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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Russell Crowe and Bernard of Clairvaux

Last night I watched a movie, State of Play, that starred Russell Crowe as an investigative reporter who ferrets out the bad acts of a Congressman who's working to uncover an evil conspiracy by private defense contractors. The scriptwriter said that at the core of the story was the question of whether a person would be justified in doing "a pretty awful thing" if they were performing great deeds in other areas of their life.

Today, when I saw some posts online about Bernard of Clairvaux, that question came to mind. The posts I saw were positive, relating all of Bernard's good works, but when I think of Bernard, I think instead of his connection with militancy -- he was a fan of the Templars, preached the Second Crusade, and was death on heretics.

People often say that the great goodness men like Bernard achieved obviates any possible badness in which they may also have participated. This is one answer to the question asked by the scriptwriter of State of Play, but it wouldn't be mine. The writer of the film seems to agree with me because Russel Crowe's character turns the Congressman in to the police, even knowing that this will derail the Congressman's expose of the bad guys.

For those interested, you can read Bernard's letter to the Templars - Bernard of Clairvaux: DE LAUDE NOVAE MILITIAE (1128-1131). Here's a bit from it ...

[...] Christ's knights can fight their Lord's fight in safety, fearless of sin in slaughter of their adversaries and fearless of danger at their own deaths, since death suffered or dealt out on Christ's behalf holds no crime and merits great glory. Hence one gains for Christ, and then gains Christ Himself, who most willingly accepts the death of an adversary for the ends of vengeance and then even more willingly offers Himself to a knight for the end of consolation. Christ's knight deals out death in safety, as I said, and suffers death in even greater safety. He benefits himself when he suffers death, and benefits Christ when he deals out death. 'He does not wear a sword without cause; he is God's agent for punishment of evil-doers and for glorification of the good.' Clearly, when he kills an evil-doer, he is not a homicide, but, if you will allow me the term, a malicide, and is plainly Christ's vengeance on those who work evil and the defense Christ provides for Christians. When such a knight is himself killed, we know that he has not simply perished but has won through to the end of this life. The death he inflicts accrues to Christ's profit; the death he receives accrues to his own. The Christian glories in a pagan's death, because Christ is glorified; in the death of a Christian, the King's generosity is confirmed, by revelation of the knight's reward. Moreover, in the first case, the just will be gladdened when they see vengeance done; in the second, 'men will say, if there is indeed a reward for the just, it is God Judging men on earth.' Pagans would not even have to be slaughtered, if there were some other way to prevent them from besetting and oppressing the faithful. But now it is better that they be killed than that the rod of these sinners continue to imperil the lot of the just, preventing the just from reaching out their hands against iniquity.

- Saint-Bernard prêchant la 2e croisade, à Vézelay, en 1146 by Émile Signol


Blogger PrickliestPear said...

I'm not sure I understand the question posed by the screenwriter. Obviously a person is not "justified in doing 'a pretty awful thing' if they were performing great deeds in other areas of their life."

That the good done by a person obviates whatever bad they have done seems to me a different question, as the "bad" is still recognised as bad is there is not necessarily any question as to whether they were justified in doing it. Here the question pertains to how we judge the person's life as a whole. But I'm not sure what such a judgment would yield. As far as Bernard goes, it seems to me appropriate to say, "these things he did were good," and "these things he did were bad." It's not for us to judge whether he was a good person or not.

That he could extol vengeance as unabashedly as he did in the text you cited suggests that, at the time at least, his understanding of the gospel was quite deficient. Substitute "Allah" for "Christ," and "Muslim" for "Christian" in that passage and he sounds little different from an Islamist militant.

9:02 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

"It's not for us to judge whether he was a good person or not."

That's the thing about Bernard - the church has judged him good. They made him a saint. And I think people, especially non-Catholics (and maybe I really fall into this group, not raised Catholic), look at who we've canonized and see them as examples of what Catholicism thinks of as good.

I know I have a problem with this: I'm disturbed by how people can be doing both good and bad things at the same time. And I want what they do to = what kind of person they are. If a person does good stuf and bad stuff, then what kind of person are they?

12:24 PM  
Blogger Mike L said...

Perhaps the best answer is "human'. Is there anyone, except Christ and his mother that did no evil what-so-ever?

There are certainly things that I have done things that I am ashamed of and things that I am proud of. Is there a balance, or can we say I am a good person that made mistakes?

i am eve so glad that God has to make these decisions, not me :).


Mike L

1:50 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Mike,

Yes, I guess human is a good answer. I guess I assume that good people are those who mostly do good even if they make a few mistakes, but I wonder about people who seem to do an equal amount of both good and bad. I think I worry I fall into that group and that it means I have no real moral compass.

2:48 PM  
Blogger Carnival said...

I didn't know very much about Bernard's influence in the Crusades. Like every period, Christians are not always able to discern right from wrong. I like Bernard theologically (for the most part) although you are right to say that making him a saint certainly says something about the History of Catholicism. I too am a "second-hand Catholic" (a term I use for myself - you don't have to adopt it lol). It is just that Catholicism tends to be an ethnicity for many cradle Catholics and as a "convert" (I don't really like using this term)I don't really belong to the ethnicity.

5:00 AM  
Blogger Carnival said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5:01 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Carnival,

Thanks for commenting. I don't know very much about Bernard's theology, but according to Wikipedia :) he was asked by the pope to preach that particular crusade, and went around Europe doing so - there are even paintings of him preaching the crusade. Thigs were different then, of course, but sometimes I can barely believe that those guys were working with the same (more or less) NT that we have.

Yeah, people born and raised Catholic do seem to have a different way of looking at it. It's interesting how many famous Catholics of the past were converts. What were you "converted" from?

12:18 PM  
Blogger Carnival said...

I belonged to the United Church of Christ.

2:55 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Oh, sometimes I visit the blog of UCC minister Chuck Currie :)

7:01 PM  

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