Seeking the Face of God : a study on Augustine's reception in the mystical thought of Bernard of Clairvaux and William of St. Thierry
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The present thesis examines the way in which two twelfth century authors, the Cistercian monks, Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153) and William of St. Thierry (c. 1080-1148), used Augustine (354-430) in the articulation of their mystical thought. The approach to this subject takes into account the fact that in the works of all these medieval authors the “mystical” element is inescapably entangled with their theological discourse and that an accurate understanding of their views on the soul’s direct encounter with God cannot be achieved without a discussion of their theology. This thesis posits that the cohesion of Bernard’s and William’s mystical thought lies in their appropriation of the guiding principle of Augustine’s mystical theology: “You made us for yourself and our heart is restless until it rests in you” (conf. 1.1.1), reflected in the subtle interplay of three main themes, namely (1) the creation of humanity in the image and likeness of God, which provides the grounds for the understanding of the soul’s search for direct contact with God; (2) love as a longing innate in every human being, which explores the means to attain immediacy with God; and (3) the soul’s direct encounter with God, which discusses the nature of the soul’s immediate experience of the divine presence that can only be achieved in lasting fullness at the end of time. This examination of Bernard’s and William’s use of Augustine is structured on the basis of these three core themes which form the scaffolding of their mystical thought. Investigating the specific methods of their reception of Augustine will highlight the originality and uniqueness of each of the two Cistercian authors, who while drawing on the same patristic source use it nevertheless in various ways, by focussing on different aspects of Augustine’s immense oeuvre and by arriving at distinct mystical programmes.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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