Saint Bernard - hating and loving Knights

The Cistercian Order, and especially Clairvaux abbot Bernard (1091-1153), was essential in creating the Templar Order. His attitude towards knights was as dogmatic as his character, as is documented in his Vitae, the book that describes his life. What does the Vitae tell us about his views towards knights, his convictions and way of life?

The Vitae of Saint Bernard was written to promote Bernard's sainthood and may have been idealised. Effectively, Bernard was canonized by Pope Alexander III as soon as 18 January 1174, so only 20 years after his death. 

Bernard seems to have been a very stubborn man, focussed only on the salvation of his own soul and those of others. That is the reason that he considered knigths, who's souls were condamned any way because of their brutal profession, had only a chance of redemption when they fought the good cause for Christ. So firstly he provided the Templars with a mainly monastic Rule (following the January 1129 council of Troyes), in that way literally bringing them under control.

Then, after much hesitation, he wrote "In Praise of the New Knighthood" (about 1136), in which he compared the Knights Templar with the regular knights of the age. He criticized the ordinary knights for their vanity, wanton violence, and pointlessness. In contrast, he praised the Templars as noble, following a higher calling, fearless, and holy, in that way at least working on the salvation of their otherwise lost souls. 

In that he condoned and even supported the Knights Templar. That lead in turn to wide support in circles of nobility and the (partly also militarized) clergy, and in consequence many, at first mainly landed, donations in the form of estates, which was later followed by many new recruits from those circles.

For the Vitae in French go to this site. Illustration: Bernard exorcising a possession, altarpiece by Jörg Breu the Elder, c. 1500, source: Wikipedia

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