"Perhaps no book was more central to medieval spirituality and mysticism," writes Bernard McGinn, "or more problematic to contemporary readers, than the Song of Songs. . . Lingering Victorian attitudes towards the opposition between sex and religion find the Song's frank erotic language embarrassing and even distasteful." But in the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, the Song of Songs was a favorite book of Cistercian monks. Bernard of Clairvaux, Gilbert of Hoyland, and John of Ford, as well as William of Saint Thierry, read it as a dialogue between Christ the Bridegroom and the human soul, the Bride.
William of Saint Thierry began composing his commentary soon after entering the Cistercian abbey of Signy in 1135. Having left behind a busy life as a Benedictine abbot and author of theological treatises, he turned to writing meditations on Scripture as the means of listening to the voice of the Beloved. It is therefore ironic that he broke off his commentary on the Song, never to return to it, to alert the Church in France to the teaching of Peter Abelard and then to compose two treatises correcting what he deeply believed were Abelard's theological errors.