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Bernard of Chartres

Bernard of Chartres

also known as Bernardus Carnotensis

(d. Chartres, France, ca. 1130), philosophy.

Bernard, who should not be mistaken for Bernardus Silvestris, was of Breton origin and an older brother of Thierry of Chartres. He taught the masters responsible for the glory of the school of Chartres during the first half of the twelfth century. William of Conches, Richard the Bishop, and Gilbert of Poitiers were his most famous disciples.

Bernard is known to have been studying at Chartres as early as 1114. From 1119 to 1126 he was chancellor of the episcopal schools of that city.

The information left concerning Bernard’s doctrine is very fragmentary. According to John of Salisbury, he was the most perfect Platonist of his time; but this Platonism, influenced by the Timaeus (17a-53C), which Calcidius had made accessible to the Latins, is colored by many overtones. Bernard also attempted to reconcile Plato and Aristotle, an endeavor considered a vain one by John of Salisbury.

Bernard’s pedagogical method is better known. Its aim was to obtain effective and continuous work from his srudents; as John of Salisbury expressed it: “Each passing day became the disciple of the previous day”. Bernard is particularly well known for being the first to use the comparison of dwarfs and giants: “We are,” he said, “like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. Our glance can thus take in more things and reach farther than theirs. It is not because our sight is sharper nor our height greater than theirs; it is that we are carried and elevated by the high stature of the giants” (Metalogicon III, 4, p. 136). This comparison, in which the giants stand for the ancients and the “dwarfs for the moderns, should not be taken as an act of faith in the indefinite progress of the sciences and culture. Rather, Bernard modestly remained at the level of grammatica: the secrets of good writing are learned by reading and rereading the great works of the past, not in order to copy them slavishly but in order to be inspired by them, so that future generations may take us as models, as we ourselves took the ancients as our models.


I. Original Works. None of Bernard’s; works has survived in its entirety. The only fragments remaining are found in John of Salisbury’s Metalogicon, C. Webb, ed. (Oxford, 1929). These are the famous comparison of dwarfs and giants, attributed to him by John of Salisbury and also transmitted by William of Conches—see E. Jeauneau. “Nani gigantum humeris insidentes. Essaid’interprétation de Bernard de Chartres,” in Vivarium, 5 (1967), 79–99: a quotation from the Expositio Porphyrii, in the Metalogicon IV, 35, p. 206, 11. 19–25; and some fragments of philosophical poems: two elegiac distichs on form (idea) and matter (ile), cited in the Metalogicon IV, 35, p. 205, 11. 24–27, and recurring in some twelfth-century glosses on Plato’s Timaeus (MS Vatican, Archiyio di san Pietro, H 51, fol. 11v); six hexameters on the clear opposition of the eternally indestructible world of ideas to the realm of matter, destined to perish in time, also quoted in the Metalogicon IV, 35, p. 206. 11. 26–31; and three hexameters on the conditions favorable to the work of the mind, quoted in John of Salisbury’s Policraticus VII, 13 (C. Webb, ed. [Oxford, 1909], II, p. 145, 11. 12–14), and commented on by Hugh of Saint Victor in his Didascalicon III, 13–20.

II. Secondary Literature. Works containing further information on Bernard are A. Clerval, Les écoles de Chartres au moyen âge, du Ve au XVe siécle (Paris, 1895);E. Garin, Studi sul platonismo medievale (Florence, 1958), pp. 50–53; L. Merlet and R. Merlet, “Dignitaires de l’Église Notre-Dame de Chartres. Listes chronologiques,” in Archives du diocèse de Chartres, V (Chartres, 1900), 103; A. Nelson, “Ett citat från Bernard av Chartres,” in Nordisktidskrifl för Bok-och Bibliotherksväsen, 17 (1930), 41; and R. L. Poole, Illustrations of the History of Medieval Thought and Learning. 2nd ed. (London, 1920).

Edouard Jeauneau

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