Pope Eugene found there, in the abbot Bernard of Clairvaux, a mighty instrument for operating on the minds of the age.
Continuing Arnold of Brescia Versus Saint Bernard,
our selection from General History of the Christian Religion and Church by Johann A. W. Neander published in 1850. The selection is presented in four easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Arnold of Brescia Versus Saint Bernard.
Time: 1130 – 1155
The pope Lucius II was killed as early as 1145, in the attack on the Capitol. A scholar of the great abbot Bernard, the abbot Peter Bernard of Pisa, now mounted the papal chair under the name of Eugene III. As Eugene honored and loved the abbot Bernard as his spiritual father and old preceptor, so the latter took advantage of his relation to the Pope to speak the truth to him with a plainness which no other man would easily have ventured to use. In congratulating him upon his elevation to the papal dignity, he took occasion to exhort him to do away with the many abuses which had become so widely spread in the Church by worldly influences. “Who will give me the satisfaction,” said he in his letter, “of beholding the Church of God, before I die, in a condition like that in which it was in ancient days, when the apostles threw out their nets, not for silver and gold, but for souls? How fervently I wish thou mightest inherit the word of that apostle whose episcopal seat thou hast acquired, of him who said, ‘Thy gold perish with thee.’ Oh that all the enemies of Zion might tremble before this dreadful word, and shrink back abashed! This, thy mother indeed expects and requires of thee, for this long and sigh the sons of thy mother, small and great, that every plant which our Father in heaven has not planted may be rooted up by thy hands.” He then alluded to the sudden deaths of the last predecessors of the Pope, exhorting him to humility, and reminding him of his responsibility. “In all thy works,” he wrote, “remember that thou art a man; and let the fear of Him who taketh away the breath of rulers be ever before thine eyes.”
Eugene was soon forced to yield, it is true, to the superior force of the insurrectionary spirit in Rome, and in 1146 to take refuge in France; but, like Urban and Innocent, he too, from this country, attained to the highest triumph of the papal power. Like Innocent, he found there, in the abbot Bernard of Clairvaux, a mightier instrument for operating on the minds of the age than he could have found in any other country; and like Urban, when banished from the ancient seat of the papacy, he was enabled to place himself at the head of a crusade proclaimed in his name, and undertaken with great enthusiasm; an enterprise from which a new impression of sacredness would be reflected back upon his own person.
The news of the success which had attended the arms of the Saracens in Syria, the defeat of the Christians, the conquest of the ancient Christian territory of Edessa, the danger which threatened the new Christian kingdom of Jerusalem and the Holy City, had spread alarm among the Western nations, and the Pope considered himself bound to summon the Christians of the West to the assistance of their hard-pressed brethren in the faith and to the recovery of the holy places. By a letter directed to the abbot Bernard he commissioned him to exhort the Western Christians in his name, that, for penance and forgiveness of sins, they should march to the East, to deliver their brethren, or to give up their lives for them. Enthusiastic for the cause himself Bernard communicated, through the power of the living word and by letters, his enthusiasm to the nations. He represented the new crusade as a means furnished by God to the multitudes sunk in sin, of calling them to repentance, and of paving the way, by devout participation in a pious work, for the forgiveness of their sins. Thus, in his letter to the clergy and people in East Frankland (Germany), he exhorts them eagerly to lay hold on this opportunity; he declares that the Almighty condescended to invite murderers, robbers, adulterers, perjurers, and those sunk in other crimes, into his service, as well as the righteous. He calls upon them to make an end of waging war with one another, and to seek an object for their warlike prowess in this holy contest. “Here, brave warrior,” he exclaims, “thou hast a field where thou mayest fight without danger, where victory is glory and death is gain. Take the sign of the cross, and thou shalt obtain the forgiveness of all the sins which thou hast never confessed with a contrite heart.” By Bernard’s fiery discourses men of all ranks were carried away. In France and in Germany he travelled about, conquering by an effort his great bodily infirmities, and the living word from his lips produced even mightier effects than his letters.
A peculiar charm, and a peculiar power of moving men’s minds, must have existed in the tones of his voice; to this must be added the awe-inspiring effect of his whole appearance, the way in which his whole being and the motions of his bodily frame joined in testifying of that which seized and inspired him. Thus it admits of being explained how, in Germany, even those who understood but little, or in fact nothing, of what he said, could be so moved as to shed tears and smite their breasts; could, by his own speeches in a foreign language, be more strongly affected and agitated than by the immediate interpretation of his words by another. From all quarters sick persons were conveyed to him by the friends who sought from him a cure; and the power of his faith, the confidence he inspired in the minds of men, might sometimes produce remarkable effects. With this enthusiasm, however, Bernard united a degree of prudence and a discernment of character such as few of that age possessed, and such qualities were required to counteract the multiform excitements of the wild spirit of fanaticism which mixed in with this great ferment of minds.
Thus, he warned the Germans not to suffer themselves to be misled so far as to follow certain independent enthusiasts, ignorant of war, who were bent on moving forward the bodies of the crusaders prematurely. He held up as a warning the example of Peter the Hermit, and declared himself very decidedly opposed to the proposition of an abbot who was disposed to march with a number of monks to Jerusalem; “for,” said he, “fighting warriors are more needed there than singing monks.” At an assembly held at Chartres it was proposed that he himself should take the lead of the expedition; but he rejected the proposition at once, declaring that it was beyond his power and contrary to his calling. Having, perhaps, reason to fear that the Pope might be hurried on, by the shouts of the many, to lay upon him some charge to which he did not feel himself called, he besought the Pope that he would not make him a victim to men’s arbitrary will, but that he would inquire, as it was his duty to do, how God had determined to dispose of him.
With the preaching of this Second Crusade, as with the invitation to the First, was connected an extraordinary awakening. Many who had hitherto given themselves up to their unrestrained passions and desires, and become strangers to all higher feelings, were seized with compunction. Bernard’s call to repentance penetrated many a heart; people who had lived in all manner of crime were seen following this voice and flocking together in troops to receive the badge of the cross. Bishop Otto of Freisingen, the historian, who himself took the cross at that time, expresses it as his opinion “that every man of sound understanding would be forced to acknowledge so sudden and uncommon a change could have been produced in no other way than by the right hand of the Lord.” The provost Gerhoh of Reichersberg, who wrote in the midst of these movements, was persuaded that he saw here a work of the Holy Spirit, designed to counteract the vices and corruptions which had got the upper hand in the Church.
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