The French monk who became known as Bernard of Clairvaux was born into a noble family in 1091, near Dijon, and died on August 20, 1153 (hence his commemoration today).
As a young man he was a soldier, but left the military with 30 others, including his brothers, and joined a monastery at Citeaux. A few years later he was asked to go and found another monastery, which he named Clairvaux. During the course of his life he was involved with the founding of 163 communities across Europe.
His surviving writings became part of the theology of the Catholic Church. He was especially devoted to the Virgin Mary, and helped formulate much of the doctrine around her. He was canonized in 1174 by Pope Alexander III, only about twenty years after his death.
Bernard was much admired during the Reformation as well; both Martin Luther and John Calvin thought he embodied the best of the Catholic faith. Today, some of the poetry of Bernard is sung in many churches, several hymns excerpted from longer poems, a few of which we have seen here on the blog. Today's hymn is part of a longer one, Jesu, Rex admirabilis, translated by Edward Caswall in 1849.
O Jesus, Light of all below,
Great Fount of life and fire,
Surpassing all the joys we know,
And all we can desire!
Thy wondrous mercies are untold,
Through each returning day;
Thy love exceeds a thousandfold,
Whatever we can say.
May every heart confess thy Name;
And ever thee adore;
And seeking thee, itself inflame,
To seek thee more and more.
Thus may our tongues forever bless;
Thee may we love alone;
And ever in our lives express
The image of thine own.
Bernard of Clairvaux, 12th cent.
tr. Edward Caswall, 1849
Tune: ST. LEONARD (C.M.)
Henry T. Smart, 1867
P.S. The painting above is a portion of The Vision of St. Bernard by Fra Bartolomeo (1504), currently in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.
Two Years Ago: Bernard of Clairvaux