his religious sons. It was St. Bernard who defeated Abelard in intellectual combat, fighting heretical rationalism of the time with the Truth of the Catholic faith. So while he is not one of our Holy Fathers, St. Bernard should be no stranger in Dominican veneration. — Br. Bonaventure Chapman, OP

Image: Philippe de Champaigne, St. Bernard

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