We’ve been a little thin on Menology entries in the last few weeks as the saints of the Martyrology and the feasts of the calendar have provided so much material, but this entry for the 15th of November caught my attention when Fr. Joseph read it at supper:
At Clairvaux, Blessed Evrard, Monk, who, after having courageously fought against the Saracens, resigned his office of Grand Master of the Knights of the Temple, and shone as a star in the Order of Citeaux. He had the happiness of beholding the King of the Angels, and of being certified by Him that all his faults were forgiven.
Evrard des Barres was Grand Master of the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, to give the full name, from 1147-1151. He entered Clairvaux near the end of the life of St. Bernard, whose treatise, “In Praise of the New Knighthood,” had provided a significant support for the fledgling order. In that treatise, though parts sound brutal to modern ears, we hear a new ideal of the knight that rebukes the excesses of many contemporary adventurers:
There is no distinction of persons among them, and deference is shown to merit rather than to noble blood. They rival one another in mutual consideration, and they carry one another's burdens, thus fulfilling the law of Christ. No inappropriate word, idle deed, unrestrained laugh, not even the slightest whisper or murmur is left uncorrected once it has been detected. They foreswear dice and chess, and abhor the chase; they take no delight in the ridiculous cruelty of falconry, as is the custom…
When the battle is at hand, they arm themselves interiorly with faith and exteriorly with steel rather than decorate themselves with gold, since their business is to strike fear in the enemy rather than to incite his cupidity. They seek out horses which are strong and swift, rather than those which are brilliant and well-plumed, they set their minds on fighting to win rather than on parading for show. They think not of glory and seek to be formidable rather than flamboyant. At the same time, they are not quarrelsome, rash, or unduly hasty, but soberly, prudently and providently drawn up into orderly ranks, as we read of the fathers. Indeed, the true Israelite is a man of peace, even when he goes forth to battle.
Evrard was born at Meaux in Champagne around 1113 and rose rapidly through the Order of the Temple. By 1143, he was preceptor of France and in Easter of 1147 convoked the general chapter of the Order in France that gave its support to Louis VII in the disastrous Second Crusade, preached by St. Bernard. Evrard accompanied Louis and Eleanor of Aquitaine to the Holy Land and, after a successful march through Anatolia, was given command of the entire French force by King Louis, who praised the Templars in a letter to Abbot Suger, his regent during his absence. Once arrived in Antioch, Evrard arranged a loan for Louis, launcing the Templars career as bankers to the French monarchy and, arguably, sowing the seed of the order’s downfall some 150 years later. He took part in the disastrous siege of Damascus and, after the ensuing debacle, returned to France with the king, resigned his office, and lived for more than 20 years as a monk of Clairvaux, dying in 1174.
The Menology does not tell us of which faults Evrard was assured forgiveness, whether it was deeds in battle that weighed upon him or his less than exemplary record as Grand Master. One might also wonder what he and St. Bernard shared of their experiences. His role as preacher of the Second Crusade proved to be a disaster for the reputation of the dynamic abbot of Clairvaux and a sensitive subject with his biographers.
Whatever the guilt Evrard felt, the vision and his long life as a simple monk seemed to have brought him the solace he had sought in the cloister.
* * *
And, on a more spurious note, I should point out that conspiracy theorists list Evrard as being Grand Master of the Priory of Sion from 1147 to 1150. Here we have yet another connection between the Cistercians and the grand plot to control the universe, and still Opus Dei gets all the credit. Maybe we’re just better at this hidden life business.