One of the problems which led Bernard to speak of women was temptation. This is part of a monk’s life, as it is part of the life of any other christian, and Bernard liked to deal with it by referring to the first temptation in the Bible, in which Eve played a major part. According to Genesis (3:8) it is undeniable that ‘man gave in to woman when she suggested disobedience’ (Varii, De vii domis, I: VI/`:45,4). Any misogyny there may be in this remark comes from Scripture. But in other places where Bernard mentions this same event, he either makes the man as responsible as the woman, or else he lays the greater blame on Adam. Even though it was the woman who proffered the forbidden fruit, the man was free to accept or to refuse and consequently he takes full responsibility for his consent to sin. Latin a play on words highlights the idea: Eve only offered, there was no violence, offerendo…non violentiam inferendo. And Bernard, addressing himself to Adam, says, ‘It was not by her power, but by your will – potestate, voluntate  – that you obeyed her voice rather than God’s. She led you into error, but she neither pushed nor forced you.’ This is very accurate theology…[a]nd, what is more, Adam’s sin was the more grievous because he shunted all the responsibility on to Eve, whereas it was he who was to blame.

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


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