William of Saint-Thierry

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Wilhelm von Saint-Thierry , Latin Guillelmus de Sancto Theodorico (* between 1075 and 1080 in Liège , † probably September 8, 1148 in Signy ) was an influential church writer. He was initially a Benedictine monk, became abbot of the Saint-Thierry monastery and converted to the Cistercians in 1135 .


Together with Bernhard von Clairvaux , Aelred von Rievaulx and Guerric von Igny , he is considered one of the "Four Evangelists of Cîteaux " who shape the spirituality of the Cistercians to this day.

Wilhelm came from a noble family. Together with his brother Simon he studied the liberal arts ( Artes liberales ) at the cathedral schools in Liège and Reims . Around 1100 he entered the Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Nicaise in Reims. From there he was appointed abbot in the traditional abbey of Saint-Thierry near Reims in 1121 . Before taking office, he met Bernhard von Clairvaux on a trip. This meeting was the beginning of a deep friendship. Soon after his appointment as abbot, Wilhelm fell seriously ill and went to Clairvaux to recover . In the following years he played a leading role in the introduction and holding of annual provincial chapters of the Benedictines, which were about the implementation of Cistercian reforms in the monasteries.

In 1135 Archbishop Rainald von Reims allowed the abbot to resign and to retire as a simple monk to Signy, a new Cistercian foundation, to devote himself entirely to prayer and spiritual work, the delicatum otium . Wilhelm did not dare to spend his old age in Clairvaux in order not to see the disapproval of his abdication by Saint Bernard. Five years later, Wilhelm was the first to publicly oppose the teaching of the Paris master Abelard with a polemic , with whom he said he had been friends in earlier years. (Disputatio adversus Petrum Abelardum). He asked his influential friend Bernhard von Clairvaux to take measures to condemn Abelard's work. It was about the initiation of an ecclesiastical disciplinary process , which was to come to an end in France with the condemnation of Abelard's tenets at the Council of Sens on May 25, 1141. The philosophical-theological debates were determined by the question of how human reason can avoid drawing the divine down to its level, that is, that of created nature, and on the other hand remains able to appropriately approach the divine. Between 1143 and 1144 Wilhelm visited the Mont-Dieu Charterhouse.

According to a contemporary source, he died at the time of the council held in Reims under Pope Eugene . This council took place in 1148, when Wilhelm was around 70 years old. The necrology of his abbey dates his death to September 8th.

Wilhelm as a church writer

Wilhelm was one of the most important church writers of his time. Some of his writings have been ascribed to Bernhard von Clairvaux. His work essentially includes spiritual-monastic, dogmatic and mystical themes. The writings "De contemplando Deo", "De natura et dignitate amoris", "Meditativae orationes", "Vita Bernardi", the pamphlet "Responsio abbatum" and the "Golden Letter" are primarily dedicated to monastic spirituality. The "Liber de corpore et sanguine Domini", the Expositio in "Epistolam ad Romanos", the "Speculum" and "Aenigma fidei" and the text "De natura corporis et animae" are considered dogmatic works; the pamphlets "Epistola ad Rupertum", "Epistola ad Gaufridum et Bernardum", "Disputatio adversus Petrum Abelardum" and "De erroribus Guillelmi de Conchis" form a subgroup. The mystical theology is the focus of the four works on the Song of Songs , in the "Brevis commentatio", the "Excerpta ex libris S. Gregorii", in the "Commentarius e scriptis S. Ambrosii" and in the Expositio super Cantica Canticorum, as well as in " Golden Letter «.


Peter Abelard teaches novelties again, writes novelties again, his books cross the seas, jump the Alps, and his new doctrines and doctrines spread through provinces and kingdoms, are publicly proclaimed and freely defended and even in the Roman Curia they enjoy prestige ... The strange news of words in matters of faith have disturbed me, and the new inventions of unheard-of meanings. Since I have no one else to turn to, I turn to you on the matter, the dispute - causa - of God, and I call the whole Latin Church to judgment ... (Wilhelm to Bernhard von Clairvaux and Bishop Gottfried of Chartres)


On January 12, 1215, his body was transferred from the cloister to the church. Since this elevation of the bones in the presence of other abbots was equivalent to a beatification in the Middle Ages , Wilhelm is venerated as a blessed in the Cistercian order.

Work editions

  • Migne , Patrologia Latina Volume 180, Sp. 210–726 - Digitized - and Volume 184, Sp. 307–408 - Digitized: at Documenta Catholica and in the Google book search (partly among the works of Bernhard von Clairvaux)
  • Les lettres de Guillaume de Saint-Thierry à Saint Bernard , ed. Jean Leclercq, in: Revue Bénédictine 79, 1969, pp. 382-391


  • See God, love God. De contemplando deodorant. De natura et dignitate amoris . Transferred and introduced by W. Dittrich and HU von Balthasar, Einsiedeln 1961
  • HU von Balthasar (Ed.): Wilhelm v. Saint-Thierry, The Mirror of Faith , Einsiedeln 1981
  • Meditative prayers , Eschenbach 1983
  • Golden letter. Letter to the brothers from the mountain of God , trans. by B. Kohout-Berghammer, Eschenbach 1992


  • A. Dégert: William of St-Thierry , in: The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company 1912.
  • Volker Honemann : The 'Epistola ad fratres de Monte Dei' by W. , Zurich and Munich 1978.
  • Klaus Berger : Cistercian theology in the commentary on the Romans by Wilhelm von Saint Thierry . In: Wolfgang Buchmüller (ed.), On the joy of approaching God. Contributions to Cistercian spirituality (Heiligenkreuz 2010), pp. 48–64. ISBN 978-3-902694-11-9 .
  • Kurt Ruh: History of occidental mysticism , Vol. 1, Munich 1990, pp. 276–319.
  • E. Rozanne Elder: The Christology of W. In: Recherches De Theologie Ancienne et Medievale , Vol. 58, 1991, pp. 79-112.
  • Michaela Pfeifer: W's Golden Letter and its meaning for the Cistercians . In: Analecta Cisterciensia , Vol. 50, 1994, p. 3ff. and Vol. 51, 1995, p. 3ff.
  • Paul Verdeyen: Wilhelm von Saint-Thierry, first mystic of the Netherlands , in: Analecta Cisterciensia 65 (2015), pp. 268–374.
  • Gabriele Lautenschläger:  William of Saint-Thierry. In: Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL). Volume 15, Bautz, Herzberg 1999, ISBN 3-88309-077-8 , Sp. 1506-1508.
  • Eva-Maria Engelen : Wilhelm von Saint-Thierry , in: Jürgen Mittelstraß (Hrsg.): Encyclopedia Philosophy and Philosophy of Science. 2nd Edition. Volume 8: Th - Z. Stuttgart, Metzler 2018, ISBN 978-3-476-02107-6 , pp. 509-511 (with a detailed list of works and references).

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