Bernard of Clairvaux’s Broad Impact on Medieval Culture

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Medieval art historians show varying degrees of interest in the aesthetics of St. Bernard of Clairvaux. Some pronounce him ‘Philistine’ for his apparent lack of appreciation of art and beauty. Others see his monastic asceticism as a negative influence on 12th century culture. Some of these evaluations are made using the academic aesthetic notion that beauty is the objective of art. Others are made using certain controvertible modern theories, methods and criteria which are foreign to the medieval mind. This study examines Bernard’s wisdom regarding beauty and goodness: his idea that the goodness shining forth from a true being or creation that is perceived as beauty, as a thing of joy, as a true aesthetic response. This ‘true thing’ differs widely from a false thing, the intent of which is focused primarily on the glamorous, the spectacular, and/or self-interest, and which is poorly conceived and poorly made. The essays attempt to show the many occasions on which Bernard recognizes the presence of beauty shining forth for a variety of true beings. With illustrations.

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