The Reformer Saint and the Saintly Reformer
The French genius of Geneva, who greatly shaped modern Protestantism, may well have written his greatest works feeling the presence of the French genius of Clairvaux peering over his shoulder.
Because of Bernard’s theological and ecclesiastical point of view, one need hardly be surprised that both Luther and Calvin regarded him as a forerunner of their own movement. Luther expressed his appreciation of Bernard by calling him one of “the greatest doctors of the church,” but did not seem to make much use of his thinking and guidance in his own writings. Calvin, on the other hand, more than once expressed the view that Bernard spoke the very truth itself, and quoted him frequently in the Institutes and at least three times in the commentaries. In fact Calvin seems to refer to him favorably more frequently than he does to any other medieval author. Apparently, he recognized Bernard as being of the same mind with himself on the fundamentals of the faith.
When one turns to examine the evidence for Calvin’s agreement with and use of Bernard’s writings, one must immediately recognize that there were certain elements in the presuppositions of the two men which inevitably brought them together. The first of these was Bernard’s and Calvin’s acceptance of the Bible as the word of God and the final authority for the Christian. Bernard could quote Virgil and Ovid from among the pagans, and Ambrose, Augustine, Gregory, and others from among the church fathers, but the final authority in his preaching, in his theological and mystical writings and in his arguments with such people as Abelard, was the text of Scripture. He insisted that reason was always subordinate to the Bible, although reason had the responsibility of unfolding and rationally ...