This article provides a biography of St. Bernard of Clairvaux.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153) was an important churchman of the 12th century. He was an orthodox Christian, but he indulged an indifferent attitude towards holding any post and position.
The most significant aspect of Bernard’s thought is that he strongly advocated the famous doctrine of two swords. In a letter addressed to Pope Eugenisus III he unequivocally condemned the interference of the Pope into the secular affairs and, in fact, this single aspect has made him famous.
He observed that the church’s involvement in politics, intrigue, ambition and avarice had degraded its position and prestige in the public eye. Though he defended the supremacy of the church he did not like that the church would own property and would be interested in the loss and gain of wealth. Bernard scathingly rebuked the mode of living and activities of the church fathers.
Why did he object to the church’s interference in secular affairs? He asked “what is more slavish and unworthy, especially in the chief pontiff, than to sweat everyday and almost every hour over such things?”
His another question was “why do you rush into another’s field? Why do you set your sickle to another’s crop?” According to St. Bernard the dignity of ecclesiastical authority was much higher than that of the secular authority. The secular duties were to be performed by the prince, and it was beneath the prestige of the church to interfere with the affairs of state.
St. Bernard said that the church had the authority to possess two swords—the sword of spirit and the sword of flesh or body. But the sword of spirit should be used by the priest, that is, church. The sword of flesh should be handed over to the emperor and in this regard he did not recognize any compromise. While using the sword of flesh the prince would receive suggestion from the church.
This contention of St. Bernard convinces us that although he supported the two swords’ theory, he was not prepared to make any compromise so far as the supremacy of the church was concerned.
Dunning says “The venality of the court never received a more direct and cutting rebuke than from St. Bernard and the same is true of ostentation, frivolity and extravagance that ruled there”.
It is interesting to note that the church-state conflict assumed a new dimension at the hands of St. Bernard. Raising church to a very exalted position he narrowed down the scope of the conflict. The Emperor would deal with the secular problems and affairs, but his position was much lower than that of the Pope.
The King would discharge his duties remaining under the authority of the church. He had no intention to investigate the causes of corruption and degradation with which the society was faced.
We find the influence of Aristotelian logic upon the thought of St. Bernard. Like Augustine, he did not adopt any imaginary city.