BERNARDINE OF SIENA (Bernardinus Senensis)—doctor of the Church, popular preacher, and theologian, b. November 8, 1380 in Massa Marittima near Siena, d. May 20, 1444 in S. Silvestro near Aquila, canonized May 24, 1450 by Pope Nicholas V, patron of the city of Aquila.
Bernardine lost both parents at an early age. A powerful uncle who lived in Siena took Bernardine in to educate him. He received his basic education at a parochial school in Siena. From 1396 to 1399 he studied law at the University of Siena. In 1400 during a time of widespread plague he attended to the sick. In 1402 he entered the convent of St. Francis in Siena, but after two months he left and west to the Observantine convent of Colombaio. In 1404 he was ordained to the priesthood and became a leader of reform in religious life. For 12 years he was in a small cloister in Capiola near Siena where he studied Sacred Scripture, the Fathers of the Church, and theological works, especially those of St. Bonaventure. Over time he became renowned as an excellent preacher, and when his superiors names him in 1417 as preacher for all Italy, he traveled throughout the Apennine peninsula calling people to penance and a change in life. According to eye-witnesses, the crowds that listened to his sermons were so great that no church could hold them, and so Bernardine preached his sermons in plazas. Bernardine’s renown as a preacher contributed to the rapid growth of the Observantines. Their cloisters began to spring up around large cities. In Piedmont he met St. Vincent Ferrer who gave Bernardine his blessing and urged him to do further apostolic work. In 1421 Bernardine became vicar of the Observantines. Bernardine distinguished himself by his special devotion to the Name of Jesus. He founded or inspired the foundation of many fraternities under the Name of Jesus and the Most Blessed Virgin Mary. During his sermons he displayed to the faithful a colorful emblem with the inscription IHS, which was the occasion for his being accused of heresy, but by the intervention of John Capistrano, Pope Martin V cleared him of the charges.
From 1433 to 1436, Bernardine wrote down his sermons in the form of theological treatises (ed. J. De la Haye, Sancti B. Senensis Opera Omnia, I–V, P 1635; ed. crit. I–VII, Q 1950–19594). Besides christological and ecclesiological questions, he discussed in them the problem of universal mediation and the Immaculate Conception of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, the figure of Joseph the Bridegroom, and moral-social questions. Because of the contents of these writings he was declared a doctor of the Church. Various popes in turn offerred Bernardine the positions of bishop in Siena, Ferrara, and Urbino, but in his humility he refused to take these positions.
After St. John Capistrano brought the Observantines to Poland in the mid-fifteenth century, from the first cloister and church of the Observantines in Kraków under the name of St. Bernardine, his spiritual sons in Poland have been called the Bernardines.
P. Thureau-Dangin, Un prédicateur populaire dans l’Italie de la renaissance. Saint B. de Sienne, P 1896, 1897; J. Grudziński, H. Lesman, EK II 313–314 (bibliogr.); Enciclopedia Bernardiniana, L’Aquilo 1980–1984; Atti del simposio internazionale Cateriniano-Bernardiniano, Siena, 17–20 Aprile 1980, Siena 1982.