of Clairvaux's blasphemous Military Theology
This is part of a document (1)
which was written by Bernard to his friend Hugh de Payens (2), the Grand Master and
co-founder of the Knights Templar. Bernard and de Payens also wrote the
Latin Rule to govern the
Knights. Bernard condemns secular war and knighthood, while praising
"Christian" war and knighthood.
This document from Bernard of Clairvaux was quoted (accurately, as it
turns out) in a dreadful 2006 novel, The Templar Legacy, by Steve
Barry. Here is an on-line translation of the key parts.
Paragraph separation and highlights by The M+G+R Foundation.
DE LAUDE NOVAE MILITIAE AD
To the Knights Templar - In Praise of
the New Militia
To Hugh, Christ's knight and master of Christ's knighthood, Bernard,
Abbot of Clairvaux
in name only, sends his greeting: fight the good fight.
Once, twice and now a third time, unless I am quite wrong, you have
asked me, dear Hugh,
to write an exhortation for you and your knightly companions and to
fling my pen, since I am not allowed a lance,
against your tyrannical enemy; you maintain that it would be of some
help to you if I were to fortify with my writing
men whom I cannot with arms.
I know I have been putting you off for some time now, not because your
improper but for fear that assent to it on my part would prove to be
careless and imprudent, if in my ignorance I were
to take on something that a better man would do a better job of; the
job would still remain to be done, and I would
perhaps have made it less easy for someone else to do.
Finally, I realized that I was only wasting a great deal of time
with such speculations, and in order not to seem more unwilling than
incapable, I have done what little I could: it is
for the reader to judge whether or not I have done satisfactorily. Even
if some should find inadequacy in it or little
pleasure, it matters not to me, who have not failed to make your desire
1. Exhortation for the
1. We hear that a new kind of chivalry has risen on earth, and that it
has risen on the
very region of it which the rising Son Himself, present in flesh, once
visited from on high; as He then, by the strength
of His mighty hand, threw down the princes of darkness, so now He
exterminates their followers, those sons of
misplaced faith, put to flight-by a band of His mighty ones, bringing
about even now His people's redemption and raising
again the cup of salvation for us in the house of His servant David.
A new kind of chivalry, one ignorant of the
ways of the ages, which fights a double fight equally and tirelessly,
both against flesh and blood and against the
spiritual forces of iniquity in the heavens. When a man mightily
resists a bodily foe by strength of his body alone, I
no more think it a wonder than I believe it to be a rare occurrence;
nor is it marvelous, though I might call it
praiseworthy, when a man declares war on vice or demons with the power
of his soul, since the world is full of monks.
But when both of these kinds of men are girded with their own
particular powerful sword and distinguished with their own
particular noble belt in a single man, who would not judge this, which
is as yet an unfamiliar thing, to be most worthy
of all admiration? He indeed is a fearless knight, and one secure from
any quarter, since his soul is dressed in an
armor of faith just as his body is dressed in an armor of steel. Since
he is well protected by both kinds of arms, he
fears neither the demon nor man. Nor is he afraid of death, since
he longs to die.
Why should he fear whether he
lives or dies, since for him life is Christ and death is a reward?
Faithfully and freely does he go forth on Christ's
behalf, but he would rather be dissolved and be with Christ: such is
the obviously better thing. So go forth in
safety, knights, and drive out the enemies of the cross of Christ with
fearless intention, certain that neither death
nor life can separate you from God's love, which Jesus Christ
embodies; in every moment of danger, fulfill through
your own actions the principle: 'Whether we live or whether we die, we
are the Lord's.'
How glorious the victors
returned from battle! How blessed those martyrs who died in battle!
Rejoice, brave fighter, if you live and conquer in
the Lord; but rather exult and glory, if you die and are joined to the
Lord. Life can be fruitful and victory can be
glorious; but sacred death is properly to be preferred to either, for
if 'they are blessed who die in the Lord,' are
they not much more so who die on the Lord's behalf?
2. Doubtless the death of His holy ones will be valuable in the
sight of the Lord,
whether they die in bed or in battle. On the other hand, death in
battle is surely the more valuable inasmuch as it is
the more glorious.
Life is safe when conscience is pure. Life is indeed safe, when
death is looked forward to
fearlessly, when death is even longed for with savour and received with
devotion. That chivalry is truly holy and
safe, and is moreover free from the double danger by which another type
of knight is habitually and regularly
endangered, when Christ is not the sole cause of chivalrous doings.
Every time you who live in the ways of worldly
chivalry gather to fight among yourselves, you need fear killing your
adversary in body and yourself in soul; even more,
you need fear finding yourself killed by him, both in body as well as
soul. The heart's disposition, not the
fortunes of war, determine defeat or victory for the Christian.
If the reason for fighting is good, the outcome of the
fight cannot be bad, in the same way that any end cannot seem good when
good cause and righteous intention do not
precede it. If you get yourself killed while trying to kill someone
else, you will die a murderer. But if you prevail
and in trying to win or do well you have occasion to kill a man, you
will live a murderer. Being a murderer benefits no
one, the dead, the living, the victor or the vanquished.
It is a joyless victory when you overcome a man but surrender
to vice, and you vainly glory in having overcome a man when wrath or
pride has mastered you. I know there are those who
kill not out of a lust for revenge, nor a fever for conquest, but
simply in self defense; but I would not call even this
a good victory, since dying in the flesh is a lesser evil than dying in
soul. The soul does not die because the body is
killed; rather, 'it is the soul that sins that will surely die.'
II. Secular Chivalry
3. What then is the end or issue of this secular chivalry, which I
should probably just
call wickedness outright, if its murderers sin mortally and its victims
perish forever? To use the words of the Apostle,
'he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes should thresh in
hope of gain of some fruit.'
knights, so incredible, what madness so unbearable draws you to
chivalrous deeds at such expense and labor, all for no
return but death or crime? You cover your horses in silks and dress
your armor with swatches of flowing cloth; you
figure your lances, shields and saddles; your bridles and your spurs
you adorn with gold and silver and jewels; and with
all this display, you rush only towards death, in shameful madness and
Are these the tokens of
chivalry or the trappings of women? Perhaps you imagine that your
adversary's sword will reverence the gold, be gentle
with you because of your jewels, be unable to pierce your silks? For
the fighter, as you yourselves know well from your
well-known experience, three things are essential: the knight who would
accomplish much and well needs be careful in
shielding himself, unencumbered for movement on the field, and quick to
strike his adversary; you, on the contrary, wear
your hair after the fashion of women, impeding your vision; trip up
your own feet with your long hanging overgarments;
bury your delicate, tender hands in sleeves cut long and flowing.
A greater danger than all of this, a thing that
endangers the conscience of the armed man more, is the fact that the
reasons for espousing such a culpable kind of
chivalry are so very inconsequential and frivolous. What engenders such
war and raises such strife among you is nothing
more than unreasoned anger, or lust for profitless glory, or want of
some trifling worldly good. Surely it is not
prudent either to kill or die for such causes as these.
III. A New Chivalry
4. But 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.'
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
death he receives accrues to his own.
The Christian glories in a pagan's death, because Christ is glorified;
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
5. What next? If a Christian is not allowed to strike with the
sword, then why did
the Saviour's precursor bid knights be content with their earnings,
instead of forbidding them knighthood
altogether? If on the other hand it is allowed all who are destined
by God for such a role and have not professed
some higher calling, which is in fact the case, to whom could it be
better allowed than those by whose force and power
the city of our strength, Sion, is held for our general protection,
that the people of justice who keep the truth might
enter it safely when those who transgress God's laws have been driven
Surely, then, let peoples who love war be
destroyed, and let those who trouble us be cut off, and let all workers
of iniquity, those who strive to carry off the
invaluable treasure that the Christian people have stored up in
Jerusalem, to profane the holy things and to hold God's
sanctuary as their heritage, be scattered from the Lord's city. Let
both swords of the faithful stretch out over the
necks of their enemies, to destroy any haughtiness seeking to set
itself up against that knowledge of God which is the
faith of Christians, 'so that no one will have to ask, where is their
6. When they have been cast out, He Himself will return to His
house, over which he was angered when he spoke in the Gospel:
'See,' He said, 'your house is left empty to you'; and
He lamented it thus in the words of the Prophet: 'I have left my house,
I have abandoned my heritage'; and He will
fulfill the terms of another prophecy: 'The Lord has ransomed His
people and freed them, and they will come and exult on
Mount Sion, and will rejoice in the Lord's bounty.'
Be glad, Jerusalem, and know now the time of your visitation.
'Rejoice and give praise, wastes of Jerusalem, for the Lord has
consoled His people, He has ransomed them, the Lord has
bared His holy arm in the sight of all peoples.' O Virgin Israel, you
had fallen and there was no one to raise you up.
Rise now, shake off the dust, virgin, captive daughter of Sion. Rise
and stand tall, and see the pleasure which comes
you from your God. 'You will no longer be called abandoned, and your
lands will no more be called waste, for the Lord
has taken pleasure in you and your lands will be peopled. Lift up your
eyes, look around you and see: all these have
gathered, they have come to you.'
This is the help sent you from the Holy One; through them, the promise
made you long
ago is already fulfilled: 'I will set in you the pride of the ages, the
joy of generation on generation, you will suck
the milk of peoples and will feed from the breast of kings'; and: 'just
as a mother consoles her children, so I will
console you and in Jerusalem you will give consolation,' Do you not see
how many attestations of the ancients the new
chivalry makes true? And that 'just as we have heard of it, so do
we see it in the city of the Lord of forces'?
Only let not such literal interpretation preclude spiritual
understanding, for whatever we usurp from the words of the
Prophets for making sense of the present day diminishes what we can
hope for in eternity; let not what we believe vanish
because of what we have seen; let not the poverty of reality diminish
the riches of hope; let not the witness of the
present void our future. The earthly city's temporal glory has not
destroyed heavenly goods, but augmented them, if
only we do not falter in our assertion that the one is but a figure of
another, which is our mother in heaven.
IV. The Way of Life of
the Knights Templar
7. Now, for edification or disparagement of our chivalry, which clearly
chivalrous deeds not for God but for the devil, a brief account of the
life and ways of Christ's knights, of how they
conduct themselves in battle and at home, of how they behave in public,
and how greatly Christ's chivalry and the usual
sort differ from one another.
First, Christ's knights have discipline and never disdain obedience,
Scripture attests, the undisciplined son will perish, 'restiveness is
as the sin of witchcraft and refusal to acquiesce
is like the crime of idolatry.' They come and go at the will of their
superior, wear what he has given them, and take
clothing and nourishment from nowhere else.
They are wary of all excesses in food and dress; they concern
only with necessities. They have a joyous and sober life in their
community, without women and without children.
That they might lack no evangelical perfection, they live without
private property, in one house, in one way, eager to
safeguard spiritual oneness within the bounds of their peace. You could
say that all their multitude has but one heart
and one spirit, to such an extent does each of them strive, not to
fulfill his private desires, but rather to obey
At no time do they sit at leisure or wander adventurously; rather on
those rare occasions when they are
not engaged, they repair the wear and tear that their clothes and armor
have suffered, bring things to order, and
generally see to whatever their master's will and communal necessity
dictate, in order to earn their keep.
Rank is not
recognized among them at all; pride of place is allotted better, not
nobler men. They rival one another in honor; they
bear one another's burdens, so fulfilling Christ's injunction. The
insolent word, the profitless deed, improvident
laughter, even the least murmur or whisper does not go unrepaired when
They swear off dice and
gaming; they detest hunting, and take no pleasure in the absurd cruelty
of falconry, as it is practiced. They renounce
and abominate mimes and magicians and romanciers, bawdy songs and the
spectacle of the joust as vanity and dangerous
They keep their hair short, having learned from the Apostle that it is
shameful for a man to wear his hair like a
woman. Never do they set and rarely do they wash their hair, preferring
to go about disheveled and unkempt, covered in
dust and blackened by the sun and their armor.
8. When battle is at hand, they arm themselves with faith within and
steel without, rather than with gold, so that when armed, rather than
prettified, they instill fear in their adversaries rather than incite
They choose to have horses that are strong and quick, rather than showy
or well-dressed. They attend to battle rather than display, to
victory rather than glory, and concern themselves to inspire fear
rather than wonder.
They are not unstable or impetuous, and do not behave as if driven
headlong by heedlessness; rather, they order themselves and dispose
their forces for battle considerately and with every caution and
provision, as we read that the Fathers did. True Israelites go forth to
war at peace.
But when they have come to the point of battle, it is as if they say:
'Should I not hate those who hate you, Lord, and be disgusted with your
enemies?'; they fling themselves against their foes and treat their
adversaries like sheep, ever fearless alike, however few in number they
may be, of barbarous savagery and the numberless horde.
Moreover, they know better than to presume upon their own strength, and
prefer to hope for victory through the virtue of the Lord of Sabaoth,
for whom they believe it to be a simple thing, as the sentence of
Maccabees states: 'Many can be closed in the hands of a few, and in the
sight of heaven's God there is no difference between bringing freedom
by means of many and few, for victory in battle comes not of a
multitude of armies, and might is cue gift of heaven.' They have in
fact experienced this quite often, that a single one of them can hunt
down practically a thousand and two can put ten thousand to flight.
Finally, then, they are both gentler than lambs and fiercer than lions,
in such a wonderful and peculiar way that I am very nearly incapable of
deciding what I think they should rather be called, monks or knights,
unless I should perhaps more appropriately name them both, since they
apparently lack neither, neither the monk's gentle disposition nor the
knight's fierce strength.
What can be said, but that this is the Lord's work and a miracle in
our eyes. God has elected such men to Himself and gathered them
together from the ends of the earth, from among the mightiest of
Israel, His agents for keeping the tomb which is the resting place of
the true Solomon, all bearing swords and well taught in the ways of war.
Translated by David Carbon from: J. Leclercq and H. M.
"Liber ad milites Templi de laude novae militiae," in S. Bernardi
Opera, vol. 3 (Rome, 1963), 206-239. An English
translation of the entire treatise is available: trans. Conrad Greenia,
"In Praise of the New Knighthood," in
Treatises III, The Works of Bernard of Clairvaux vol. 7,
Cistercian Fathers Series 19 (Kalamazoo, 1977),
Source (Visited in 2011; No longer available in 2022).
(2) About Hugues (or
Hugh) de Payens
En Español: La blasfema
Teología Militar de Bernardo de Claraval
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