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Bernard of Clairvaux (1090/1091–1153)

  1. Franz Posset

Published Online: 25 NOV 2011

DOI: 10.1002/9780470670606.wbecc0150

The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization

How to Cite

Posset, F. 2011. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090/1091–1153). The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 25 NOV 2011


A French saint, Bernard of Clairvaux was born in Fontaines, near Dijon, to a noble family. He was schooled at Châtillon. In 1113 he entered the monastery at Cîteaux with 30 of his relatives and friends. Soon he became the founding abbot of Clairvaux. During his lifetime about 700 monks lived at Clairvaux. He rejected five offers of bishoprics. He described himself as the “chimera of his century.” As a monastic theologian he understood the Bible as the “Word of salvation” and Christ as the center of his spirituality: to know nothing but Jesus the crucified Christ (1 Cor. 2:2). This motif was made visible in the later iconography, showing Bernard being embraced by the crucified Christ. He acquired a profound knowledge of the Bible and the church fathers. His spirituality contributed to the transition from the Romanesque image of Christ the King to the Gothic image of the suffering Christ. He adhered to the principles of “grace alone” and “faith alone” for salvation. Inspired by the ancient Greek maxim “know yourself” he pursued the knowledge of self as a sinner and the knowledge of God as the sinner's savior. His devotion to the Virgin Mary found expression in the later iconography of Bernard receiving mystical mother's milk onto his lips.


  • Bernard of Clairvaux (1090/1091–1153);
  • french saint, Bernard of Clairvaux;
  • monastic theologian;
  • bible as the “word of salvation”;
  • christ, center of his spirituality;
  • christ the king, and gothic, the suffering christ;
  • 125 sermons on “diverse subjects”