The Medieval Review 10.06.21

Guillelmus a Sancto Theodorico. Verdeyen, Paul. Opera Omnia vols. 4 and 5. Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaevalis 89 and 89A. Turnhout: Brepols, 20057. Pp. xix, 139/215. ISBN 2503038913 / 250303893X. .

Reviewed by:

Constant J. Mews
Monash University

William of Saint-Thierry is a thinker who has tended to languish in the shadow of his more well-known friend, Bernard of Clairvaux. Yet the edition of his Opera Omnia by Paul Verdeyen provides the opportunity for scholars to revisit this author, perhaps most often remembered for having asked Bernard to intervene against Peter Abelard. Verdeyen introduced this project with his edition of William's commentary on Romans, CCCM 86 (1989), prefaced with a useful introduction to this author, born around 1075 (thus fifteen years younger than Bernard) and abbot of Saint-Thierry in Reims from Lent 1121 until 1135 when he joined the Cistercian Order at Signy. There followed a volume (CCCM 87, 1997), containing his important brief commentary on the Song of Songs (from around 1130), and his compilation from both Ambrose and Gregory on that text, and another (CCCM 88, 2003) containing editions of a range of smaller treatises, De contemplando Deo and De natura et dignitate amoris (from 1121-24), De sacramento altaris (addressed to Rupert of Deutz around 1127), the De natura corporis et animae (around 1138) and the Epistola ad fratres de Monte Dei (1144-1145). Part IV of the Opera Omnia provides an edition of his Meditationes devotissimae, probably written while he was still at Saint-Thierry, but completed soon after he came to Signy in 1137. These are philosophical meditations, in the spirit of St Anselm. They move from reflection on the wisdom and knowledge of God, to reflection on amor, as the goal of the spiritual life. It is hard to translate the intense way in which he plays on the term. Speaking of those who love God, he writes: "Amo ergo eos quia te amant, et multum amo, sicut amo amorem quo amaris, quem in ipsis amo" (Meditatio XII, p. 79). This is mystical writing directed to transforming the soul rather than engaging in analytic discussion. More material insight into the conditions of monastic life are also supplied in this volume with editions by the late Stanislas Ceglar of the letter of Matthew of Albano, addressed to the Benedictine abbots of Reims, identifying many serious problems in the Order, and the response of William of St-Thierry. It was the failure of the Benedictine Order to initiate these reforms that eventually led William to join the Cistercians.

The fifth volume of the Opera omnia provides editions of William's writings against Peter Abelard (his letter to Bernard, his Disputatio against Abelard, the response of Bernard and his letter on the errors of William of Conches) and of his two major treatises about faith, the Speculum fidei and the Aenigma fidei, both written subsequently. The historical background given to the treatises against Abelard and minimal, and follows an older chronology that dates the Council of Sens to 1140 rather than 1141. William's Disputatio is important because it provides much greater analysis of Abelard's Theologia and the book of sentences of his teaching than the corresponding treatise of Bernard, which focuses with more effect on just a few main themes. The edition provides useful reference both to the texts of Abelard under dispute and the texts of Augustine from which he drew inspiration. In many ways, it was Abelard's desire to detach himself from Augustinian tradition that provoked William's ire. His treatise on the errors of William of Conches follows a similar tack, but is less effective because he had little understanding of the natural science in which William had most interest.

The editions of William's Speculum fidei and Aenigma fidei are similarly supplied with the minimum of introductory matter. William was not concerned to analyse specific points of doctrine, in the fashion of Abelard. Rather, his focus is on faith as a theological virtue, through which man could conform himself to the nature of the Trinity. Thus rather than speak about terminology applied to God, his focus on the interior virtues provoked by reflection on faith, which he sees as one form of knowledge. While faith belongs to this world, amor provides a form of knowledge that is eternal. Much more than Bernard of Clairvaux, William seeks to provide his own answer to Abelard's discussion of faith with his own reflection on how faith leads to love. In the Aenigma fidei, William goes further in attempting to write for himself about the doctrine of the Trinity. It is clear that he is concerned about the extent of contemporary discussion of those who speak about God, and is more aware than in the previous treatise about how knowledge does proceed from names. Much more than Bernard, William was a speculative thinker who was prompted by Abelard to come up with his own theology of the Trinity. Yet his concern is with the moral qualities that must accompany such discussion. Verdeyen's edition identifies the significant role played by Augustine in the formulation of William's ideas. It deserves to be studied by those concerned with the evolution of medieval thought. It enables us to appreciate William as a theologian of no small originality, even if he does not have the rhetorical verve of Bernard of Clairvaux.