Well here it is 19 August and our Commemorations list says it's the Feast of St Bernard of Clairvaux.
Thing is, the feast of St Bernard of Clairvaux is actually 20 August. Whyzat? That's the day he died, and traditionally, the date of a person's death, faith seeing it as the date they were born to eternity, is used as their feast day, if known and unless it's already taken by a saint who already died that day or by something of more importance. You die on 20 August, your feast day is 20 August. Pretty simple. It's a Christian version and continuation of Yahrtzeit, meaning "time of year" in Yiddish, when relatives remember a family member on the date of their death.
So what possessed the compilers of our Commemorations list to move it up one day? Hell if I know. I also do not know what possessed them to import from the Eastern Orthodox calendar several commemorations for Old Testament figures, but one of those is for Samuel on 20 August, so I guess they needed the day and had to boof Bernard. But to the day before, when he was still alive and not born unto eternity? Scholars. Oy.
Anyway, Bernard has a pretty good rep among notable non-Catholics, including Martin Luther and John Calvin. In spite of being a rip roaring kick-ass let's get serious about this Rule of St Benedict for monasteries type. Or, say, choosing the "right" pope when two were elected (hey, what if he got the Innocent/Anacletus thing wrong?). Or, say, seeing one of his students (Bernardo da Pisa) elected Pope (Eugene III) largely on the basis of his connexion to Bernard who thought him too naive for the job, then using that naivete to function as a shadow pope. Or, say, Eugene reacting to Edessa, a state established by the First Crusade, getting its butt kicked by the Muslims by proclaiming a Second Crusade, gets Bernard to promote it, whereupon the two main takers, Louis VII of France and Conrad III of Germany, got their butts thoroughly kicked, which completely tarnished the rest of his life though he insisted the failure was due to the Crusaders being a bunch of sinners. Or, say, at the Council of Troyes in 1129 championing the Knights Templar which secured their endorsement by the Roman Catholic Church and their transformation into a multimillion dollar multinational banking and holding company, the world's first.
He does, despite all that and more, show some signs of knowing it all comes down to faith in Christ and what he did for us. That can happen, even in the RCC, and in all fairness I gotta say old Bernard was one of those. And me being a Benedictine never-was, the only thing worse than a has-been, lemme tell ya a little reform wouldn't hurt those guys at all.
He is best known among non-Catholics because the hymn "O Sacred Head" is attributed to him. Now, let me be clear, O Sacred Head -- which everybody knows God sings as O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden -- is among the greatest hymns ever written by anybody, any time, any where.
But, Bernard didn't have a damn thing to do with it.
The text to the hymn comes from the last part of a long mediaeval poem called Salve mundi salutare (I ain't translating, ask Father Hollywood) which meditates on a number of Christ's body parts as he suffered on the Cross. The last part meditates on his head and is called Salve caput cruentatum. It dates from the 14th Century; Bernard lived in the first half of the 12th Century (1091-1153 to be exact).
The tune is even later. It was written originally as a love song by Hans Leo Hassler (1564-1612). When Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676), one of the great contributors to our magnificent Lutheran hymn heritage (no clowning around here, he was great and it is magnificent) translated Salve caput cruentatum into German as O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden (the aforementioned version God now uses, OK that's clowning around) Hassler's love song got used as the tune (there is no textual reason for this parenthetical comment except to make three in one sentence and thus reflect the perfection of the Trinity, it's a monkish thing and completely clowning around).
But hey what the hey, our national anthem's tune was originally a drinking song.
So what's the point? Bernard had nothing to do with O Sacred Head, neither as tune or text, and for that matter, being thoroughly Roman Catholic as we saw above, makes a hell of a lot better Roman Catholic saint than Lutheran commemoration.
The point is, the power of the Gospel, well meditated on in O Sacred Head, is such that the hymn does not depend on or even need pious legends and myths about its earthly authorship. And that the power of the Gospel, of which Bernard shows signs of being aware, is such that it can penetrate even the largely pagan accretions laid over it by the RCC, in which Bernard was deeply involved. Thank God for the Lutheran Reformation, that we no longer live in times like Bernard, where church and state alike were choked by these accretions, and the Gospel can be rightly preached and the Sacraments rightly administered in our churches openly.
And hey, next time you write a cheque or use a debit card to draw somewhere else on your bank deposits back home, rather than carry your stash with you and make yourself more attractive to thieves and robbers, thank the Knights Templar, whose system of letters of credit based on deposits was the low tech forerunner of banking as we know it.
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