BERNARD OF CHARTRES (Bernard Carnotensis)—philosopher, d. around 1130, elder brother of Theodore (Thierry) of Chartres.
From 1114 Bernard of Chartres lectured logic and grammar in the cathedral school of Chartres. From 1115 to 1119 he was the director of that school (magister scholae) appointed by Ivo (Yves) of Chartres, and from 1119 to 1124, in the period of the school’s greatest growth, he was its rector. He is regarded as the best Platonist of his time and a particular lover of ancient culture. He studied classical Latin to analyze the works of Roman writers and poets. As John of Salisbury reports (Metalogicus, III 4, PL 199, 900), Bernard of Chartres was the source of the famous saying: “We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants; we perceive more and see farther than they, but not because we have better vision, nor because we are taller than they, but because they have lifted us up and added their gigantic height to ours”. John of Salisbury praised Bernard’s teaching method, which was based chiefly on grammar whereby he referred to all domains of knowledge, even to spiritual exercises.
Bernard of Chartres sought to reconcile the Platonic image of the world (known from the Timaeus) with the image provided by Revelation. In his conception he distinguished three truly real beings: God, ideas, and immobile matter. God is being itself (full being) and possesses the ideas. The ideas are the eternal models, patterns, and causes of natural things. Ideas, however, do not mix directly with matter. Ideas mix with matter only through the formae nativae that come from the ideas—innate forms that order matter and make it subject to motion. By direct contact with matter they become differentiated. Things themselves, as composed of these two elements, are not true beings; only the elements, idea and matter, are real.
An important question in Bernard’s thought was the formulation of the foundations of a “speculative grammar". The main inspiration for this was Aristotle’s Categories, a work that linked grammatical and philosophical question. Bernard’s analyses, however, tended toward the Platonic theory of participation. He thought that the relation of a primary word (e.g. whiteness) to derivative words (to whiten, white, etc.) is like the relation of a Platonic idea to the reflections that come from it, reflections that undergo gradual degradation until they are completely joined with matter.
Bernard was renowned as a master whose students and continuators were famous at the time: Gilbert de la Porrée, Theodore (Thierry) of Chartres, Willian of Conches, and many others. Bernard of Chartres’ writings have perished, with the exception of the treatise De expositione Porphyryii, Glossae to Plato’s Timaeus that have been ascribed to Bernard, and excerpts that we know from John of Salisbury’s work Metalogicus (PL 199, 823–946).
É. Gilson, Le Platonisme de B. de Chartres, RNSP 24 (1923), 5–19; J. Parent, La Doctrine de la création dans l’ecole de Chartres, P 1938; The “Glossae super Platonem” of B. of Chartres, Tor 1991; P. Annala, The Function of the “formae nativae” in the Refinement Process of Matter. A Study of Bernard of Chartres Concept of Matter, Vivarium 35 (1997) n. 1, 1–19; A. Kijewska, Księga Pisma i Księga Natury. Heksaemeron Eriugany i Teodoryka z Chartres [The book of Scripture and the book of nature. The Hexaemeron of Eriugena and Theodore of Chartres], Lb 1999, 153–157.