Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Only love for God and neighbour gives meaning to our choices and the human desire to "become like God, who created us in His image and likeness, will never arrive at being God but "what God is". This is the teaching of William of St. Thierry, "the bard of love, charity" as the of the twelfth century monk was called of which Benedict XVI spoke to around 10 thousand people present in St Peter's Square for the general audience.
William, he recalled, was born in Liège between 1075 and 1080. Of noble family, he attended the famous schools of the time. He came into personal contact with Abelard, "the master that applied philosophy to theology in such an original way as to arouse many doubts and opposition”, which also included William, who urged his friend Bernard to take a stand. "In response to that mysterious and irresistible call of God, which is the vocation to consecrated life, William entered the Benedictine monastery of Saint-Nicaise in Reims in 1113, and a few years later he became abbot of the monastery of Saint-Thierry, joining that movement, widespread at the time, of purification and renewal of monastic life. He worked to this ends within his monastery and the Benedictine monastery order, but he met with resistance. "And so, despite the contrary advice of his friend Bernard, in 1135, he left the Benedictine abbey, he took off his black habit and donned a white one, to join the Cistercians of Signy. From then until his death in 1148, he devoted himself to prayerful contemplation of the mysteries of God, always the object of his deepest desires, and the composition of writings of spiritual literature, important in the history of monastic theology".
One of his earliest works, the Pope continued, is entitled "De natura et dignitate amoris" (Nature and the dignity of love). "It contains one of the fundamental ideas of William, which is also valid for us. The main energy that moves the human spirit is love. Human nature, in its deepest essence, consists in loving. Ultimately, only one task is assigned to every human being: to learn to love, to love, sincerely, authentically, freely. But only in the school of God is this task fulfilled and man can achieve the purpose for which it was created. "
But learning to love is "a long and difficult path," on that William divided into four stages, "corresponding to the ages of man: childhood, youth, maturity and old age. On this journey, the person must impose effective asceticism, a strong self-control to eliminate any inordinate affection, all yielding to selfishness, and unite their lives in God, the source of love, to reach the summit of spiritual life" which William calls "wisdom ". At the end of this journey, "he experiences a great serenity and sweetness. All the faculties of man, intelligence, will, affections, rest in God, known and loved in Christ".
What is striking about William, Benedict XVI noted that in speaking of love of God "he attaches great importance to the emotional dimension". After all, he commented, "Our hearts are made of flesh, and when we love God who is love itself, how can we not also give in this relationship with the Lord, even our humane sentiments, such as tenderness, sensitivity, delicacy. The Lord Himself, becoming man, chose to love us with a heart of flesh". Love also "illuminates the mind and allows us to know God better and deeper and, in God, people and events. The knowledge that proceeds from the senses and intelligence reduces, but does not eliminate, the distance between subject and object, between me and you. Love instead produces attraction and communion, to the point that there is a transformation and assimilation between the person who loves and the object that is loved. This reciprocity of affection and sympathy, then allows a much more profound knowledge than that gained by reason alone. This explains the famous words of William: 'Amor ipse intellectus est' (l love itself brings knowledge). " "Is it not true - asked the Pope - that we really know who and what we love! Without a certain sympathy we no nothing and no-one. This is true especially in knowledge of God and his mysteries, which exceed the capacity of understanding of our intelligence: you know God if you love God.
The teachings of William, summarized in what has been called "Epistola aurea" (Letter of gold) are valuable for those who wish to grow in communion with God. " It proposes an itinerary in three stages. "It passes from the 'animal' than 'rational', to arrive at the 'spiritual'." At first, vision of life inspired by faith "by an act of obedience and trust”, is accepted. Then there is "a process of internalization, in which reason and will play a big role, faith is greeted with deep conviction and one experiences a harmonious match between what one believes and hopes and the most secret aspirations of the soul, our reason, our affections. This brings us to the perfection of spiritual life, when the reality of faith is a source of deep joy and of real and fulfilling communion with God. When we live in and only for love”.
Drawing on ancient Greek Fathers, according to whom "the vocation of man is to become like God, who created him in His image and likeness" William shows us how "The image of God in man pushes him toward His likeness towards an identity that is increasingly full of his own will and the divine will". This perfection, which he calls the "unity of spirit", "is not reached by personal effort, but by the Holy Spirit who dwells in the soul and purifies, absorbs and transforms into charity every impulse and every desire of love present in man". With grace, "man becomes one with God, one spirit, not only from the unity of the same will, but because he is not capable of wanting more.". "In this way man deserves not to become God, but what God is; man becomes by grace what God is by nature".