Promised Bodies

Promised Bodies: Time, Language, and Corporeality in Medieval Women's Mystical Texts

Patricia Dailey
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/dail16120
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  • Book Info
    Promised Bodies
    Book Description:

    In the Christian tradition, especially in the works of Paul, Augustine, and the exegetes of the Middle Ages, the body is a twofold entity consisting of inner and outer persons that promises to find its true materiality in a time to come. A potentially transformative vehicle, it is a dynamic mirror that can reflect the work of the divine within and substantially alter its own materiality if receptive to divine grace.

    The writings of Hadewijch of Brabant, a thirteenth-century beguine, engage with this tradition in sophisticated ways both singular to her mysticism and indicative of the theological milieu of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Crossing linguistic and historical boundaries, Patricia Dailey connects the embodied poetics of Hadewijch's visions, writings, and letters to the work of Julian of Norwich, Hildegard of Bingen, Marguerite of Oingt, and other mystics and visionaries. She establishes new criteria to more consistently understand and assess the singularity of women's mystical texts and, by underscoring the similarities between men's and women's writings of the time, collapses traditional conceptions of gender as they relate to differences in style, language, interpretative practices, forms of literacy, and uses of textuality.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53552-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-26)

    Seeking to understand embodiment in medieval women’s religious literature is a complex undertaking, in part because it invokes a sensibility that seems so familiar and at the same time remains so foreign to our own. When Hadewijch of Brabant, a beguine mystic of the thirteenth century, writes of unity with Christ in her Vision 7, she does so in terms that seem to place an emphasis on the immediacy of the body and the palpability of the human figure of Christ, rendering divinity concrete and erotically charged. Writing in her native Middle Dutch, she reports:

    He came in the likeness...

  6. 1 CHILDREN OF PROMISE, CHILDREN OF THE FLESH: AUGUSTINE’S TWO BODIES
    (pp. 27-62)

    Whether or not we deem Augustine a mystic, Augustine’s writings are critical to Christian mysticism, especially that of the Middle Ages.¹ Augustine’s theological framework and reading of Paul—especially in his later works—provide the grounds for the development of medieval mystical experience, its understanding of the role of the body, the inner senses, and the oxymoronic time of mystic experience.² In Confessions, On the Trinity, The City of God, On Christian Doctrine, and indeed throughout his work, Augustine strives to provide a theological and textual bridge between a person’s limited status in time and space and the promise of...

  7. 2 THE MYSTIC’S TWO BODIES: THE TEMPORAL AND MATERIAL POETICS OF VISIONARY TEXTS
    (pp. 63-88)

    While not as overtly philosophical as Augustine, nor as explicit as Paul, women’s visionary and mystical texts nevertheless demonstrate a complex temporal interweaving between inner and outer persons and the inner and outer senses that complicates any equation of embodiment with immediacy, mere corporeality, and unmediated experience. Focusing on Hadewijch of Brabant’s Visions, while comparing them with other women’s visionary texts, this chapter traces the temporal and embodied workings of inner and outer persons in visions to show how these are linked to forms of textuality in their participation in the interpretation and application of scripture.

    While the point has...

  8. 3 WERKE AND THE POSTSCRIPTUM OF THE SOUL
    (pp. 89-122)

    While barbara Newman has underscored that “visionary experience was never supposed to be an end in itself, at least not in principle: it was valued because it could lead the soul into deeper contrition, purer devotion, more perfect knowledge, and greater intimacy with God,” Hadewijch’s visions imply a more concrete outcome for visionary activity: works.¹ This “postscriptum” prescribed by Hadewijch’s visions furthers our understanding of visionary activity in that it shows how concrete the aftermath of visions could be for some mystics.

    In addition, rather than emphasizing intimacy and the contemplation of the divine, works, for Hadewijch, embody spiritual truths...

  9. 4 LIVING SONG: DWELLING IN HADEWIJCH’S LIEDEREN
    (pp. 123-156)

    Hadewijch’s poems in stanzas, now known as her “Songs,” or Liederen, are some of the most celebrated in medieval mystical poetry—if not in the history of the Dutch language as it is currently conceived and taught. As we have seen, North American scholars are becoming increasingly aware of Hadewijch’s work in general as interest in the complexity of women’s devotional texts grows among medievalists and feminists, and as translations enable greater awareness of the work’s linguistic, theological, and conceptual sophistication.

    Jessica Boon has noted that among English-language scholarship, however, a certain tendency prevails: “Most authors choose to analyze Hadewijch...

  10. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 157-172)

    This book has argued that a fuller theological understanding of the embodiments of inner and outer persons and their relation to reading, time, interpretation, and practice enables new ways of thinking about and across gender, genre, and period. At the same time, this book has highlighted a performative aspect of embodiment that is discernible in medieval women’s mystical texts, one that emphasizes the theological as a literary and enacted poetics.¹ I have foregrounded women’s mystical writings, therefore, not to insist on their separateness from men’s writings in essential ways, but rather to show that many women’s mystical texts can be...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 173-228)
  12. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 229-244)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 245-260)