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Bernard of Clairvaux and the Knights Templar: The New Knighthood as a Solution to Violence in Christianity
By Nicholas A. Boysel
Master of Arts, University of Akron, History, 2009
Abstract: This thesis examines the origins of the crusader ideology and how the Knights Templar were formed from this mindset. Using writings from Bernard of Clairvaux and other religious and secular writers of the time, this thesis will examine how the crusades were originally meant to redeem Europe from its violent nature, not to extend that violence. In this way, the crusades were intended to be a military pilgrimage of penance for the men who participated, a way of channeling the evil of their violence into a godly purpose. It was this idea that Bernard latched onto when he aided in the forming of the Templar order.
Introduction: The duty of a knight was to kill his enemies and fight in the name of his lord. The duty of a Christian was to love his neighbor as himself, and to turn the other cheek when confronted with aggression. This basic contradiction was a conflict that the people of medieval Europe had a very difficult time resolving, be they men in arms or intellectuals. Over the centuries, there were many attempts to justify either the way of the knight, or to condemn this manner of living as sinful and evil. When Bernard, abbot of Clairvaux (1090-1153) in the Cistercian order and noted scholar, was asked to write about the newly formed knights Templar, he went out of his way to condemn the normal life of the knightly class of his time, while exalting the idea of knights who fought for God alone. In this new order, Bernard saw a way of escaping the evils of the military life, and a worthy aim that would not only further the cause of the Church and of God, but would also serve as a way of redemption for the many sinful soldiers that would enter the order.
In looking at the writings of Bernard on the new knighthood, as well as the writings of Pope Urban II and other ecclesiastical leaders in the period of the First Crusade, it becomes apparent that the Knights Templar are the culmination of a wholly new approach to the dilemma, brought about by the Pope’s call for defense of the pilgrims in the Holy Land. In the massive church of Clermont, in March of 1095, Pope Urban gave an impassioned speech, asking for the men of Europe to put aside worldly concerns and focus on the work of God. His words as recorded by Baldric of Dol, “Listen and learn! You, girt about with the badge of knighthood, are arrogant with pride. You rage against your brothers and cut each other to pieces. This is not the true soldiery of Christ which rends asunder the sheep-fold of the Redeemer.”
As this essay will illustrate, Bernard’s primary motivation behind aiding in the forming of the Knights Templar is that he sees this new form of monastic knighthood as a solution to the inherent sins of pride, vanity, and thirst for glory in the current state of The Pope is in no way exhorting the actions of the violent men of Europe, but is instead railing against their actions and attempting to save them from their own folly. This speech seeks to reconcile the evils of violence in knighthood by aiming this violence toward God’s purpose. This new knighthood would become the basis for future orders of crusader knights, such as their contemporaries the Hospitallers, which were likewise dedicated to God and to battle.