St. Bernard Of Clairvaux: Letter Promoting The Second Crusade ~ SEPTEMBER 2019
The Vision of St Bernard
Letter Promoting the Second Crusade, 1146.
To the Lords and very dear Fathers, the Archbishops and Bishops, with the whole clergy and the faithful people of Eastern France and Bavaria: Bernard, called Abbot of Clairvaux, desires that they may abound in the spirit of strength.
I write to you with respect to a matter which concerns the service of Christ, in whom is our salvation. This I say in order that the Lord's authority may excuse the unworthiness of the person who speaks; let the consideration of its usefulness to yourselves also excuse the faults of my address. I, indeed, am of small account; but I have no small love for you all, in the bowels of Jesus Christ. This, now, is my reason for writing to you, that I may thus approach you as a whole. I would rather do so by word of mouth, if the opportunity, as well as the will, were afforded me.
Behold, brethren, now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation. The earth also is moved and has trembled, because the God of heaven has begun to destroy the land which is his: his, I say, in which the word of the Father was taught, and where he dwelt for more than thirty years, a man among men; his, for he enlightened it with miracles, he consecrated it with his own blood; in it appeared the first fruits of his resurrection. And now, for our sins, the enemies of Cross have raised blaspheming heads, ravaging with the edge of the sword the land of promise. For they are almost on the point, if there be not One to withstand them, of bursting into the very city of the living God, of the holy places of the spotless Lamb with purple blood. Alas! they rage against the very shrine of the Christian faith with blasphemous mouths, and would enter and trample down the very couch on which, for us, our Life lay down to sleep in death.
What are you going to do then, O brave men? What are you doing, O servants of the Cross? Will you give what is holy to the dogs, and cast your pearls before swine? How many sinners there, confessing their sins with tears, have obtained pardon, after the defilement of the heathen had been purged by the swords of your fathers! The wicked man sees and is grieved; he gnashes with his teeth, and consumes away. He prepares the instruments of sin, and will leave no sign or trace of so great piety, if ever (which God forbid!) he gain possession of this holiest of holy places. Verily that would be an irremediable grief to all time, an irrecoverable loss, a vast disgrace to this most graceless generation, and an everlasting shame.
What are we then to think, brethren? Is the Lord's arm shortened so that it cannot save, because he calls his weak creatures to guard and restore his heritage? Can he not send more than twelve legions of angels, or merely speak the word, and the land shall be set free? It is altogether in his power to effect what he wishes; but I tell you, the Lord, your God, is trying you. He looks upon the sons of men to see if there be any to understand, and seek, and bewail his error. For the Lord hath pity upon his people, and provides a sure remedy for those that are afflicted.
Think what care he uses for your salvation, and wonder. Behold the abyss of his love, and trust him, O ye sinners. He wills not your death, but that you may turn and live; for now he seeks occasion, not against you, but for your benefit. What opportunity of salvation has God not tried and sought out, when the almighty deigns to summon to his service murderers, robbers, adulterers, perjurers, and those guilty of other crimes, as if they were a people that dealt righteously? Doubt him not, O sinners; God is kind. If he willed to punish you, he not only would not seek your service, but would not accept it when offered.
Again I say, weigh the riches of the goodness of the Highest God; hear his plan of mercy. He makes, or feigns, a need for himself, while he desires to help you in your necessity. He wills to be held a debtor, that he may give pay to those that fight for him, pardon of sins, and everlasting glory. Therefore I may call it a highly favored generation which has happened upon a time so full of indulgence; upon which has come that acceptable year of the Lord, a very jubilee; for this blessing is spread over the whole world, and all fly eagerly to the sign of life.
Since, therefore, your land is fruitful in brave men, and is known to be full of robust youth, since your praise is in the whole world, and the fame of your valor has filled the entire earth, gird up your loins manfully, and take up arms in zeal for the Christian name. Let not your former warlike skill cease, but only that spirit of hatred in which you are accustomed to strike down and kill one another and in turn be overcome yourselves. How dire a madness goads those wretched men, when kinsmen strike each other's bodies with the sword, perchance causing the soul also to perish! But he does not escape who triumphs; the sword shall go through his own soul also, when he thinks to have slain his enemy only. To enter such a combat is madness, not valor: it is not to be ascribed to bravery, but rather to foolishness.
But now, O brave knight, now, O warlike hero, here is a battle you may fight without danger, where it is glory to conquer and gain to die. If you are a prudent merchant, if you are a desirer of this world, behold I show you some great bargains; see that you lose them not. Take the sign of the cross and you shall gain pardon for every sin that you confess with a contrite heart. The material itself, being bought, is worth little; but if it be placed on a devout shoulder, it is, without doubt, worth no less than the kingdom of God. Therefore, they have done well who have already taken the heavenly sign; well and wisely also will the rest do, if they hasten to lay upon their shoulders, like the first, the sign of salvation.
Besides, brethren, I warn you, and not only I, but God's apostle, "Believe not every spirit." We have heard and rejoice that the zeal of God abounds in you, but it behooves no mind to be wanting in wisdom. The Jews must not be persecuted, slaughtered, nor even driven out. Inquire of the pages of Holy Writ. I know what is written in the Psalms as prophecy about the Jews. "God hath commanded me," says the Church, "Slay them not, lest my people forget."
They are living signs to use, representing the Lord's passion. For this reason they are dispersed into all regions, that now they may pay the just penalty of so great a crime, and that they may be witnesses of our redemption. Wherefore the Church, speaking in the same Psalm, says, "Scatter them by thy power; and bring them down, O Lord, our shield." So has it been. They have been dispersed, cast down. They undergo a hard captivity under Christian princes. Yet they shall be converted at even time, and remembrance of them shall be made in due season. Finally, when the multitude of the Gentiles shall have entered in, then, "all Israel shall be saved," saith the apostle. meanwhile he who dies remains in death.
I do not enlarge on the lamentable fact that where there are no Jews there Christian men judaize even worse than they in extorting usury, -- if, indeed, we may call them Christians and not rather baptized Jews. Moreover, if the Jews be utterly trampled down, how shall the promised salvation or conversion profit them in the end?
This also we must warn you, dearest brethren, that if any love to bear rule among you, and wish, by hastening, to anticipate the army of his country, he shall by no means attempt to do it. If he pretend to have been sent by us, it is not true; or if he show letters as if given by us, I warn you that they are altogether false or obtained by fraud. It is necessary to choose warlike and skilled leaders, and for the army of the Lord to set out together, that it may have strength everywhere, and not be liable to sustain injury from any.
There was in the former expedition, before Jerusalem was taken, a certain man, Peter by name, of whom (if I mistake not) you have often heard mention. He went alone, at the head of a mass of people who had intrusted themselves to his care, and led them into so great dangers that none, or at least very few, escaped death, either by hunger or the sword. So there is danger lest, if you do likewise, the same fate should overtake you also, which may God, who is forever blessed, avert from you. Amen