The Medieval Mystical Tradition in England

The Medieval Mystical Tradition in England: Papers read at Charney Manor, July 2011 [Exeter Symposium 8]

Edited by E. A. Jones
Volume: 8
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 224
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt2tt1ms
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  • Book Info
    The Medieval Mystical Tradition in England
    Book Description:

    Mystical writing flourished between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries across Europe and in England, and had a wide influence on religion and spirituality. This volume examines a range of topics within the field. The five "Middle English Mystics" (Richard Rolle, Walter Hilton, the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe) receive renewed attention, with significant new insights generated by fresh theoretical approaches. In addition, there are studies of the relationships between continental and English mystical authors, introductions to some less well-known writers in the tradition (such as the Monk of Farne), and explorations around the fringes of the mystical canon, including Middle English translations of Boethius, Lollard spirituality, and the Syon brother Richard Whytford's writings for a sixteenth-century "mixed life" audience. E. A. Jones is Senior Lecturer in English Medieval Literature and Culture at the University of Exeter. Contributors: Christine Cooper-Rompato, Vincent Gillespie, C. Annette Grisé, Ian Johnson, Sarah Macmillan, Liz Herbert McAvoy, Nicole R. Rice, Maggie Ross, Steven Rozenski Jr, David Russell, Michael G. Sargent, Christiana Whitehead.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-089-7
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Lists of Diagrams and Figures
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Contributors
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-6)
    E. A. JONES

    After a longer than anticipated break in the series, the eighth Exeter Symposium took place at Charney Manor in Oxfordshire, between 17 and 20 July 2011. The twelve papers that formed the basis for discussions at the Symposium are collected here.

    As always, the canonical ‘Middle English Mystics’ are represented: indeed, there is a ‘full house’ of Richard Rolle, Walter Hilton, the Cloud-author, Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe. The volume begins with Vincent Gillespie’s exploration of light, colour and sight in Julian of Norwich. Over the past twenty years, literary scholars have been demonstrating the possibilities of medieval optical...

  7. THE COLOURS OF CONTEMPLATION: LESS LIGHT ON JULIAN OF NORWICH
    (pp. 7-28)
    VINCENT GILLESPIE

    In chapters 83 and 84 of her Long Text, with a hard-won confidence and expositional clarity that is the fruit of many years of reflection and rumination on her showings, Julian of Norwich finally presents her ‘even-cristen’ with the apotheosis of her thinking about the three core properties of God ‘in which the strength and effect of all the revelation stondith; and thei were seene in every shewing’:

    The properties are these: lif, love and ligte. In life is mervelous homlihede, and in love is gentil curtesye, and in lyte is endless kyndhede. These propertes were in on goodness; into...

  8. BEHOLD NOT THE CLOUD OF EXPERIENCE
    (pp. 29-50)
    MAGGIE ROSS

    The argument of this paper is that recovering the biblical word behold and the work of silence – the model of the mind – it entails is crucial to understanding ancient, patristic and medieval texts. The word behold is a liminal word; it signals the threshold of contemplation, where the self-conscious mind stops analysing and becomes attentively receptive, open in an ungrasping and self-emptying way to irruption from the deep mind. Examples of this process will be drawn from Richard of St Victor’s Mystical Ark, The Cloud of Unknowing and Julian’s Long Text.

    The word behold is arguably...

  9. WALTER HILTON ON THE GIFT OF INTERPRETATION OF SCRIPTURE
    (pp. 51-58)
    MICHAEL G. SARGENT

    In the latter chapters of the second book of The Scale of Perfection, Walter Hilton enumerates the special graces that accompany the gift of reformation in faith and feeling, which he describes as the union of knowledge and love in their object, Christ, the perfection of meekness, and the clear sight of the ghostly eye. Among these graces, in chapter 43, he discusses the gift of interpretation of Scriptures:¹

    Meknes presumiþ of soþfastnes and noþinge of itself, and soþfastnes troweþ wel on meknes, and so þei acorden wundre wel. Þan for as mikel as a soule of a lufere is...

  10. NUMERACY AND NUMBER IN THE BOOK OF MARGERY KEMPE
    (pp. 59-74)
    CHRISTINE COOPER-ROMPATO

    For years we have Wondered if Margery Kempe could read – or at least what access to literacy she had. Why have we not wondered the following: How did Kempe count and perform mathematical operations? What did she count, and why? What kind of numeracies did Kempe possess or have access to? How did numbers and mathematical operations shape her experiences?

    Numeracy, or what Americans refer to as ‘quantitative literacy’, can be defined as one’s ability to understand and apply mathematical operations to everyday tasks, as well as the familiarity with mathematical concepts. Numeracy includes such wide-ranging concepts and...

  11. RELIGIOUS MYSTICAL MOTHERS: MARGERY KEMPE AND CATERINA BENINCASA
    (pp. 75-92)
    DAVID RUSSELL

    This quotation from Liber extra by Bernard of Parma (d. 1266) typifies universal Christian perceptions of female incapacity prevalent during the whole of the Middle Ages, when women were politically, socially, legally and culturally disadvantaged in comparison with men. While women were proscribed from formal learning, preaching and teaching they could find a voice in devotional and contemplative expression in the Church, in which they were held fully answerable for the morality or immorality, orthodoxy or heterodoxy of their own actions and proclamations. This gave them a personally responsible role to play not only in the salvation of their own...

  12. AUTHORITY AND EXEMPLARITY IN HENRY SUSO AND RICHARD ROLLE
    (pp. 93-108)
    STEVEN ROZENSKI JR

    The works of two exemplary figures of fourteenth-century spirituality, Henry Suso and Richard Rolle, grant us insight into some of the most significant commonalities between the devotional cultures of fourteenth-century England and Germany. The reception history of the two authors demonstrates their skill in composing narratives and creating characters which subsequent generations of readers found compelling aides to their spiritual development and contemplative practices. The similarities between the two authors, while to a certain extent rooted in some of their common sources, nevertheless testify to the popularity of a particular type of self-fashioning as both author and eponymous character. Both...

  13. MORTIFYING THE MIND: ASCETICISM, MYSTICISM AND OXFORD, BODLEIAN LIBRARY, MS DOUCE 114
    (pp. 109-124)
    SARAH MACMILLAN

    Often internalising wider cultural concerns and anxieties, asceticism is a phenomenon enacted on the body with the intent of altering the mind. Yet while it is a practice almost universal in application, it is somewhat elusive in definition. Not all self-inflicted pain is ascetic. What some cultures perceive as exceptional behaviour others consider necessary rites of passage. Harm can be inflicted through inspiration from gods or from demons, through sanctity or madness; it can be moderate or extreme. Nevertheless, while different societies have different conceptions and expectations of the body and its rituals, none accepts it in an unmodified state...

  14. THE MEDITACIONES OF THE MONK OF FARNE
    (pp. 125-140)
    CHRISTIANIA WHITEHEAD

    The Meditaciones of the Monk of Farne remain curiously untouched. W. A. Pantin wrote an excellent article on them in 1944.¹ David Hugh Farmer published an edition of the Latin text in the late 1950s, followed some forty years later by a Benedictine translation.² But apart from this they seem to have shot beneath everyone’s radar, only ever mentioned in passing as a relatively late example of an insular tradition of Latin meditation from which the vernacular mystics eventually triumphantly emerge. So, their Latinity has done them a marked disservice. However, there remains much more to say about these texts,...

  15. ENVISIONING REFORM: A REVELATION OF PURGATORY AND ANCHORITIC COMPASSIOUN IN THE LATER MIDDLE AGES
    (pp. 141-156)
    LIZ HERBERT MCAVOY

    In the anonymous fourteenth-century poem, The Pricke of Conscience, its author focuses in considerable detail on the miseries of this life, the torments of Hell and Purgatory, and the joys awaiting the saved in Paradise.¹ In Part Four of this text, we are presented with a detailed and theologically informed treatment of the doctrine of Purgatory as it was developing during the later Middle Ages, including details of the ‘payns seven’ (2897) which a soul could expect in Purgatory after death. According to this author, too, the boundaries between this world and the afterlife were permeable, with those left on...

  16. WALTON’S HEAVENLY BOECE AND THE DEVOUT TRANSLATION OF TRANSCENDENCE: O QUI PERPETUA PIETISED
    (pp. 157-176)
    IAN JOHNSON

    For all its unpacey ponderousness, when Chaucer’s Boece renders passages of De consolatione philosophiae dealing with the ascent of the soul towards divine light and the transcendent Good, it reveals a delicate theological intelligence consonant with the devotional temper of contemporary mainstream piety.¹ The maker of the Boke of Coumfort, an early-fifteenth-century Middle English prose version of book I of De consolatione drawing on Chaucer, was likewise willing to turn the Latin text to a more devotional end than was the case in the original.² Nowhere is the pious recharging of the source more decisively advertised in both these vernacular...

  17. REFORMIST DEVOTIONAL READING: THE PORE CAITIF IN BRITISH LIBRARY, MS HARLEY 2322
    (pp. 177-194)
    NICOLE R. RICE

    The Pore Caitif is a late-fourteenth-century Middle English devotional compilation extant in more than forty complete or partial copies.¹ This voluminous work, aptly described as ‘a comprehensive . . . manual of doctrine and devotion’,² includes fourteen tracts, commencing with syllabus material and tracts on patience and temptation, moving into Rolle-inspired meditations on desire for Jesus and love of Jesus, and finally treating topics such as the active and contemplative lives and chastity.³ This all sounds very orthodox, yet the work’s history is complicated. Thirteen copies of the Pore Caitif have been called ‘Lollard manuscripts’ because they contain ‘certain interpolations...

  18. RICHARD WHYTFORD, THE GOLDEN EPISTLE, AND THE MIXED LIFE AUDIENCE
    (pp. 195-208)
    C. ANNETTE GRISÉ

    Although Richard Whytford (1495–1555), academic and brother of Syon Abbey, spent a great deal of time producing materials in Middle English for an audience of religious (for example, translating the Rule of St Augustine and the Martiloge in Englysshe, as well as writing the comprehensive Pype or Tonne of the Lyfe of Perfection), he is also known for the works he wrote appealing to a broader audience: the best of which is A Work for Householders, as well as A Daily Exercise and Experience of Death and Preparation for Communion, circulating in manuscript and print in the 1530s.¹ Whereas...

  19. AFTERWORD: FUTURE PROSPECTS
    (pp. 209-210)

    The Symposium also received brief reports on some work in progress. Barbara Zimbalist (University of California Davis) is developing an argument that, through the representation of Christ’s apocryphal speech in the vernacular, women’s visionary texts reflect a growing desire for access to the Word of God among lay readers. Through the development of Christ’s voice as a mode of devotional discourse, women’s visionary texts make a distinct contribution to the increasingly varied modes of vernacular devotion, and offer readers opportunity for textual processes of imitatio Christi founded on Christ’s identity as speaker and evangelist – an alternative to the more widely...

  20. INDEX
    (pp. 211-214)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 215-215)