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BERNARD OF CLAIRVAUX, The Jews and the Second Crusade (1146)

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Letter to Eastern France and Bavaria 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 entrusted 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.

Letter to England to Summon the Second Crusade, 1146.

[From Bruno Scott James, trans., The Letters of St. Bernard of Clairvaux (London: Burns Oates, 1953).]

  1. I address myself to you, the people of England, in the cause of Christ, in whom lies your salvation. I say this so that the warrant of the Lord and my zeal in his interests may excuse my hardihood in addressing you. I am a person of small account, but my desire for you in Christ is not small. This is my reason and motive for writing, this is why I make bold to address you all by letter. I would have preferred to do so by word of mouth had I but the strength to come to you as I desire.

  2. Now is the acceptable time, now is the day of abundant salvation. The earth is shaken because the Lord of heaven is losing his land, the land in which he appeared to men, in which he lived amongst men for more than thirty years; the land made glorious by his miracles, holy by his blood; the land in which the flowers of his resurrection first blossomed. And now, for our sins, the enemy of the Cross has begun to lift his sacrilegious head there, and to devastate with the sword that blessed land, that land of promise. Alas, if there should be none to withstand him, he will soon invade the very city of the living God, overturn the arsenal of our redemption, and defile the holy places which have been adorned by the blood of the immaculate lamb. They have cast their greedy eyes especially on the holy sanctuaries of our Christian Religion, and they long particularly to violate that couch on which, for our sakes, the Lord of our life fell asleep in death.

  3. What are you doing, you mighty men of valor? What are you doing, you servants of the Cross? Will you thus cast holy things to dogs, pearls before swine? How great a number of sinners have here confessed with tears and obtained pardon for their sins since the time when these holy precincts were cleansed of pagan filth by the swords of our fathers! The evil one sees this and is enraged, he gnashes his teeth and withers away in fury. He stirs up his vessels of wrath so that if they do but once lay hands upon these holy places there shall be no sign or trace of piety left. Such a catastrophe would be a source of appalling grief for all time, but it would also be a source of confusion and endless shame for our generation. What think you, my brethren ? Is the hand of the Lord shortened and is he now powerless to work salvation, so that he must call upon us, petty worms of the earth, to save and restore to him his heritage? Could he not send more than twelve legions of angels, or even just say the word and save his land? Most certainly he has the power to do this whenever he wishes, but I tell you that God is trying you. (He looks down from heaven at the race of men, to find one soul that reflects, and makes God its aim', one soul that sorrows for him. For God has pity on his people and on those who have grievously fallen away and has prepared for them a means of salvation. Consider with what care he plans our salvation, and be amazed. Look, sinners, at the depths of his pity, and take courage. He does not want your death but rather that you should turn to him and live. So he seeks not to overthrow you but to help you. When Almighty God so treats murderers, thieves, adulterers, perjurers, and such like, as persons able to find righteousness in his service, what is it but an act of exquisite courtesy all God's own? Do not hesitate. God is good, and were he intent on your punishment he would not have asked of you this present service or indeed have accepted it even had you offered it. Again I say consider the Almighty's goodness and pay heed to his plans of mercy. He puts himself under obligation to you, or rather feigns to do so, so that he can help you to satisfy your obligations towards himself. He puts himself in your debt so that, in return for your taking up arms in his cause, he can reward you with pardon for your sins and everlasting glory. I call blessed the generation that can seize an opportunity of such rich indulgence as this, blessed to be alive in this year of jubilee this year of Gods choice. The blessing is spread throughout the whole world, and all the world is flocking to receive this badge of immortality.

  4. Your land is well known to be rich in young and vigorous men. The world is fall of their praises, and the renown of their courage is on the lips of all. Gird yourselves therefore like men and take up arms with joy and with zeal for your Christian name, in order to "take vengeance on the heathen, and curb the nations." How long will your men continue to shed Christian blood; how long will they continue to fight among themselves? You attack each other, you slay each other and by each other you are slain. What is this savage craving of yours? Put a stop to it now, for it is not fighting but foolery. Thus to risk both soul and body is not brave but shocking is not strength but folly. But now, O mighty soldiers, men of war, you have a cause for which you can fight without danger to your souls; a cause in which to conquer is glorious and for which to die is gain.

  5. But to those of you who are merchants, men quick to seek a bargain, let me point out the advantages of this great opportunity Do not miss them. Take up the sign of the Cross and you will find indulgence for all the sins which you humbly confess. The cost is small the reward is great. Venture with devotion and the gain will be God s kingdom. They do well therefore who have taken up this heavenly sign, and they also will do well, and profit themselves, who hasten to take up what will prove to be for them a sign of salvation.

  6. For the rest, not I but the Apostle warns you, brethren, not to believe every spirit. I have heard with great joy of the zeal for God's glory which bums m your midst, but your zeal needs the timely restraint of knowledge. The Jews are not to be persecuted, killed or even put to flight. Ask anyone who knows the Sacred Scriptures what he finds foretold of the Jews in the psalm. "Not for their destruction do I pray," it says. The Jews are for us the living words of Scripture, for they remind us always of what our Lord suffered. They are dispersed all over the world so that by expiating their crime they may be everywhere the living witnesses of our redemption. Hence the same psalm adds, "only let thy power disperse them." And so it is: dispersed they are. Under Christian princes they endure a hard captivity, but "they only wait for the time of their deliverance." Finally we are told by the Apostle that when the time is ripe all Israel shall be saved. But those who die before will remain in death. I will not mention those Christian money lenders, if they can be called Christian, who, where there are no Jews, act, I grieve to say, in a manner worse than any Jew. If the Jews were utterly wiped out, what will become of our hope for their promised salvation, their eventual conversion? If the pagans were similarly subjugated to us then, in my opinion, we should wait for them rather than seek them out with swords. But as they have now begun to attack us, it is necessary for those of us who do not carry a sword in vain to repel them with force. It is an act of Christian piety both "to vanquish the proud" and also "to spare the subjected," especially those for whom we have a law and a promise, and whose flesh was shared by Christ whose name is forever blessed.

Letter to Henry, the Archbishop of Mainz

[From Bruno Scott James, trans., The Letters of St. Bernard of Clairvaux (London: Burns Oates, 1953).]

To the venerable lord and most dear father Henry, Archbishop of Mainz, that he may find favor before God, from Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux.

  1. I received your kind letter with due respect, but my answer must be brief because of the press of business. By revealing to me your troubles you have given me a sure sign and pledge of your affection and, what is more, a mark of your humility. Who am I, or what is my father's house, that I should have referred to me a case of contempt for an archbishop and of damage to his metropolitan see? "I am no better than a child that has no skill to find its way back and forth." Yet ignorant though I be, I am not unmindful of those words of the Most High: "It must needs be that scandals come, but nevertheless woe to that man through whom the scandal cometh." The fellow you mention in your letter [a monk named Raoul, who had urged violence against Jews as the Second Crusade was being organized] has received no authority from men or through men, nor has he been sent by God. If he makes himself out to be a monk or a hermit, and on that score claims liberty to preach and the duty of doing so, he can and should know that the duty of a monk is not to preach but to pray. He ought to be a man for whom towns are a prison and the wilderness a paradise, but instead of that he finds towns a paradise and the wilderness a prison. A fellow without sense and void of all modesty! A fellow whose foolishness has been set up on a candlestick for all the world to see!

  2. I find three things most reprehensible in him: unauthorized preaching, contempt for episcopal authority, and incitation to murder. A new power forsooth! Does he consider himself greater than our father Abraham who laid down his sword at the bidding of him by whose command he took it up? Does he consider himself greater than the Prince of the Apostles who asked the Lord: "Shall we strike with our swords?" He is a fellow full of the wisdom of Egypt which is, as we know, foolishness in the sight of God. He is a fellow who answers Peter's question differently to the Lord who said: "Put back thy sword into its place; all those who take up the sword will perish by the sword." Is it not a far better triumph for the Church to convince and convert the Jews than to put them all to the sword? Has that prayer which the Church offers for the Jews, from the rising up of the sun to the going down thereof; that the veil may be taken from their hearts so that they may be led from the darkness of error into the light of truth, been instituted in vain? If she did not hope that they would believe and be converted, it would seem useless and vain for her to pray for them. But with the eye of mercy she considers how the Lord regards with favor him who renders good for evil and love for hatred. Otherwise where does that saying come in, "Not for their destruction I pray," and "When the fullness of the Gentiles shall have come in, then all Israel will be saved," and "The Lord is rebuilding Jerusalem, calling the banished sons of Israel home"? Who is this man that he should make out the Prophet to be a liar and render void the treasures of Christ's love and pity? This doctrine is not his own but his father's. But I believe it is good enough for him, since he is like his father who was, we know, "from the first a murderer, a liar, and the father of lies." What horrid learning, what hellish wisdom is his! A learning and wisdom contrary to the prophets, hostile to the apostles, and subversive of piety and grace. It is a foul Heresy, a sacrilegious prostitution "pregnant with malice, that has conceived only spite, and given birth only to shame"! I should like to say more, but I must forbear. To sum up briefly what I feel about this fellow: He is a man with a great opinion of himself and full of arrogance. He shows by his works and teaching that he would like to make a great name for himself amongst the great of the earth, but that he has not the wherewithal to achieve this.