The following is adapted from the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church

WILLIAM of ST. THIERRY (1075/80–1148), theologian and spiritual writer. Of noble family, he was born at Liège, probably educated there and at Reims, c. 1100 entered the Benedictine Abbey of St-Nicasius at Reims, and c. 1120 was elected Abbot of St-Thierry near Reims. In 1131 he took part in the first General Chapter of the Benedictines of the province of Reims, held in that city, and he appears to have held an influential position among the Benedictine Abbots of the area. Before his election as Abbot he made the acquaintance of St Bernard, with whom he formed a close friendship. He was long anxious to join St Bernard at Clairvaux, being dissuaded by the resistance of St Bernard himself; in 1135 he resigned his abbacy and joined a group of Cistercian monks from Igny who were establishing a house at Signy in the Ardennes.

Although he was drawn to the contemplative life, William devoted much of his energies to theological study. His first two treatises, De Contemplando Deo and De Natura et Dignitate Amoris, discuss the rapport between knowledge and love. After completing his first exposition on the Song of Songs, which he discussed with St Bernard when both were ill at Clairvaux, he turned to the Epistle to the Romans and the problem of grace: in what way does God give us His love and how do we receive it? In answer to his questions St Bernard drafted for him the De Gratia et Libero Arbitrio (1128), and in the same year William dedicated to Bernard his own De Sacramento Altaris, on man’s encounter with God in the Eucharist. Before leaving St-Thierry he also compiled a treatise De Natura Animae et Corporis in which he tried to synthesize the teaching of the E. and W. Fathers on the relation of the body and soul. In 1138 he wrote to St Bernard pointing out the defects of Peter Abelard’s views on the Trinity and Redemption; he urged St Bernard to take up his pen against Abelard, and in defence of orthodoxy he himself wrote his Disputatio adversus Abelardum and attacked the teaching of William of Conches in De Erroribus Guillielmi de Conches. These works were followed by two treatises on faith, Speculum Fidei and Enigma Fidei, written between 1140 and 1144. After he went to Signy he also wrote a second, much more individualistic, commentary on the Song of Songs and completed his Meditativae Orationes. The last years of his life were devoted to a synthesis of his doctrine and experience in the famous Epistola ad Fratres de Monte Dei de Vita Solitaria, known as the ‘Golden Letter’, which has often been attributed to St Bernard. His final work was devoted to a Life of Bernard, which he never completed. All his works, both ascetical and didactic, were remarkable for their wide knowledge of the Bible and the Fathers, Eastern as well as Western.

Opera ed. B. Tissier, Ord. Cist., Bibliotheca Patrum Cisterciensium, 4 (Bonnefontaine, 1662), pp. 1–237; repr. in J. P. Migne, PL 180. 201–726; other works among those of St Bernard, ibid. 182. 531–3, and 184. 307–436. Modern edns. by M.-M. Davy of the Epistola ad Fratres de Monte Dei (Études de Philosophie médiévale, 29; 2 vols., 1940–49), of his De Contemplando Deo and De Natura et Diginitate Amoris (Bibliothèque des Textes Philosophiques, 1953), and of his Speculum Fidei and Enigma Fidei (ibid., 1959); by J.-M. Déchanet, OSB, of his Comm. on the Song of Songs, with Fr. tr. by M. Dumortier, OCSO (SC 82; 1962), and, with his own Fr. tr., of Epistola ad Fratres de Monte Dei (ibid. 223; 1975), and of Speculum Fidei (ibid. 301; 1982); modern edns., with Fr. tr., by J. Hourlier, OSB, of his De Contemplando Deo and Oratio Domni Willelmi (ibid. 61; 1959) and of his Meditativae Orationes (ibid. 324; 1985) and by M. Lemoine of his De Natura du Corporis et Animae (Auteurs latins du moyen âge, 1988). Comm. on Rom. ed. P. Verdeyen, SJ (CCCM 86; 1989); Comm. on the Song of Songs and related works ed. id. and others (ibid., 87; 1997). Eng. tr. of his works by Sr. Penelope, CSMV, and others (Cistercian Fathers Series, 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 24 (pp. 104–80), 27, 30, etc.; 1970 ff.).

Life by an anonymous author (d. 1148), ed. A. Poncelet, SJ, ‘Vie ancienne de Guillaume de Saint-Thierry’, in Mélanges Godefroid Kurth, 1 (Liège, 1908), pp. 85–96. J.-M. Déchanet, OSB, Guillaume de Saint-Thierry: L’homme et son œuvre (Bibliothèque Médiévale; 1942; Eng. tr., Cistercian Studies Series, 10; Spencer, Mass., 1972); id., Guillaume de Saint-Thierry: Aux sources d’une pensée (Théologie Historique, 49 [1978]); M.-M. Davy, Théologie et Mystique de Guillaume de Saint-Thierry, 1: La Connaissance de Dieu (Études de Théologie et d’histoire de la Spiritualité, 14; 1954; all pub.). Saint Thierry: Une Abbaye du VIe au XXe siècle (Saint Thierry, 1979; Acts of a Colloquium at the Abbey in 1976); Eng. tr. by J. Carfantan, William, Abbot of St Thierry (Cistercian Studies Series, 94; Kalamazoo, Mich. [1987]). D. N. Bell, The Image and Likeness: The Augustinian Spirituality of William of St Thierry (Cistercian Studies, 78; 1984). P. Verdeyen, La Théologie mystique de Guillaume de Saint-Thierry (Paris [1990]); id., Guillaume de Saint-Thierry, premier auteur mystique des anciens PaysBas (Turnhout, 2003). L. Bouyer, Cong. Orat., La Spiritualité de Cîteaux (1955; Eng. tr., 1958), chs. 4 and 5. M. B. Pennington, OCSO, The Last of the Fathers (Studies in Monasticism, I; Still River, Mass., 1983), pp. 109–80. J.-M. Déchanet, OSB, in Dict. Sp. 6 (1967), cols. 1241–63, s.v. ‘Guillaume de Saint-Thierry’, with additional bibl. by R. Aubert in DHGE 22 (1988), cols. 1014–16.


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