RICHARD MELVIN VER BUST, Marquette University


St. Bernard (1090-1153), Abbot of Clairvaux, in his letters and in the work, De consideratione, attempted to propose for his contemporary church a theology of papal ministry. It was not merely an appeal for a good pope or suggestions on how an individual pope might live a good life but a theology which could serve the Christian community of the twelfth century as the basis for a better understanding of the papal office. Our own contemporary interest in ecclesiology, ecumenism and the possible role of papal leadership has forced us to sharpen our understanding of the history and growth of this office and its ministry. Historical theology has emphasized the need for an investigation of the contributions of earlier ages, including that of Bernard, for a better understanding of our own perceptions. This dissertation attempts to study Bernard's insights into a theology of papal ministry. It does so by looking at the particular form and method of monastic theology. Bernard's writings are not only part of monastic theology but he was one of its pre-eminent exponents. The study of Bernard's thought must be done therefore within the ambiance of monastic theology thus hopefully avoiding the danger of misinterpreting his thought by the use of later forms of theology. It recognizes that Bernard's own ecclesiology is also the proper locus for his understanding of a papal ministry. Realizing that Bernard was indebted to the Fathers, it is noted that Bernard did not simply repeat their thoughts but gave them different nuances and new perspectives. The letters which Bernard composed during a lifetime of great activity are the proper source for the beginning of a study of the development of this thought. This dissertation attempts to show how there was growth within his letters both in the depth and scope of theology. His letters to popes and others give a clear perspective of how Bernard's thoughts often developed in response to particular problems and situations. The pattern of approach used in a study of De consideratione was an explication of the text, stressing the biblical images used, and underlining the theological insights foundational to the work. The second step was a synthesis of Bernard's thought using the previously discussed monastic theology as the proper locus of interpretation. This synthesis is discussed under three main themes: (1) the relationship of the pope to the whole of the Church, especially his relationship to his fellow bishops; (2) the nature of the authority of the pope and the problem of lines of authority and abuses of authority; (3) the nature of papal ministry. This synthesis reveals the insightful proposals Bernard made. He recognized the dangers inherent within the Gregorian reform. He advocated changes that were moderate and while criticizing abuses he recognized the legitimate foundations of papal authority. He offered a program of personal reform that was consistent with that of tradition and a reform which he felt alone would create true renewal. He proposed a theology which presented authority as ministry and criticized authority which meant sovereignty or domination. The forms of ministry he suggested were distinctly that of service, centering around preaching, teaching and healing. Bernard asked the pope to act as a prophet, i.e., to be a pope who reflects upon biblical demands, the problems of the times, and calls upon a Christian people to respond to new challenges. He finally called for a pope who constantly and consistently strove for holiness through unity with God. The theology he advocated was to be a vehicle for a greater and continued reform within the church, especially through the ministry of a pope who would be a servant to the people of God.

Recommended Citation

VER BUST, RICHARD MELVIN, "A THEOLOGY OF PAPAL MINISTRY AS PROPOSED BY BERNARD OF CLAIRVAUX" (1980). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI8104818.