Bernard of Clairvaux: Selected Works

During the 12th century Bernard of Clairvaux was a major force of monastic reform and political intrigue. Known as ‘Doctor Mellifluous,’ Bernard was very active in the “many political and ecclesiastical disputes”[1] of his time including being a major supporter of the Second Crusade. At his core, however, Bernard was a mystic who longed to spend his time “meditating on the love of God” and the “humanity of Christ.”[2] It is this latter side of Bernard that comes out in the HarperCollins Spiritual Classics book Bernard of Clairvaux: Selected Works which contains multiple sermons and letters by Bernard along with his treatise “On Loving God.”

The volume starts off with a transcript of Bernard’s sermon “On Conversion” delivered in Paris sometime during the year 1140 A.D.[3] Written – and most likely delivered – with a pastoral heart, Bernard tries hard to convince people that following God is a noble and worthy cause worth forsaking worldly fame and success. After walking through various points of arguments for and against the conversion of the heart, Bernard declares at the end of the sermon that no matter the cost “those whose treasure is in heaven have no reason to fear.”[4]

Bernard’s treatise “On Loving God” makes up the second part of the HarperCollins Spiritual Classics book. This treatise was composed between 1125 and 1141 A.D. at the request of Aimeric, “cardinal deacon of the Church in Rome,”[5] who wished to know “why and how God ought to be loved.”[6] Bernard initially answers this question in eight words, “the cause of loving God is God himself”[7], before elaborating on this response in great length. The mystical tendencies of Bernard come to the front during this selection with him declaring that a person can become so “drunk with divine love”[8] that they “become like God”[9] and are freed from the “entanglements of the flesh.”[10]

The third part of the book is filled with the transcript of six sermons of Bernard on The Song of Songs originally delivered to the monks at Clairvaux between 1135 and 1153 A.D.[11] Following these sermons, the HarperCollins Spiritual Classics book ends with three letters from Bernard to various people. The mystical heart of Bernard shines in his sermons while his pastoral heart and love for the monks under this guidance comes to the surface in his letters.

On a personal level I was struck by Bernard’s passion and love for Jesus. No matter the topic, Bernard’s passionate love for the Creator became the foundation on which everything else was based upon. It is no wonder that Bernard’s theology became known as one of love.[12] Sadly, though, Bernard’s rampant support for the Second Crusade stands in contradiction to his theology of love as he actively promoted the killing of innocent people for political gain. Granted it must be noted that Bernard’s promotion of the Crusade was fueled with a desire to support the Roman Catholic Kingdom of Jerusalem rather than the mass extermination of Jews and Muslims as some preaching of the time taught.[13] Regardless of the reason, I feel that his support of the Second Crusade is a blight upon his otherwise excellent career in support of the Bride of Christ. If anything, the life and writings of Bernard of Clairvaux should serve as a warning not to separate the love of Jesus from the love of one’s fellow neighbor for both are needed as noted by the Messiah himself (e.g. Mark 12:30-31, Matthew 22:36-40).


[1] Justo L. González, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Present Day (Peabody, Massachusetts: Prince Press, 2009) 282.

[2] Justo L. González, The Story of Christianity, 282.

[3] Bernard of Clairvaux, Bernard of Clairvaux: Selected Works, ed. Emilie Griffin and trans. G.R. Evans (New York: HarperCollins, 2005), 2.

[4] Bernard of Clairvaux, Bernard of Clairvaux, 46.

[5] Bernard of Clairvaux, Bernard of Clairvaux, 48.

[6] Bernard of Clairvaux, Bernard of Clairvaux, 49.

[7] Bernard of Clairvaux, Bernard of Clairvaux, 49.

[8] Bernard of Clairvaux, Bernard of Clairvaux, 78.

[9] Bernard of Clairvaux, Bernard of Clairvaux, 91.

[10] Bernard of Clairvaux, Bernard of Clairvaux, 91.

[11] Bernard of Clairvaux, Bernard of Clairvaux, 96.

[12] “Bernard of Clairvaux, St. (1090–1153),” Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Encyclopedia.com, accessed January 2, 2019, https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bernard-clairvaux-st-1090-1153.

[13] Justo L. González, The Story of Christianity, 297.

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