Bernard de Fontaine, abbot of Clairvaux, Italianized in Bernardo di Chiaravalle; he was a monk and abbot of the Cistercian order, founder of the famous abbey of Clairvaux and other monasteries.
He is revered as a saint by the Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran Church. Canonized in 1174 by Pope Alexander III in the cathedral of Anagni, he was declared Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius VIII in 1830.
Third of seven brothers, he was born of Tescelino the Sauro, vassal of Oddone I of Burgundy, and of Aletta, daughter of Bernardo di Montbard, also a vassal of the Duke of Burgundy. He studied only grammar and rhetoric (not all the seven liberal arts, therefore) in the school of the canons of Nôtre Dame of Saint-Vorles, near Châtillon-sur-Seine, where the family had possessions.
Back in the paternal castle of Fontaines, in 1111, together with the five brothers and other relatives and friends, he retired to the house of Châtillon to lead a life of retreat and prayer until, the following year, with about thirty companions became monk in the Cistercian monastery of Cîteaux, founded fifteen years earlier by Roberto di Molesmes and then ruled by Stefano Harding.
In 1115, together with twelve companions, among whom were four brothers, an uncle and a cousin, he moved into the property of a relative, in the Champagne region, who had given the monks a large land on the banks of the river Aube, in the diocese of Langres to build a new Cistercian monastery: they called that valley Clairvaux, Chiaravalle.
Obtained the approval of Bishop William of Champeaux and received numerous donations, the Abbey of Clairvaux quickly became a center of appeal as well as irradiation: as early as 1118, monks of Clairvaux left to found new monasteries elsewhere, as in Trois-Fontaines , in Fontenay, in Foigny, in Autun, in Laon.
In Letter 1, sent around 1124 to his cousin Roberto, Bernardo shows that he considers the monastic life of the Benedictines of Cluny, then at the apogee of their development, as a place that denied the values of poverty, austerity and sanctity; he rejects the theory of the Benedictine rule of stabilitas - that is, of the permanent and definitive link that should be established between monk and monastery - by supporting the legitimacy of the passage from a Cluniac to a Cistercian monastery, since the latter has professed a more rigorous and more adherent rule to the Rule of St. Benedict, therefore a perfect monastic life. The controversy was resumed in the Apologia to the abbot William, urged by William, abbot of the monastery of Saint-Thierry, who had a reply from the abbot of Cluny, Peter the Venerable, in which the abbot claimed the legitimacy of discretion in the interpretation of the Benedictine rule.
In 1130, at the death of Honorius II, two popes were elected: one, from the faction of the Roman family of the Frangipane, with the name of Innocent II and another, supported by the family of the Pierleoni, with the name of Anacletus II; Bernardo actively supported the first who, in the history of the Church, as elected by fewer cardinals, will be recognized as authentic pope, thanks above all to the support of the major European kingdoms (Anacletus II will be considered an antipope).
There were numerous interventions in matters concerning the behavior of clergymen: he accused Simon, bishop of Noyon and of simony Henry, bishop of Verdun, of impropriety; in 1138 he favored the election to Bishop of Langres of his cousin Goffredo della Roche-Vanneau, despite the opposition of Peter the Venerable and, in 1141, to archbishop of Bourges of Pietro de La Châtre, while the following year he obtained the replacement Guglielmo di Fitz-Herbert, bishop of York, with his Cistercian friend Enrico Murdac, abbot of Fountaine.
In 1119 some knights, under the guidance of Hugh of Payns, feudatory of Champagne and relative of Bernardo, founded a new monastic-military order, the Order of the Knights of the Temple, based in Jerusalem, on the esplanade where the Jewish Temple stood; the purpose of the Order, placed under the authority of the patriarch of Jerusalem, was to watch over the roads traveled by Christian pilgrims. The Order obtained the approval of Pope Honorius II in the Council of Troyes in 1128 and it seems that his rule was inspired by Bernard, who wrote, around 1135, the Eulogy of the new cavalry (De laude novae militiae ad Milites Temples).
Bernardo's interest in the political events of his time also manifested itself in the conflicts that the Count of Champagne, Tibaldo II, supported by him, against King Louis VII of France and on the occasion of the repression, in 1140, of the newborn Commune of Reims, operated by its Cistercian pupil, the bishop Samson of Mauvoisin.
In 1140 William of Saint-Thierry, Cistercian of the monastery of Signy, wrote to the bishop of Chartres, Goffredo di Lèves and to Bernardo, denouncing that two works by Abelardo, the Liber Sententiarum and the Theologia scholarium, contained, in his opinion, theologically erroneous statements , listing them in their own writings, the Discussion against Pietro Abelardo.
Bernardo, «but without directly reading the incriminated texts (some of which, in fact, were not by Abelardo)» , he wrote to Pope Innocent II Letter 190, claiming that Abelard conceived faith as a simple opinion; in front of the Parisian students he pronounced the sermon of La conversion, attacking Abelardo and inviting them to abandon his lessons.
Abelardo reacted by asking the archbishop of Sens to organize a public confrontation with Bernardo, to be held on June 3, 1140, but the latter, fearing the dialectical ability of his controversy, presented 19 statements clearly heretical, attributing them to Abelardo (albeit « not always with scrupulous adherence to the texts and their meaning ", calling the bishops present to condemn them and inviting the day after the same Abelard to rule on it.
In 1144 the monk Evervino of Steinfeld informed him of a heresy, of a pauperistic type, diffused in that of Cologne, to which he replied with the Sermons 63, 64, 65 and 66; the following year he accepted the invitation of the cardinal of Ostia, Alberico, to fight a heresy spread in the region of Toulouse by the monaco Enrico di Losanna, follower of Pietro di Bruys, critic of the ecclesial hierarchies and proposer of a life marked by poverty and penance; on this occasion, Bernardo thought it necessary to go, together with his secretary Goffredo d'Auxerre to Toulouse. Having obtained, after many contrasts, a profession of faith, he returned to Chiaravalle and addressed a letter to the inhabitants of Toulouse - the Letter 242 - in which he expressed his conviction that those doctrines had been definitively refuted.
Once again requested to pronounce on the Trinitarian theses of the bishop of Poitiers and teacher of theology in Paris, Gilberto Porretano, in 1148, Bernardo again attempted to have the bishops he had assembled apart, a prior condemnation that the synod should be held the following day. in Reims, he would simply have to ratify; this time, however, the bishops did not support his initiative, so much so that Bernardo had to seek support from Pope Eugene III. The defense of Gilberto - who claimed to have never supported the theses alleged against him, the result, he said, of erroneous interpretations of his students - dropped all charges.
On February 15, 1145, in Rome, in the monastery of San Cesario, on the Palatine Hill, the conclave elected Pope Eugene III, abbot of the Roman monastery of Saints Vincent and Anastasius; the new pope, Bernardo Paganelli, knew Bernardo well, for having met him in the council of Pisa in 1135 and for being a Cistercian order in Chiaravalle in 1138. Bernardo, delighting with his election, curiously reminded him that "you are not you to be pope, but me and everywhere, those who have some problem turn to me "and that it was he, Bernardo, who had" generated it through the Gospel ".
Eugene III commissioned Bernardo to preach in favor of the new crusade that was being prepared, which should have been composed mostly of Frenchmen, but Bernardo succeeded in involving the Germans too. The crusade was a complete failure that Bernardo justified in his treatise The consideration, with the sins of the crusaders, which God had put to the test.
This treaty, finished composing in 1152, also dealt with the tasks of the papacy, and Bernardo sent it to Pope Eugene, who was struggling with the difficulties procured by the opposition of the Roman republicans, led by Arnaldo da Brescia.
His health conditions began to worsen at the end of 1152: he still had the strength to embark on a journey to Metz, in Lorraine, to put an end to the troubles that tormented that city. Back in Chiaravalle, he learned the news of the death of Pope Eugene, which occurred on July 8, 1153 and died the following month.
Covered with a suit belonging to the bishop Malachia, of whom he had just finished writing a biography, he was buried in front of the altar of his abbey.