The decisive difference between Bernard and the misogynists of his day seems to derive from the sources on which they depended. The seculars – ecclesiastics like John of Salisbury, perhaps Andrew the Chaplain, or laymen like the troubadours and writers of fabliaux – took their inspiration from two different traditions, the one biblical and patristic, the other profane and even pagan in the sense that it was foreign to christian faith, a tradition handed down by authors of classical antiquity…But for Bernard of Clairvaux, who represents reformed claustral literature, the matter was different: his sources were biblical and patristic. Not that he and other monks were ignorant of classical literature. They quote from it, but less often than do seculars…It would seem likelier that he felt no need to use them: his style was fashioned by the Bible, the liturgy, and the Fathers. These were enough for him.

And again, among them, he made selections. From Jerome he took only what he wanted and nothing which could have served to ridicule women. From Scripture he showed a preference for women worthy of admiration. Is there an explanation for this? Bernard for most of his Bible from the liturgy. In worship God is praised for all his marvelous deeds, including those he worked through the mediation of women or because of them. This is a contemplative rather than a moralizing attitude, and it results, not in bad examples to be avoided, but images of woman to be imitated, which shows what a woman is capable of doing as well as, and sometimes better than, a man.

Jean Leclercq, Women and Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1989)


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