Experience, Praxis, Work, and Planning in Bernard of Clairvaux: Observations on the Sermones in Cantica

Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 26)


In his controversial classic, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber made the following statement on the significance of western monasticism for the rise of rationally organized, scientific culture:

The significance in world history of the monastic plan of living (Lebensführung) in the West, in contrast with eastern monasticism,… is based on its general type (allgemeinen Typus). Beginning in principle with the Rule of St. Benedict, continuing with the Cluniacs, again with the Cistercians and with decisive finality in the Jesuits, the [plan of living] had been emancipated from unsystematic withdrawal from the world and directionless self-torture. It had become a systematically improving method for a rational plan of living with the object of overcoming the status naturae, in order to free man from the power of irrational impulses and his dependency on the world and on nature, to subject him to the supremacy of a purposeful will, to place his actions under constant self-control through the consideration of their ethical consequences; and thus, objec-tively, to instruct the monk as a worker in the kingdom of God, and also subjectively through it to insure the salvation of his soul.1


Thirteenth Century Protestant Ethic External Model Biblical Text OBSER Versus 
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  1. 1.
    Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus, in Johannes Winckelmann, ed., Max Weber. Die protestantische Ethik I. Eine Aufsatzsammlung, 3rd ed., Hamburg, 1973, pp. 134–35.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See in particular Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft. Grundriss der verstehenden Soziologie, 5th ed., ed. Johannes Winckelmann, Tübingen, 1972, pp. 695–97 (=Economy and Society. An Outline of Interpretive Sociology, ed. Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich, New York, 1968, vol. 3, pp. 1168–70). Weber’s other statements on monasticism are conveniently listed in the index to the English translation.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    S. N. Eisenstadt, ed., The Protestant Ethic and Modernization. A Comparative View, New York, 1968, p. 3.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    But see Lynn White, Jr., ‘What Accelerated Technological Progress in the Western Middle Ages?’ in A. C. Crombie, ed., Scientific Change... Symposium on the History of Science, University of Oxford 9–15 July 1961, London, 1963, pp. 286–90, and ‘Cultural Climates and Technological Advance in the Middle Ages’, Viator 2 (1971). 186–93.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    In addition to the volume by Eisenstadt, historical material relating to Weber’s thesis will be found in the bibliography of Benjamin Nelson, The Idea of Usury. From Tribal Brotherhood to Universal Otherhood, 2nd ed., Chicago, 1969, pp. 167–277, and in David Little, Religion, Order, and Law. A Study in Pre-Revolutionary England, New York, 1969, pp. 226–37.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Eisenstadt, The Protestant Ethic..., pp. 4–8.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Protestantische Ethik, ed. Winckelmann, p. 67; “…sie ist die unentbehrliche Natur-grundlage des Glaubenslebens, sittlich an sich indifferent wie Essen und Trinken.”Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches, New York, 1930, vol. 1, pp. 241–43. On Troeltsch’s relation to Weber, see Carlo Antoni, From History to Sociology, trans. H. White, Detroit, 1959, pp. 62–70. The study of Max Weber in this volume, although overlooked by the sociologists, is one of the most useful that has appeared; on the Protestant ethic, see pp. 147–61.Google Scholar
  9. 11.
    There is a single reference to St. Bernard; Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, Lon-don, 1936, p. 29.Google Scholar
  10. 12.
    Aspects of the Rise of Economic Individualism. A Criticism of Max Weber and his School, Cambridge, 1933, pp. 6, 21, 117.Google Scholar
  11. 13.
    Historical work on the sociology of science is summarized by Eisenstadt, p. 40, n. 25.Google Scholar
  12. 14.
    This is the chief imperfection of Gilson’s attempt to expose the ‘systematics’ of Bernard’s thought; La théologie mystique de saint Bernard, Paris, 1934.Google Scholar
  13. 15.
    cf. J. Monroux, L’expérience chrétienne, Dijon, 1952.Google Scholar
  14. 16.
    Sermonessuper Cantica Canticorum, éd., J. Leclercq, C. H. Talbot and H. M. Rochais (S. Bernardi Opera, 1–2), Rome, 1957-58; Sermon 74.2.7. References to Bernard’s works are all from this edition and are cited by number.Google Scholar
  15. 37.
    cf. C. Bodard, ‘La Bible, expression d’une expérience religieuse chez S. Bernard’, Analecta Sacri Ordinis Cisterdemis 9 (1953), 24–45.Google Scholar
  16. 49.
    cf. E. Gilson, ‘Regio Dissimilitudinis de Platon à Saint Bernard de Clairvaux’, Mediaeval Studies 9 (1947), 108–30.Google Scholar
  17. 50.
    In Vigilia Nativitatis Sermo 3.2 (Opera, vol. 4).Google Scholar
  18. 90.
    Des sociétés médiévales. Leçon inaugurale, Collège de France..., Paris, 1971, pp. 16–17. This view has recently been given an empirical foundation. See Richard Roehl, ‘Plan and Reality in a Medieval Monastic Economy: the Cistercians’, Studies in Medieval and Renaissance History 9 (1972), 83–113.Google Scholar
  19. 91.
    Liber ad Milites Templi de Laude Novae Militiae 1.2.16 (Opera, vol. 3).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht-Holland 1975

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval StudiesUniversity of TorontoCanada
  2. 2.Centre for Medieval StudiesUniversity of TorontoCanada

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