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Tongues and Other Miraculous Gifts in the Second Through Nineteenth Centuries, Part 3: From the 5th to the 13th Centuries


Bernard of Clairvaux

Another figure of Medieval history who is often associated with miracles and visions is Bernard of Clairvaux (A.D. 1090-1153). Bernard was a monastic reformer, mystic and theologian who is known as the dominant figure of the western church in his day. The nineteenth-century biographer of Bernard, W.J. Sparrow-Simpson, retold and ancient account according to which Bernard was at a midnight service. In the dimly lit sanctuary he saw a recording angel standing beside every brother in the church. One angel wrote in letters of gold, while another wrote in silver. Another wrote in ink, and another with water that did not leave any trace upon the scroll. The writing in gold represented the intensity of a pure and strong devotion, whereas the silver letters were indicative of a lower grade of fervor, but with good intentions. The writing in ink represented the man who, though he was not particularly devoted, at least paid attention to the words that he sang. The words written in water represented useless and wasted prayer which did not come from the heart, which had no purpose, and which had no destination. As Bernard saw the vision he exclaimed, “If only the monks understood how the holy angels lament when they watch beside the negligent, and the unreal, and the indevout, how much more fervent they would become!”55

Sparrow-Simpson also relates the account of a miraculous healing of intense head pains that Bernard had experienced at one time, as well as the story of a dream experienced by a dying monk, who had seen the glories of paradise, and had heard the sweet sounds of heavenly minstrels, and the song which greeted every Cistercian monk when he passed away from earth to God. He said he had been commissioned in the dream to relate these things to the community, and, saying this, he died. Full of excitement, one of the brothers immediately went to Bernard and told him about the wonderful dream. Bernard, who did not seem impressed, said, “Do you wonder at that, my brothers? I rather wonder at your incredulity, and the hardness of your hearts. Did you not long ago believe the word which came down from heaven, ‘Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord: yea, from henceforth, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors.’ To me it is clearer than the light. I am as certain of it as I am of my own existence, that every member of this order, who lives in obedience and humility, will hereafter be robed in immortality and glory.”56


Medieval Visionaries

There were many contemporaries of Bernard who were known for their prophecies, visions, and revelations. Most of them were women who were involved in the leadership of various medieval convents. Among them were Elizabeth of Shoenau, Hildegard of Bingen, Mary of Ognies, Liutgard of Tongem and Mechthild of Magdeburg.57

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Category: Church History, Spring 1999

About the Author: Richard M. Riss (as of Fall 1998) is Assistant Professor of Church History at Zarephath Bible Institute in Zarephath, New Jersey. He holds a Master of Christian Studies degree from Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia (1979) and a Master of Arts in Church History from Trinity Divinity School (1988). He is currently finishing a Ph.D. degree in Church History at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. Richard M. Riss has authored several books including The Evidence of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (1977), The Latter Rain Movement of 1948 and the Mid-Twentieth Century Evangelical Awakening (1987), A Survey of 20th-Century Revival Movements in North America and with Kathryn J. Riss, Images of Revival (1997).

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