St. Bernard on the Roman Primacy (1090-1153 AD)


“Come, let us inquire yet more diligently who are, that is, what person you, for a time, sustain in the Church of God. Who are you? A great priest, the Supreme Pontiff. You are chief of the Bishops, heir of the Apostles, in primacy Abel, in government Noah, in Patriarchate Abraham, in order Melchizedek, in dignity Aaron, in authority Moses, in judgment Samuel, in power Peter, in unction Christ. You are he to whom the keys are delivered, to whom the sheep are entrusted. Others indeed there are who keep the door of heaven, and are shepherds of flocks, but you have inherited both names above the rest, as in a more glorious, so in a different way. They have each their several flocks assigned to them, while to you singly all are entrusted as one flock. And not only of the sheep, but of all the shepherds you are the only Shepherd. Ask you whence I prove this? By the word of the Lord. For to whom I say, not of Bishops, but even of Apostles, were all the sheep entrusted so absolutely, and without distinction? ‘Peter, if thou lovest Me, feed My sheep‘. Which sheep? The people of this or that city, or region, or specified empire? ‘My sheep‘, He saith. To whom is it not plain that He did not designate some, but assign all? Nothing is excepted, where nothing is distinguished. And perhaps the rest of his fellow-disciples were present, when, by committing them to one, He commended unity to all in one flock, and one shepherd, according to that ‘My dove, My beautiful, My perfect is but one‘. Where is unity, there is perfection. The other numbers have not perfection, but division, in receding from unity. Hence it is that others received each their own people, knowing the sacrament. Finally, James, who seemed to be a pillar of the Church, was contended with Jerusalem alone, yielding up to Peter the whole. But well was he there placed to raise up seed to his dead Brother, when that Brother was slain. For he was called the brother of the Lord. Moreover, when the brother of the Lord gives way, what other would intrude himself on the prerogative of Peter!

Therefore, according to your canons, others have been called to a part of your solicitude, but you to the fullness of power. The power of others is conferred within certain limits; yours is extended even over those who have received power over others. Can you not, if fitting cause exist, shut heaven to a Bishop, depose him from the Episcopate, even deliver him to Satan? Therefore, does your privilege stand to you unshaken, as well in the keys which are given you, as in the sheep which are entrusted to you. Hear another thing which no less confirms to you your prerogative. The disciples were in the ship, and the Lord appeared on the shore, and , what was cause of greater delight, in His risen Body. Peter, knowing that it is the Lord, casts himself into the sea, and thus came to him while the rest arrived in the ship. What meaneth that? It is a sign of the one only priesthood of Peter, by which he received not one ship only, as the rest each their own, but the world itself for his government. For the sea is the world, ships [are] churches. Thence it is, that, on another occasion, walking like the Lord on the waters, he marked himself out as a single Vicar of Christ, who should rule, over not one people, but all; since the ‘many waters’ are ‘many peoples’. Thus, while every one of the rest has his own ship, to thee the one most great ship is entrusted; the Universal Church herself, made out of all churches, diffused through the whole world

(S. Bernard, de Consid. Lib. ii. c. 8, taken from The See of St. Peter, the rock of the Church, the Source of Jurisdiction, and the Centre of Unity by Thomas William Allies, page 219-221)

St. Bernard is also famous for his rejection of the Immaculate Conception doctrine as is evidenced by his letter to the Canons of Lyons. However, what is not widely known is that in this very letter, he leaves the matter above himself for the authority of the Church which is principally headed by the Roman Church. How often is it that this letter of St. Bernard is thrown into the faces of contemporary Roman Catholics as if their dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a brand new innovation and heresy. What is not often said, however, is that St. Bernard did not arrogate to himself the final judgment on the matter. Today, we’ve lost this sense of religious obligation to the Church’s doctrinal magisterium as a power to trump all our resident difficulties and doubts. He writes:

“Wherefore I cannot but wonder that there should have been among you at this time some who wished to sully this splendid fame of your Church by introducing a new Festival, a rite which the Church knows nothing of, and which reason does not prove, nor ancient tradition hand down to us….But what I have said is in submission to the judgment of whosoever is wiser than myself; and especially I refer the whole of it, as of all matters of a similar kind, to the authority and decision of the See of Rome, and I am prepared to modify my opinion if in anything I think otherwise than that See.” (Letter to the Canons of Lyons)

In any case, there was no question in Bernard’s mind on the Church’s doctrine of the Virgin’s being born sinless. He wrote, “I learned in the Church and from the Church to consider the birth of the Virgin certainly a holy day and worthy of celebration. With the Church, I firmly believe that Mary received, in her mother’s womb, the grace to be born holy” (ibid)

Thus, given St. Bernard’s deference to the Roman See on all matters of doctrine, his belief in the universal jurisdiction of the Pope, and his unwavering understanding that the Church taught Mary’s sinless birth, I don’t see approximating St. Bernard as a testimonial for either the Anglican or Reformed ecclesial bodies.

1 thought on “St. Bernard on the Roman Primacy (1090-1153 AD)

  1. Pingback: S. Bernardo de Claraval sobre a Primazia Romana (1090-1153 dC) – Apologistas da Fé Católica

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