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Book Review Life and Work of Bernhard von Clairvaux

Poster: "Garrett, William" <WGarrett@sierrahealth.com>

Submitted for your perusal.......


Peter Dinzelbacher.  <i>Bernhard von Clairvaux.  Leben und Werk 
des beruehmten Zisterziensers</i>.  Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche 
Buchgesellschaft, 1998.  Pp. X, 497, 12 ill.   DM 78 (hb).  
ISBN: 3-896-78027-1.

   Reviewed by Albrecht Classen
	University of Arizona

Although it would be difficult to identify any other religious 
person from the Middle Ages who enjoyed more authority and 
respect, love and admiration, fear and fascination than Bernard 
of Clairvaux, and although our libraries are filled with studies 
about this man, his life, his thoughts, and writings, his 
influence and impact on monasticism, the Cistercian order, 
Gothic architecture, on intellectuals of his time, etc., it 
proves to be a never-ending task to reconsider who this man 
really was, what we know about him and how to evaluate him from 
our modern perspective, keeping in mind the historical and 
religious context.  

The well-known Austrian medievalist Peter Dinzelbacher -- an 
expert in many disciplines (see his recent study on "Angst" or 
'Fear' in the Middle Ages, reviewed in <i>The Medieval 
Review</I> 4 Sept. 1998) -- has produced such a new biography 
which is both the result of his exhaustive investigation of 
primary and secondary resources specifically for this book, and 
the result of his editorial work on the first volume of 
Bernard's collected works crictically reproduced in Latin and 
German (ed. G. Winkler, 1990ff.).  He openly admits in his 
conclusion that it would be virtually impossible to claim 
radically new discoveries about Bernard as historical research 
today can look back on a long line of excellent, highly 
detailed, and profoundly knowledgeable Bernard biographies, 
beginning with A. Neander's German publication from 1889 and 
Abbe Vacandard's book from 1895.  W. Williams's English Bernard 
biography from 1935, the French collection of critical articles 
on Bernard from 1953 (Bernard de Clairvaux), I. Vallery-Radot's 
French biography from 1963, Jean Leclercq's critical edition of 
Bernard's works from 1957ff., G. Wendelborn's German 
biographical study from 1993, among many other published studies 
on the Saint, especially those which have appeared in print 
since Bernard's anniversary in 1990, have vastly expanded our 
knowledge.   Dinzelbacher justifies his new approach by pointing 
out that his efforts were focused on outlining Bernard's life 
from a mental-historical point of view, to contextualize it as 
much as possible, to incorporate the most recent findings about 
the Cistercian monk, and yet to make his text readable also for 
the general audience.  In particular, he distances himself from 
traditional biographers who painted primarily a hagiographic 
picture of Bernard's life, and not an objective biography.  
Moreover, Dinzelbacher's approach is strictly chronological, 
although he often provides additional information about 
historical events, religious movements, contemporary medieval 
literature, and social, political, and anthropological aspects.  
Some of these pertain to medieval belief in miracles produced by 
saints -- Bernard was famous for his power to create such 
miracles and allegedly was able to heal many people -- medieval 
architecture and the visual arts, the relationship between 
Christians and Jews, and also the crusades.  Although this new 
Bernard biography is written in German, hence is primarily 
targeting a German reading audience, Dinzelbacher's critical 
intentions are to provide a comprehensive and cutting-edge 
overview of this monumental twelfth-century theologian and his 
role in mysticism, the development of the Cistercian order, 
crusades, and other historical events of his time.

The book is divided into five chapters which deal with the 
following topics: 1. Bernard's childhood and youth; 2. his life 
in Citeaux and Clairvaux until 1130; 3. Bernard's political and 
clerical life since 1130 when a schism threatened the harmony 
and unity of the Catholic Church; 4. Bernard's efforts against 
heretics such as the Cathars and opponents within the church 
such as Abelard, Arnold of Brescia, and Henry of Lausanne; and 
5. the last decade of Bernard's life which were filled with his 
involvement in the crusades, pogroms against the Jews, Bernard's 
personal interactions with mystics such as Hildegard of Bingen, 
Bernard's recommendation to the French King Louis to expel and 
divorce his wife Eleonore because of her alleged disloyalty, 
concluding with a discussion of the abbot's death.  Although 
Bernard always strove to withdraw from the world and tried to 
close the convent's gates to the outside, the outside forced 
itself increasingly upon this remarkable personality because of 
his immense popularity and steady growth of worldly fame both as 
a saint and as an advisor with the highest authority in secular 
and clerical matters.

Dinzelbacher follows in great detail the many different steps 
and events in Bernard's life and successfully portrays this 
extraordinary man in a very lively fashion without ever falling 
in the trap of turning into a hagiographer.  Undoubtedly, the 
author admires Bernard and shows great respect for his work, 
literary production, and personality, but he always maintains a 
critical distance and strives to incorporate contemporary voices 
both opposed to and full of worship for this man.  The 
discussion of Bernard's bitter and harsh exchanges with Abelard 
results in clear criticism of Bernard's intolerance, 
vindictiveness, and political machinations to guarantee his 
opponent's condemnation and isolation.  But Dinzelbacher also 
observes the curious phenomenon that Bernard and Abelard shared 
many beliefs and were quite similar in their intellectual 
orientation, except that Abelard took those radical steps which 
Bernard felt inclined to take as well but did not dare to 
because of his traditional, clerical ideology; Bernard and 
Abelard were, in other words, "Feindbrueder," hostile brothers 

This new biography draws from a wealth of primary and secondary 
sources and discusses the man from many different perspectives.  
The original sources are always translated into German, and 
almost every facet of Bernard's biography is illuminated with 
the help of original documents and the observations of Bernard 
scholarship.  The actual text comprises 370 pages, and the 
annotations, bibliography, and index comprise 126 pages.  
Undoubtedly, Dinzelbacher must be credited for an outstanding 
new scholarly contribution which leaves little to be desired.  
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