ON CONTEMPLATING GOD
William of Saint Thierry
Translated from the Latin by
Geoffrey Webb and Adrian Walker
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that by means of love we are made one with god
1. It would be impossible to be united with God in love without also being united with Him in happiness, for they alone are really and truly happy who are utterly in love. The world calls anyone happy who has prosperity and well being, but this is not true, because he alone is happy "whose God is the Lord." (Ps 144.15.) What is happiness unless it be the state of desiring nothing but good, and having all that one has wished for? To want Thee, and to want Thee very much—that is to love Thee, and to love Thee intensely. Thou dost refuse to be loved with anything else, carnal or spiritual, on earth or in heaven, which is not loved for Thy sake. And that certainly is to desire nothing but good, and to have all that is wished for. For a man has Thee inasmuch as he loves Thee. United to God by love and happiness, we understand that "to the Lord belongs salvation" and that His blessing is on His people. (Ps 3.8.) And so, unremittingly we offer Thee, our Father, prayer and devotion and sacrifice through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son. We realize now that all our being and every good is bestowed on us through His mediation, coming from God and designed to return to God.
2. We realize as well as we are able that all these things are gifts of Thy Holy Spirit Who lives in us. He is the Spirit Who strengthens and unites our souls to Himself, breathing in us as He wills. We are His workmanship, created to do good. He is our Holiness, our Justification and our Love. Through His mediation we reach out to Thee, and by Him we embrace Thee, for it is not given to us to contact Thee directly. The soul has no power wherewith to comprehend Thee—only love can grasp Thee completely, despite Thy greatness. One cannot speak of extension where there are no parts, nor of quality where there is no size. We cannot understand when familiar concepts are of no avail. But when we love Thee, our souls are touched by the Holy Spirit and drawn into Him. Through Him, as He lives in us, we have the Charity of God poured out in our hearts. This is none other than the mutual Love of the Father and the Son, dwelling in our souls. And as It turns back to God, even as It must, It turns the soul to God and makes it free and holy. Then it is equally true to say that we love God, and that God is loving Himself in us. His love for us has the effect of uniting us to Himself. The Father and the Son have mutual knowledge of each other, and this knowledge is nothing other than their identity of being. Likewise the Holy Spirit knows both Father and Son, and HIs being is identical with Theirs. For us, the image in which we were created, once disfigured by Adam, is daily renewed by Christ. This means that our loving and fearing God, our keeping of His commandments, is nothing other than our being one with God in unity of the spirit. "To fear God and to keep His commandments is the whole meaning of man." (Ec 12.13.) O lovable, terrible and most blessed God, give us this Spirit! "Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created, and Thou shalt renew the face of the earth." (Ps 104.30.) For not in the flood of many waters (that is, in the disturbance and disorder caused by many different loves) do men draw close to God. Long enough, O Lord, has this deluge lasted, long enough the punishment of Adam's sons. Bring forth Thy Spirit upon the earth. Let the sea turn back; let the salt waters of our condemnation subside, and let the dry land appear, as it thirsts for the fountain of life. Let the Dove, Thy Holy Spirit, come, and let the carrion bird be banished. Let the Dove brings tidings of peace with the olive branch signifying strength and enlightenment. May Thy holiness and hallowing sanctify us. May the unity of the Trinity may us one with Thee.
3. It remains to speak somewhat in our manner of loving you. As Saint Augustine says in his Confessions, (Book X, c. 23, 34) many love truth when it enlightens them, but hate it when it accuses them. Many desire and approve of righteousness, but do not do it. Do such people really love Thee, O God of Justice? In times past the philosophers of this world honoured righteousness both by loving and practising it, so much so that it was said of them: "For love of virtue, the good hate to sin." (Horace, Epist., XVI, 52.) But it is evident that no one can love Thee if he does not love righteousness. For Thou art love's source and origin; to Thee all true righteousness returns and in Thee it finds its goal. Without Thee all the righteousness of man is like filthy rags. However good a man's deeds may appear to be, if he does not love Thee he has no real faith for love to put into effect. If his works do not originate in the source of all righteousness, he cannot achieve the aim of true righteousness, which is Thyself. There is only one way to the Father, and that is the Son, Who said, "I am the way, the truth and the life." (Jn 14.6.)
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