Bernard of Chartres (Died c. 1124–1130)

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(died c. 11241130)

Bernard of Chartres, a Breton and elder brother of Theodoric of Chartres, was a master at Chartres at periods during the second and third decades of the twelfth century and became chancellor at least by 1119. He is no longer to be confused with Bernard Silvestris of Tours. To Bernard of Chartres belongs much of the credit for bringing the intellectual life of Chartres to its apogee, and his pupils included Gilbert of Poitiers, William of Conches, and Richard the Bishop. No complete writing by Bernard has survived, although he is known to have written philosophical verse and to have expounded Porphyry's Isagoge. Nevertheless, John of Salisbury learned of the character of Bernard's literary and philosophical teaching through William and Richard, and in John's writings we find a sympathetic portrait of Bernard as a real lover of learning and a leading grammarian, the most abounding spring of letters and the most finished Platonist of those days. John eulogizes the "old Chartrain" as an excellent teacher of Latin language and literature, whose aim was to produce well-lettered and well-spoken students by means of an unhurried, cultured, humanist education, firmly based upon a groundwork of grammar. Bernard's love of the ancients was expressed in a famous simile of the moderns as dwarfs who can see farther than the ancients because they are perched upon the shoulders of giants.

Bernard was a philosopher with a taste for speculative grammar and for Platonism. He held opinions that the more Aristotelian John did not entirely share. We know only one of Bernard's grammatical speculations, namely, that the relationship of a quality-word (e.g., whiteness) to its derivatives (e.g., to whiten, white) resembles the relationship of the Platonic Ideas to the things in which they participate. As a Platonist, Bernard held that true reality is found in the eternal Ideas, which are the models of all perishable things. Particular sensible things, being unstable and ephemeral, cannot properly be said to be. Bernard's contribution to the disputes of his time over the nature of universals was to equate universals with Ideas; hence universals, in his view, were real beings. Guided by Boethius, Bernard and his school also labored to reconcile the differences between Plato and Aristotle.

Under the influence of the ninth-century thinker John Scotus Erigena, Bernard also sought to reconcile the teaching of Plato's Timaeus with that of the Bible by reexamining the relationships between the three categories of true being: God, matter, and the Ideas. He adhered to patristic teaching in accepting the view that matter was created by God. He also held that the eternal Ideas are in some way posterior to God. The Ideas are assimilated with God's mind or the divine providence; but although they are immanent in the mind of God, they are also a created effect. They are eternal, but not, in Bernard's view, coeternal with God. Only the three persons of the Trinity are both coequal and coeternal.

On the other hand, Bernard also attempted to show that the Ideas were not directly mixed with sensible objects. He distinguished between Ideas that subsist in the mind of God and the copies of these Ideas that are concreated with matter. To the latter Ideas he gave, under Boethian influence, the name of native forms (formae nativae ).

Essentially, Bernard sought to affirm the transcendence of God over the Ideas and to avoid pantheism by the theory of native forms, which allowed no confusion of God with creation. Insofar as we can judge his motives, Bernard was adapting the Platonism that he knew to Christianity, just as he modified this Platonism in the light of Aristotelianism. His teaching was promoted by other Chartrains, especially by Gilbert of Poitiers.

See also Aristotelianism; Aristotle; Bernard of Tours; Boethius, Anicius Manlius Severinus; Chartres, School of; Erigena, John Scotus; Gilbert of Poitiers; Ideas; John of Salisbury; Plato; Platonism and the Platonic Tradition; Theodoric of Chartres; William of Conches.


primary sources

John of Salisbury. Metalogicon. Edited by C. Webb. Oxford, 1929. I, v, xi, xxiv; II, xvii; III, ii; IV, xxv. Translated under the same title by D. D. McGarry, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1955.

John of Salisbury. Policraticus. Edited by C. Webb. Oxford, 1909. VII, 13.

Otto of Freising. Gesta Friderici. Edited by G. Waitz. 3rd ed. Hanover, 1912. I, xlvii; lii.

secondary sources

Clerval, A. Les Écoles de Chartres au moyen âge. Paris: A. Picard, 1895. Pp. 158163.

Gilson, Étienne. History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages. New York: Random House, 1951. Pp. 619620.

Gilson, Étienne. "Le Platonisme de Bernard de Chartres." Revue néo-scolastique de philosophie 25 (1923): 519.

Gregory, T. Anima Mundi. La filosofia di Guglielmo di Conches. Florence: G. C. Sansoni, 1955. Pp. 7679.

Parent, J. La Doctrine de la création dans l'école de Chartres. Paris: J. Vrin, 1938. Pp. 4548, 8485.

Poole, R. L. Illustrations of the History of Medieval Thought, 2nd ed. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1920. Pp. 100107.

David Luscombe (1967)

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Bernard of Chartres (Died c. 1124–1130)

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