Bernard of Clairvaux’s Writings on Violence and the Sacred

The Vision of St Bernard, by Fra Bartolommeo, c. 1504 (Uffizi)Bernard of Clairvaux’s Writings on Violence and the Sacred

Andrew Pedry (George Mason University)

Vexillum: Issue 3 (2013)


Monk, exegete, political actor and reformer, Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) was not just a man of his times; he was a man who shaped his times. Bernard’s writings on Christian morality and the transformation of the human spirit in the pursuit of God reverberated in his time and have remained influential through the Protestant Reformation and into the modern era. The apparent contradiction between his writings on love and those on warfare has resulted in an artificial separation of his writing by scholars; those who are studying monasticism or Bernard in general tend to ignore or gloss over his writings on violence, while those studying the Crusades, warfare, or masculine identity often only look at those writings while ignoring Bernard’s less topical work.


This separation of his writings, though convenient, conceals a deep continuity which runs throughout Bernard’s corpus and cheats Bernard of his intellectual completeness. This paper explores Bernard’s writings on the issues of physical and spiritual violence, demonstrates that they are a coherent part of his wider set of beliefs and shows that, when studied side by side with his other writings, they clarify his thoughts on acceptable monastic and Christian life.

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