St. Bernard and the Templar warrior-monks: a new vocation

August 29, 2013

St. Bernard of Clairvaux

St. Bernard of Clairvaux

St. Bernard took a strong liking to Hugues, promising to compile a rule for him and find recruits. “They can fight the battle of the Lord and indeed be soldiers of Christ.” In 1128 a council was convened at Troyes and, on Bernard’s advice, Hugues attended it. Though the abbot was not present he sent a rule, which was debated and endorsed by the council. Copies of the Templar constitutions survive from the thirteenth century and these state that the first part of the rule was “par le commandement dou concile et dou venerable père Bernart abbes de Clerevaus.” [“By order of the council and of the venerable father Bernard, abbot of Clairvaux.”]

Hugues de Payens

Hugues de Payens

Bernard thought of Hugues’s new brethren as military Cistercians. Significantly, brother-knights wore a white hooded habit in the cloister, like Cistercian choir monks…. On active service this habit was replaced by a cloak. An emphasis on silence, even to the extent of using signs in the refectory, came from the same source, while the simplicity of Cistercian altar furnishings was paralleled by the plainest weapons and saddlery possible, with no trace of gold or silver. Brethren slept in dormitories in shirt and breeches, as Cistercians still do today. Unless on night duty, attendance at matins was strictly enforced, for they said the Office together in choir, not the full Roman Office, but the Little Office—psalms and prayers easily memorized by men who could not read…. Religious services alternated with military exercises. There were two main meals, both eaten in silence with sacred reading from a French translation of the Bible, special emphasis being placed on the Books of Joshua and the Maccabees. All found inspiration in the ferocious exploits of Judas, his brothers and their war-bands in reconquering the Holy Land from cruel infidels…. Each knight was allowed three horses…. His Master was not merely a commanding officer but an abbot. For the first time in Christian history soldiers would live as monks.

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Desmond Seward, The Monks of War: The Military Religious Orders (New York: Penguin Books, 1995), 31-2.

 

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 312

 

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