Issuu on Google+


Copyrighted Material

P

INTRODUCTION

Corps, corpus, corpus hoc est une intraitable folie. —Jean-Luc Nancy

“ THE B ODY ” 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 and clothing of a man as he was on the day when he gave us his body for the first time; looking like a human being and a man, sweet and beautiful, and with glorious appearance. . . . After that he came himself to me, took me entirely in his arms, and pressed me to him; and all my members were satisfied in his full felicity, as my heart desired in my humanity. So I was outwardly satisfied and fully transported. ( CW , 281) 1


Copyrighted Material

2

P

INTRODUCTION

This vision of union with Christ, cited by many scholars, frames her body and Christ’s in ways that appear uncannily familiar. Christ is gloriously incarnate: while his body reflects the splendor of his divinity, he is tangible to Hadewijch according the very measure of her own humanity, just as Hadewijch’s humanity and eroticized femininity seem to reflect the measure of our own gendered and embodied persons. Even if we take into account the complexities associated with the sacramental framing of this vision (intentionally omitted here) and the mediating nature of visions in general, part of the difficulty in properly discerning embodiment in this vision and in women’s mysticism generally lies with the complexity of the concept of embodiment itself as understood within the Christian tradition. In the Christian tradition, the body is not conceived of as a simple organic unity, but rather as a twofold entity partaking of two anthropological registers— the inner and the outer persons—that promises to find its true materiality in a time to come. The body is therefore not conceptualized as a fi xed entity, but as a potentially transformative vehicle; not as a biologically discrete organism, but as a dynamic mirror that can reflect the work of the divine within and substantially alter its own materiality if receptive to divine grace. What appears to be a simple representation of symbolic unity expressed in corporeal terms in Hadewijch’s Vision 7 draws upon the language and registers of inner and outer persons to reflect this theological complexity, making the vision far more difficult to delimit with regard to the nature of embodiment. The writings of Hadewijch engage with this tradition in sophisticated ways, ways that are both singular to her mysticism and shared with the theological milieu of the twelft h and thirteenth centuries. Even more significantly, her way of engaging with and singling herself out from her theological context offer us, as I hope to show in this book, a new means for reading women’s mysticism. Hadewijch has been a central figure in the redefinition of women’s mysticism and of spirituality in general over the past thirty years. In her seminal work, Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women (1987), Caroline Walker Bynum invokes the passage cited above from Hadewijch’s vision to highlight a physicality pervasive in women’s spirituality. Although Bynum is not using the twofold distinction of the body I outlined above, she notes that, given the commonplace Christian association of the flesh with femininity (and the soul with masculinity), women were able to use this gendered identification as a means to redeem their experience of the body in the name of all of humanity. For Bynum, this identification was theologically productive: the association of the body with imitatio Christi obscured distinctions between body and soul, distinctions relevant to the twofold dimension of the body I emphasize. She writes:


Copyrighted Material

INTRODUCTION

P 3

Subsuming the male/female dichotomy into the more cosmic dichotomy divine/human, women saw themselves as the symbol for all humanity. . . . In the erotic passage from Hadewijch, humanity (menscheit) clearly implies body: “and all my members felt his in full felicity, in accordance with the desire of my heart and my humanity.” Such usage tended both to obscure any sharp sense of a body/soul dichotomy (for both body and soul were human) and to imply that humanness intimately involved physicality. It was this sense of humanity as entailing bodiliness (although not reducible to it) that women expressed in expanding the male/female dichotomy from spirit/flesh to divine/human.2

Bynum’s association of women’s spirituality with an incarnational theology marked a critical turning point in the way in which these texts—and bodies— would be read over the next decades. That women’s spirituality emphasizes embodied practices, practices that conflate or obscure distinctions between body and soul, is a claim I will analyze in this book in different terms. Bynum’s attention to embodiment has defined a field, yet where she sees embodiment as essentially related to gender, I will look at embodiment in non-gender-specific terms, reassessing the value of gender as a category.3 The critical discussions that followed Bynum’s work will help contextualize the rationale for my approach. Even before Bynum, different iterations of the interrelation between gender, embodiment, and mysticism were put forth by French feminists such as Simone de Beauvoir, Julia Kristeva, and Luce Irigaray, who were often attempting to articulate a difference in the signifying nature of women’s bodies or in the way female subjectivity articulated (nonphallocentric) transcendence.4 Irigaray cites Hadewijch’s Lied 8 as a model for how an immanence in women’s embodiment enacts a transcendence that figures according to the same Trinitarian model for men. At the same time Jacques Lacan footnotes Hadewijch in Encore as a model of feminine sexuality and the nonrelation of woman to her embodied specificity.5 In the United States, a different strain of criticism responded to critical investment in the mystic’s body. Sarah Beckwith’s essay on the Ancrene Wisse, “Passionate Regulation” (1994), counters a materialist feminism that identified with and celebrated the body in medieval women’s religious literature by assuming what she describes as a naive identification with the body: Although women have historically borne the burden of representing immanence for others, that does not give them privileged access to the body as a “woman’s symbol,” for women do not have particular forms of representation that are exclusively their own, but only particular relations to cultural


Copyrighted Material

4

P

INTRODUCTION

representation and discourse. . . . Medieval women’s religiosity has itself arguably become an imaginary realm for feminist criticism, and it has become so partly through an idealized relation that it is presumed to have with “the body,” the natural symbol here produced in all its ontological simplicity and in all of its capacities to be just what it is. Once again, a shortcut has been taken, bypassing an opportunity to elucidate, in the history of the present, an ethics not of the pure subject (a newly ascetic feminism?), but of ambiguity.6

For Beckwith, all this interest in the body was, in a sense, far too empirically determined. In assuming a given materiality—that of an organic body shared by women or by humanity at large—feminists fail to take into account the psychic, cultural, and regulatory processes that produced embodiment as both subjectively experienced and culturally determined, mistaking the promised body for a “natural” product. Where Beckwith turned to Freud, Foucault, Bourdieu, and Lacan, among others, to demonstrate how devotional texts “enact an imaginary anatomy, a body image, which is itself neither mind nor body, neither purely social nor purely psychic, neither natural nor culturally given,” I will turn to a different set of influential thinkers, namely Paul and Augustine, to show how they foreshadow the promise of materiality in mystical texts by means of their varied understandings of a twofold embodiment.7 In yet another twist, Amy Hollywood’s essay “Inside Out: Beatrice of Nazareth and Her Hagiographer” (1994) acknowledged Beckwith’s important corrective to assimilations of women and bodiliness, while noting another problem: Beckwith’s primary source “is a rule written for women by a male cleric,” and “assumes the compliance of the text’s female audience.” For Hollywood, “we cannot take male-authored texts as our primary source of information for women’s ‘relations to cultural representations and discourse,’ particularly when writings by women are available to us.”8 The argument of this essay, which explores this tension in the writings by and about Beatrice of Nazareth, a contemporary of Hadewijch, would be echoed in The Soul as Virgin Wife: Mechthild of Magdeburg, Marguerite Porete, and Meister Eckhart (1995), when Hollywood complicated Bynum’s arguments by making critical distinctions between women’s writing and the writings of men about women, exposing “the dangers threatening the historian who accepts the hagiographer’s account as if it were a piece of modern historical writing, shaped by concerns and conceptions of reality identical to our own.”9 In noting this difference between the ways bodily suffering is treated in the writings of women mystics and of their male hagiographers, Hollywood highlights an ambiguity, showing that male biographers tend to emphasize the body in the


Copyrighted Material

INTRODUCTION

P 5

mode of the “objective and the external,” while the women delineate a more elusive body, one which, in the case of the thirteenth-century mystic Christina the Astonishing, is associated with “a realm of feeling or sensation separable from the body itself, yet not fully identified with the soul.”10 The premise assumed of women’s natural physicality could not be a defining attribute for women’s writing, nor could it be so clearly gendered—unless one associated it with a signifying process. Amy Hollywood brought back the question of gender in terms of a difference in women’s writings, a difference that seems to be of, but not entirely so, the body itself. In his article “Desire for the Past” (1999), Nicholas Watson brought up yet another issue in reading mystical texts—male- or female-authored—that concerns me here. He highlights scholars’ tendencies to focus on the material informing the representations of mystical experience rather than the means of its representation, overlooking the mediated nature of textuality. In his reading of the thirteenth-century Life of Elizabeth of Spalbeek written by Philip of Clairvaux, Watson shows how acting out divinity and Christ’s passion diff uses the relation between the subject and his or her body. He notes: “Elizabeth can be a miraculum in this text only insofar as she is not an agent. While Philip knows he is watching a performance, it is God who is the real actor, inspiring a re-enactment of Christ’s Passion which ‘this virgyne [ . . . ] figures and expounes [ . . . ] in hir body’; what fascinates him, in this life that is ‘alle mirakill,’ is the fusion of sign and signified, text and exposition, body and word.”11 The body’s signifying capacity is attributed not to the intention or subjectivity of the performer, but to an agency ascribed to God, making for a more complicated articulation of agency, embodiment, textuality, and feminine identification, which I will develop at length throughout this book. Throughout past scholarship on mysticism—discussion of much of which I have had to omit here—questionings of materiality, gender, signifying-means, and subjectivity (among other things) have given us reason to doubt these perspectives’ applicability to mystical texts, at least according to the ways in which these terms have been conceived, that is, in relation to immediacy and a determinate materiality. By looking at embodiment as it is conceived by Christian theological and exegetical traditions—as a twofold entity and a transformational process—I hope to show how the tradition itself obfuscates our contemporary understanding of these terms, linking body and letter together. Because of a linguistic and temporal interplay, understanding embodiment in mystical texts is necessarily tied to a poetics, thus inviting us to rethink the relation of embodiment to literature.


Copyrighted Material

6

P

INTRODUCTION

THE B ODY AND LETTER S The inclusion of women in histories of spirituality and theology has been greatly aided by Bernard McGinn’s masterful volumes on the history of Western Christian mysticism, yet despite this ever-growing recognition of the diverse, complex, and informed nature of the use of the body in women’s mystical writings, the assessment of the literary qualities of these texts still encounters an awkward impasse, bound as it is to associations with embodiment that fall short of “the literary.”12 In Mechthild of Magdeburg and Her Book (2004), Sara Poor points out that anthologies or groupings of women’s mystical texts often fail to look at the literary specificities of such works. Instead, they engage broad and contingent categories as unifying principles (such as gender, the body, experience, or a first-person narrative) and risk falling into the trap of essentializing these writings as exempla of women and their work in a way that places them in opposition to a literary tradition itself complicit with an unwitting marginalization of women’s writings. As Poor notes, the most salient features that emerge from these writings—and seem to serve an umbrella function for categorizing women’s mystical texts—tend to be the emphasis on the body, the pervasive immediacy articulated throughout the texts, and a first- or third-person narrative. Yet these attributes correspond with women’s experiences, and not the literary qualities of the text. As a result, Poor notes, “women writers are assumed to be purveyors of the feminine. Hence while men write literature, women write women’s experience.”13 Poor concludes that the feminist challenge to these texts involves examining why and how women’s texts have been excluded from (and included in) the canon, rethinking the tradition that marginalizes them, and reconsidering the ways in which such traditions are formed conceptually and intellectually. Simply including female authors and supplementing a canon that defines itself according to the same long-standing criteria replicates the schism that has succeeded in differentiating them from canonical texts. Analyses of individual mystical texts attempt in several ways to remedy the dilemma Poor has identified. One involves demonstrating how literary qualities that characterize specific women’s mystical texts are already in dialogue with literary traditions. Barbara Newman’s work on la mystique courtoise shows how, for example, Hadewijch’s songs use the Minnesang tradition to speak of the relation to the divine.14 Nicholas Watson also elaborates on the heterogeneity of Middle English mystical texts and the inextricability of vernacular theology from cultural, political, and literary currents, calling for “a closer attention to the issues common to works thought of as mystical and works that are not” in order to show “the value of integrating mystics scholarship with the rest of literary history.”15


Copyrighted Material

INTRODUCTION

P 7

The body is often invoked as an attempt to valorize the female body or flesh in the name of an authorial function or in the name of a femininity that subverts or counters male-oriented spiritual hierarchies.16 Yet David Aers has noted that this attempt to refer to the body is double-edged, as any focus on “the body” (especially in the name of the feminine) risks reemphasizing and reifying the patriarchal power that produces it if one does not explore “the processes, performative acts, and powers in and through which [these powers] became fi xed, normative, seemingly inevitable.”17 In this book I define and elaborate on the relationship of embodiment to poetics and literary form, by showing their intertwined roles in medieval theology and practice. I engage with past scholarship on women’s mystical writings, arguing for a reconsideration of embodiment as it is understood in the larger Christian tradition, which, while in no way uniform, nevertheless articulates a doubleness of the body that is associated with spiritual transformation. I show that the body, invoked in this context, is not simply one biological entity, not a simple organic oneness, as Beckwith emphasized, but a manifestation of inner and outer persons as conceived of by Paul, Origen, and Augustine, among others. By understanding the mystic’s body as partaking in two bodies related to two persons—one inner and one outer—it becomes possible to relate the body to more than just a biological component. The inner person and inner body are understood as potential manifestations of Christ, the Word made flesh, and thus the inner person is linked to the Word, and eventually to textuality. In following a series of associations involving inner and outer persons, I will show that the qualities that tend to alienate women’s mystical texts from the literary canon—their focuses on embodiment, immediacy, and experience—are crucial to our understanding of these texts, but must be understood as a form of textuality, as a literary mode in themselves. Bodily experience, as it is portrayed in mystical writings, is likened to a form of textuality and draws on a lengthy and well-established literary and theological history that associates the body with the word. In elaborating on this—predominantly through Hadewijch but also relating her to other mystics and theologians—I will show how embodiment and immediacy in women’s mysticism are critical for identifying a poetic and textual operation at work, one that has implications well beyond the category of this particular genre. When we are able to read embodiment, immediacy, and experience as responding to and performing various discursive and hermeneutic functions, another textual medium becomes perceptible, its language able to be heard and understood beyond merely being “embodied.” Understanding this embodied responsiveness as representing an affective or emotional literacy—that is, one that correlates affective responses with textual identifications—is a fi rst step in discerning the


Copyrighted Material

8

P

INTRODUCTION

larger textual role of the body, the long historical chain of associations that condition the body’s interpolation with textual forms. Rather than seeking to isolate the body as an essentially feminine instrument for articulation in medieval mysticism, my concern here is to show how embodiment in Hadewijch and, by extension, in other mystical texts male and female, is conditioned by a Pauline and Augustinian theology that does not disavow the materiality of the body but aims to reconfigure it according to its inner counterpart and the orientation of the soul. In this sense, materiality is not fi xed, but always in a process of becoming transformed. Materiality itself serves ends that do not negate it, but rather refer it to another process at work within. In attempting to make the outer person conform to its interior counterpart by performative and spiritual means, the outer becomes a truer reflection of the divine. If we read women’s mysticism as privileging the flesh and subverting the Neoplatonic trend in mysticism that alienates the body from divine oneness (Philo), we perceive only a fraction of the larger picture. Many women’s mystical texts do indeed counter Neoplatonist tendencies, but they do so according to another strain in mysticism (which I identify in Paul and Augustine) that refashions the body as a spiritual vehicle, transforming its material substance into a means for becoming what one already is: the image of the human aspect of the divine. The outer body thus must be seen, read, interpreted, and experienced according to its inner counterpart. The formulation that posits flesh versus (Neoplatonic) spirit often misrecognizes the spiritual and literary work the outer body performs and runs the aforementioned risk of unwittingly associating women with a corporeality that separates them from the literary canon. With a few notable exceptions (such as Marguerite Porete, whose spiritual body is assimilated to textuality to an even greater degree), medieval women’s mysticism emphasizes embodiment as a means for accessing and expressing another form of literacy and exegesis, one that is not necessarily unorthodoxly subversive in and of itself, that is, in its use of embodiment, but rather, it is an orthodox means for other, at times subversive, ends. At the same time that I emphasize the continuity between body and letter in female- and male-authored works and thus see a greater complexity at work in women’s mystical texts, I want to emphasize the singularity that announces itself in women’s mysticism at the level of a poetics. The Christian association of women with the body clearly played a significant role in how theological ideas were (and were not) communicated to women, and in how women were permitted access to scriptural exegesis. Women’s leaning on the incarnational qualities of language and experience reflects this in ways that do not reduce embodiment to merely being more bodily and experiential. The practice of the liturgy—of hymns, prayer,


Copyrighted Material

INTRODUCTION

P 9

and sermons—links the truer “sense” of embodiment to textuality. While embodiment is always a theological issue insomuch as it relates to incarnation, it is also related to a performative element that yokes body and text together as reflections of one another. I choose to focus on women’s mystical writings not with the aim of showing an underlying “essence” associated with women or the body, but rather to highlight a difference of inflection in relation to embodiment that can enhance how we regard “women’s” mystical texts in their singular and collective specificities.

PAUL To understand more fully this poetics of embodiment, it is crucial to recognize our own habits of thought about embodiment and the ways in which these are ill-matched with an influential patristic and medieval spiritual tradition that saw textuality as deeply and intricately embodied. As contemporary readers, we often privilege a uniform materiality and integrity with regard to the body and thus overlook the temporal and textual network in which the medieval body figures. When we refer to “the body” in conceptualizing the medieval mystic’s body, we habitually presume that the body constitutes one body, even if this designation finds theoretical nuance in terms of its designation as a natural or cultural body, gendered through performative or biological means. Even when the body is conceived of as a site of multiple kinds of constructions (gendered or other), it is thought of as contemporaneous with its spatiotemporal presentation in the world. No matter how porous, permeable, and fragile, the body is still conceived of as a single unit: one body, not more. While this contemporary emphasis finds an uncanny historical resonance, for example, in texts like the thirteenth-century Roman de Silence—whose main protagonist’s feminine body is hidden in order to perform the function of a male heir and becomes a subject of debate between the characters “Nature” and “Nurture”—the body is still conceived of by us as well as by its author, Heldris of Cornwall, as a discrete entity that is a product of its contemporary environment (be it biological or cultural) and is not as multilayered or theologically invested as the mystic’s body.18 At the same time, studies that focus on material or phenomenal accounts of embodiment in mystics’ texts and attempt to locate a historical specificity in the feminine body tend to overlook its multifaceted nature without considering the complex distinctions of inner and outer that yoke it to any series of associations beyond gender itself. That is, in focusing on the materiality, or “natural” femininity, of the body, they tend to undervalue the textual, temporal,


Copyrighted Material

10

P

INTRODUCTION

and religious significations of the body that coexist alongside its complex cultural, ritualized, and linguistic fabric. What I will show here is that the body is more than just a single entity; rather, it is both a material and a spiritual body—conceptually tied to embodiments of inner and outer persons—that must be read according to multiple registers of meaning. In looking at embodiment and immediacy as intimately connected to a poetic and temporal framework, I recast what is often seen as an essentialized and “natural” part of experience in the light of an experience of reading the outer according to the inner. Understanding how reading and embodiment are fashioned together and become inextricable from one another allows us to see the ways in which language and the body mark each other as part of a temporal and poetic operation that is present in but not limited to women’s texts. This interrelation between body and language is not a new phenomenon, nor is it unique to the Middle Ages; it is an essential element of Christianity, which identifies Christ with the Logos, the Word made flesh. The nature of the human being is intertwined with Christ in multiple ways, yet the most pertinent underlying link is through the figure of the Trinity and the imprint, or imago, that a person carries of divinity within. According to Trinitarian theology, divinity is coequal in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and so one following the humanity of Christ participates in divinity in an equal fashion. Since humans are made in the image of the divine, they participate in divinity by means of the humanity of Christ, but only by means of finding, enacting, or activating the imago within and orienting the soul accordingly. This inner figure of the divine finds its basis in the division of the human being into inner and outer persons, the former serving as a means for reflecting the image of the divine. The outer person’s embodiment is not necessarily vilified or denigrated in order to be annulled and done away with for a higher intelligible realm; rather, the outer person becomes the locus for a revision of an individual’s substance. Women mystics will capitalize on this distinction in a way that allows the material body to become an ample vessel for spiritual ends. Th is distinction between inner and outer persons issues from a long Hellenic and Christian tradition; in Christianity, it associates the illumination of the human heart, or inner person, with the word of the Gospel: “You yourself are our letter written in our hearts, known and read by all men” (2 Cor 3:2).19 This written letter is destined to become a writing that manifests itself through the life or works of the outer body and is read like a text. Hellenistic philosophy and literature, from Homer to Plato, often distinguished the body from the soul, which departed (and possibly perished once separated; see Phaedo 69e–70a) its physical vessel after death. Yet the soul was also referred to as that part of the human being that lived on eternally beyond death


Copyrighted Material

INTRODUCTION

P 11

(often characterized as the psyche, psuche, or mind, nous), in contrast to the perishable part of human existence. Likewise, although not in identical fashion, the Christian tradition, especially the Pauline, connects the outer person with the perishing of the temporal body, and the inner with its eternal counterpart. In 2 Corinthians, Paul associates the outer person, or the exo anthropos, with mortal flesh (4:11), the soma, or body (4:10), and an earthly tent (5:1). Elsewhere the outer person is invoked in respect to human genealogical history (Gal 4:23 and 29) and the law of sin (Rom 7:23). The exo anthropos is thus associated with historical time—or, more specifically, with time itself—and the worldly medium in which the human is born, dwells, and perishes in time. In contrast to the outer person, the inner person, or eso anthropos, is aligned with that dwelling not made by human hands which lives on eternally in the heavenly house: “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan earnestly, desiring to be clothed [ependusasthai] with our house which is from heaven” (2 Cor 5:1–2). The metaphor of clothing seen in Paul will be significant for Augustine, especially in relation to the “holy interior clothing of [the] heart.”20 Likewise for Hadewijch, especially in her Liederen (songs), clothing oneself in Christ is a figure for the process of perfecting one’s person—outer and inner, both at once. The outer person is—as David Aune, Eric Jager, and philosophers such as Giorgio Agamben have argued—not part of a dualism, and neither is it entirely Platonic, for it is “not described as inherently evil or as in opposition to ὁ ἔσω ἄνθρωπος [o eso anthropos] though the outer person and the inner person are clearly in tension, for the latter is ‘sighing under a burden,’ i.e. desiring release from the drawbacks of physical existence.”21 Rather, the outer body works in a dynamic tension—substantially and temporally—with the inner person. By means of the inner, the outer finds a truer measure and means for becoming a spiritual vessel, renewing itself in the measure of the divine: “Thus we do not wear out. Even though our outer person is being wasted away, our inner person is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor 4:16). The inner person does not operate in the dominant rhythm of historical time but, rather, according to the immanent temporality and of law of the divine: “For I delight in the law of God according to the inner person” (Rom 7:22). Even though the law of the divine is associated with the inner person, the inner person and the law of the spirit intersect with historical time, needing renewal “day by day.” Paul refers to fulfi llment of the righteousness of the spiritual law as a form of “walking” according to the spirit (Rom 8:4), claiming a dynamic interaction between eternal and temporal realms, translating the spiritual law belonging to the inner into a manifest way of being in the world.


Copyrighted Material

12

P

INTRODUCTION

While Paul does not systematically equate the inner person with the soul, he does equate its law with the law of the mind (nous) in Romans 7:23 and 7:25: “But I see a different law in my members warring against the law of my mind and taking me captive to the law of sin which is in my members,” and “with my mind I am serving the law of God.”22 Humans operate according to these two laws, in the rhythm of both persons, despite these laws being “at war” with one another. The language of captivity, enslavement, and war speaks to the discord that is constantly threatening to divest the person of hosting his true “home,” that is, the heavenly home promised to the inner person. I use the term “hosting” rather than a possessive term that would signal appropriation, as the subject who performs imitatio assumes this dwelling in a way that dispossesses him or her from any self. The tone of Pauline texts shifts from discord to elation, performing the kind of tension and promise that the inner and outer offer for the human condition and its salvation. The way of making the outer work with the inner involves taking on the garment of Christ, inactivating the outer body (soma) and flesh (sarx) in the figure of the crucifi xion, and letting the power of the divine work via the inner though the outer person: Romans 6:6: “Knowing this, that our old person [anthropos] is crucified with him, that the body [soma] of sin may be inactivated, to the end that we may be enslaved in sin no longer.” Th is deactivation of the outer body, depriving it of its independent agency that inclines toward sin in favor of a dependency on the divine, is signaled by a shift in Paul from the language of captivity into a language of hospitality and adoption. The crucified outer person is equated with dying with Christ, as well as living with him (in the future tense) by belief and faith, not by identification with the materiality of the outer: “If now we die with Christ we believe [ pisteuomen] that we will also live with [suzēsomen] him” (Rom 6:8), and “Always bearing about in the body [sōmati] the dying of the Lord Jesus so that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest [ phanerōthē] in our body [sōmati]. For we who live are constantly delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made manifest [ phanerōthē] in our mortal flesh [sarki]. So death works in us, but life in you” (2 Cor 4:10–12).23 Divinity may work life into the crucified body, transforming it into its promised state. Paul’s use of the subjunctive phanerōthē—from the verb phaneroō, meaning to make visible, known, manifest, clear—shows the contingent nature of this future appearing and its presently veiled state. It is not ever fully substantialized or realized in the body, the soma, until the “face-to-face” encounter with the divine. This encounter is, however, always in a future tense, whether one understands it as messianic or eschatological. The “groaning” Paul refers to in 2 Corinthians 5:2 signals the way one inhabits the outer person. To groan, from the verb stenazō, like stenos, meaning “constricted” or “pushed, compressed,” signals the pressure


Copyrighted Material

INTRODUCTION

P 13

forward in time exerted in the “now.” While the outer person is constantly bearing, or hosting, the “dying” of Christ, the outer person cannot presently confirm or know itself absolutely as such; that is, its epistemological certainty is limited to its own limited agency and purview. The mortal person cannot possess any certainty of making manifest the life of Christ, that is, imitating Christ, even if she is presently doing so, for only the divine fully knows its twofold condition. Creaturely existence cannot know itself as the divine knows it.24 Likewise, the medieval devotee performing imitatio cannot know herself as fully fused with Christ or else, if she thinks she does, her suffering is tinged with hubris and lacks the uncertainty needed for proper compassion. The outer body encapsulates all the aspects of suffering and knowing that are proper to the human condition and its means of salvation. 1 Corinthians 13:12 spells out the imbalance between the knowledge of the divine in one’s humanity and divine knowledge: “For now we see through a glass, darkly [ainigmati]; but then face-to-face: now I know in part; but then shall I know [epignōsomai] even as also I am known [epegnōsthēn].” The knowledge associated with human existence cannot fully grasp the divine; yet man is always fully grasped by the divine, through the inner person. This famous Pauline passage of the future “face-to-face” encounter is echoed— if not cited directly—in countless texts of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, especially commentaries on the Song of Songs, and will structure the kind of temporal syncopations witnessed in the “face-to-face” encounters with the divine in women’s visionary texts. The sense of being grasped “by” the divine before one’s ability to understand will be a key feature for visionaries like Hadewijch, Julian, and Hildegard who are seized by visions before they are able to seize and interpret the divine visions in themselves while still preserving the visions’ atemporal mystery and futurity. The mystic hosts a divine vision of unity that she eventually is able to decipher in this life, but the mystic only becomes this unity, embodying the mystery of unity, in a promised future moment. The hospitality implied in “bearing” Christ’s dying in one’s own body will also set a pace for the material and temporal stakes in the performance of imitatio. Paul’s Christological emphasis—his language of being clothed in Christ, putting on, or carrying Christ in oneself and following the law of the sprit of life ( pneumatos tēs zoēs) in Christ (Rom 8:2)—permits a grafting of the spirit of eternal life into historical time, allowing for the stranger rhythm of walking according to the spirit ( pneuma, Rom 8:4) while enduring the living death of Christ. The spirit, which is activated through faith, gives life to the dead letter that one hopes to become and transform in hosting the dying body of Christ. The pace of the spirit is that of a future tense, that of hope and a movement toward a collective “we,” which will form the virtual body of community, ecclesia, known in the Middle


Copyrighted Material

14

P

INTRODUCTION

Ages as the corpus mysticum. This community will also be manifest as smaller communities of believers, like the community of individuals in Hadewijch’s circle. This community—whatever kind it is—is framed temporally by the memory of Christ and a promise of his return, a glance to a time past that is reenacted and a future moment that promises redemption. The use of the future tense, however, as I have noted, does not mean that nothing of the spirit transpires in the outer person. The seemingly contradictory and tortuous prose that we encounter in Pauline texts performs rhetorically the kind of tensions that operate spiritually and materially on and through the outer person. Paul’s prose replicates or conveys the experience of the double bind of being at war in one’s flesh while at the same time being promised grace.25 A person is not presently able to know what he is to become in his own name, but only in the name of Christ. This embodied hosting and ventriloquial grafting is also, as I have noted, a complex temporal enactment: Paul speaks prophetically (1 Cor 14:4) to others so that his speech may build up (oikodomei) the community, that is, so that his language becomes a means for dwelling in the divine for those who need instruction and initiation into divine mystery. Paul’s language works in time, according to the time of the outer, and provides meaning and “fruit” for the mind (nous, 1 Cor 14:14) so that it may generate the work of the spirit in his communities. The aporetic assertions that riddle Pauline texts may seem less instructive than they do beguiling, yet they show in performative language how Christ may live in the person, as he may in language, without the agency of an “I”, but with the desired agency of Christ himself and the law of the spirit that promises eternal life. This kind of prophetic voice is clear, for example, in visionary texts such as those of the eleventh-century abbess and visionary Hildegard von Bingen, which demonstrate how the inner can host the voice and words of God by means of the agency of the divine itself. What transpires in Paul’s texts is a displacement of the “I” who speaks and an enactment of the divine speaking through man. Paul’s language tries to speak this truth in a prophetic voice (as opposed to speaking in tongues, in which one speaks only according to the spirit, and not in the temporal mode of the body or the outer). Paul does not possess the power or authority to speak prophetically in his own name—that is, in the first person—but he can host this power as a person may host the power of Christ, in order to transform his or her body. He says in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Just as Paul is able to be crucified and allow for Christ to live “in him” so too will he live by faith and speak according to the faith he has in


Copyrighted Material

INTRODUCTION

P 15

what is unseen. He tells us in Romans 8:23–25, “But also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit [aparchen tou pneumatos], even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption [uiothesian] as sons, the redemption of our body [somatos]. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.” As we will see in mystics’ visions, Paul’s prophetic language is hinged between two temporal moments, as are his bodies: just as his language hosts the eternally based truth of the divine in the temporality of language, so too does the outer body work in hope toward its adoption into its new eternal identity as a fully spiritual body. The time of the eternal penetrates the time of the perishable in a way that does not dispense with the outer; rather, the eternal works through the outer, making it groan, allowing it to experience its promised transformed state as a promise, and not yet as the last word. Divine truths promise to be clothed in temporal ones, as the eternal body promises to be clothed in the spiritual one. In other words, both language and the body host promise: they bespeak what may be realized through faith but is not yet fully realized. While we often simplistically equate Paul with the denigration of the body in favor of the spirit, what we actually witness in his writings is a far more complex operation that is intimately connected to the promise of a poetics. In his wellknown work The King’s Two Bodies, Ernst Kantorowicz demonstrated how this Pauline paradigm was exploited in political terms in the later medieval and early modern periods, to allow for a body natural and a body politic of the king.26 Language and embodiment function as temporal and textual bridges, linking the seen and the unseen, the actual and the hoped for, and it is just this kind of bridging that we see at work in the mystical texts of the Middle Ages.27

INNER AND OUTER PER SONS: LITER AL AND SPIRITUAL ME ANING Throughout the Middle Ages, the Pauline language of inner and outer persons, bodies, and senses is invoked in mystical texts, male and female, outlined through the readings of Augustine and Origen (by way of Rufinus and the commentators on the Song of Songs).28 The attributes of inner and outer persons and inner and outer bodies will become more firmly identifiable and quantifiable alongside the development of a hermeneutics and its relation to a mode of living. In the writings of both Origen and Augustine, the inner person and inner body become more explicitly equated with the soul or mens (mind) than we witness in


Copyrighted Material

16

P

INTRODUCTION

Pauline texts. Origen depends upon Pauline anthropology in his development of the qualities of inner and outer persons (especially in his explicit elaboration of inner and outer senses); this will also play a leading part in developing his understanding of the allegorical way of reading scripture. In Origen’s “Introduction” to his Commentary on the Song of Songs, which we receive in the Latinized translation by Rufinus, temporal and bodily disjunctions are again apparent between inner and outer, tensions which will have a direct bearing on the medieval mystic and visionary tradition. For Origen, the soul has its own temporal age and members; likewise with visionaries, who hear a divine voice according to an “inner ear” and see visions according to an “inner eye.” Reading 1 Corinthians 13:11 and Ephesians 4:13, Origen highlights the different ages that can pertain to the natural body—the flesh or material man—and the soul, privileging the soul who reaches full maturity in Christ.29 Visionaries like Julian, Hildegard, and Hadewijch wait until their “soul” matures before they attempt to fully deliver the received vision into words. Spiritual understanding is significant and it has its own age, one that is not identical to the age of the body. Origen’s distinction between inner and outer ages parallels his distinction between inner and outer bodies: “For he knows that all who believe will attain to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Thus, just as the names of ages we have spoken of are applied with the same designations both to the outer and to the inner man, so you will also find that the names of the members of the body are applied to the members of the soul, or rather they are said of the power and desire of the soul.”30 The members of the invisible soul, Origen specifies, are not necessarily body parts that reside latently in human beings, but are linked to the soul’s power and desires. Part of this “power” involves the ability to read and interpret scripture. Scorning those who do not see the difference between inner and outer, he singles out “certain of the simpler Christians, since they do not know how to distinguish and to keep separate what in the divine Scriptures must be allotted to the inner man and what to the outer man, misled by the similarities in the designations.”31 The complexity of the inner and outer and the very incompleteness I’ve pointed to create the potential for misunderstandings of the language of embodiment that were already anticipated in early Christianity. Our contemporary desire to designate all forms of embodiment as being of the “flesh” risks glossing over a fundamental distinction of inner and outer that applies to both living and reading. The goal, for Origen, in reading the Song of Songs is not to assimilate the literal meaning of the text with an outer fleshiness, but to read it according to the spiritual senses, just as Paul transforms the outer according to a spiritual sense. Quoting 1 Corinthians 15:49, Origen emphasizes that one should be like the bride and “bear


Copyrighted Material

INTRODUCTION

P 17

the image of the heavenly according to the inner man” so that one is “led by a heavenly desire and love.” So too must we read accordingly. For Origen and for the mystical tradition of the Middle Ages, the means of reading and interpreting scripture are directly linked to the faculties of the inner senses. The inner senses, often a synecdoche for the inner person, are linked to (and often equated with) the soul and its invisible yet tangible affective, spiritual, and intellectual properties, engaged in what Origen calls “loving affection” (translated as caritas by Rufinus), or “affectionate love” (dilectio), aspects that will be picked up by the Cistercians and Hadewijch as Origen is Latinized.32 However much the inner senses figuratively mirror the exterior senses, the inner senses are not faculties of perception in the same fashion as those of the outer body, but “gifts” from God nurtured by the mystic or monk that aid in the joining of the sense of scripture with bodily performance and thus connect the mystic (or monk) to a larger collective body.33 For Niklaus Largier, the practice of prayer and contemplation enlivens the inner senses and opens up a “realm of emotions, an affective life which compensates for the lack of intellectual understanding and for the necessary dissociation of inner and outer man in medieval anthropology,” so that the outer senses could become “denaturalized” and then “renaturalized” through the aesthetic experience provided by prayer.34 As Largier implies, inner senses are not exactly a part of the “self ” as we would call it, which would imply agency and identity; rather, they involve a movement of expropriation of the self and the body proper in order to connect with spiritual understanding and divine will. Connected with the corpus mysticum and ecclesia, the inner body presupposes a collective “we” as its ultimate form.35 The inner senses make possible spiritual reading and understanding, cultivating the soul’s spiritual orientation, in turn making possible the guiding and scripting of the flesh or outer body by spiritual principles. The outer body becomes an instrument of the inner, and the body’s instrumentality (mediante)—to borrow a term used by the twelfth-century abbots Bernard of Clairvaux and William of Saint Thierry—is what enables it to be scripted to the Word of Christ through love. The Pauline reconfiguration and transformation of the outer body by the renewal of the inner is recapitulated in a slightly different syntax, but with similar, if not identical, ends. In The Nature and Dignity of Love, a text that will be of critical importance for Hadewijch, William comments on the connection of the inner and outer in temporal, affective, and bodily registers. The inner and outer are not connected “naturally” but through the cultivated movements of the soul. William focuses on the role of various affectus as a way to nurture the imago through the divinization of the will and perfect the inner and outer bodies. Like Origen, William will use the


Copyrighted Material

18

P

INTRODUCTION

language of affection, referring to different affections in the plural, but in a more nuanced and stratified manner. Unlike affections, which are outer-oriented toward “things which vary according to the occurrences of things and times,” the affectus works in the inner, with the aid of the eternal divine as “that which possesses the mind by a kind of generalized force and perpetual virtue, firm and stable and maintained through grace.”36 This dependence on the divine parallels what we saw in Paul in terms of how one is “seized” by the divine, but counters one’s being grasped by God in terms of the grace needed to comprehend, even in a limited fashion, the significance of “being grasped.” Affectus is like a divine stimulus that provides the proper ordering for the human soul and its relation to life, enabling fuller spiritual understanding. The highest affectus, charity, aligns human beings with the inner, even when the outer person stumbles and is at its weakest. Quoting Romans 7:24, 25, and 17, William comments on the “war” within a person in his members, noting, “anyone who is, as blessed John says, born of God, that is, according to the reckoning of the inner man, does not sin, insofar as he hates rather than approves the sin which the body performs exteriorly, because he is preserved inwardly by the seed of the spiritual birth by which he is born of God. . . . He instead rises up and recovers, becoming more fruitful and alive in the hope of good fruit.”37 William follows Pauline distinctions of how the outer may be renewed and reformed by the spiritual rebirthings of the inner, but he does so following his friend Bernard of Clairvaux’s notion of the “instrumentality”—or mediating nature—of charity: “For as the body has its five senses by which it is joined to the soul by the instrumentality of life, so too the soul has her five senses by which she is joined to God by the instrumentality of charity.”38 Even though it is through charity that “we become old through the senses of the body and are conformed to this world,” it is “through the senses of the mind [that] we are renewed to the recognition of God, in newness of life, according to God’s will and pleasure.”39 At its highest moments, the affectus slices through the unstable and changeable temporal worlds to exercise eternal effects on the outer and to enable one to read the outer according to the spirit. Using language that will be echoed in Hadewijch’s Liederen, William notes that “the affectus of charity adheres in judgments according to the light of His countenance, so that she [the soul] may act or perform exteriorly what the good and pleasing will of God speaks inwardly to her. She finds it delightful always to strain towards his countenance and in it to read and to understand, as in the Book of Life, the laws by which she must live, to illuminate faith, to strengthen hope, to enkindle charity.”40 William provides one means for reading the book of life (liber vitae) via the instrumentality of charity and its effect on the soul. Paul, William, and Hadewijch thus work against a Neoplatonism that degrades the material of


Copyrighted Material

INTRODUCTION

P 19

the outer person, even while they privilege the inner’s spiritual powers. Reading the book of life is given direction by the acts of reading and exegesis, but is also given outward direction by charity. A mutually fruitful interplay between reading and life is thus part of this poetics of embodiment, allowing one to work in the light of the other. For Bernard of Clairvaux, in Sermon 85 on the Song of Songs, the soul’s perfect identification with the Word clearly affects internal and external registers, so that “when you see a soul leaving everything and clinging to the Word with all her will and desire, living for the Word, ruling her life by the Word, conceiving by the Word what it will bring forth by him, so that she can say, ‘For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,’ you know that the soul is the spouse and bride of the Word.”41 Meditation on the Word provides the fruit for acting. This interrelation between the interiority of reading and its effect on living is fundamental to twelfth- and thirteenthcentury Victorine education. Bynum has emphasized the importance of historia for Hugh of Saint Victor, showing that reading and exemplarity are interconnected: “Reading is . . . equivalent to the re-creation of historia in the ark of the reader’s heart.” Grover Zinn further notes that “Hugh’s theology unites in an intimate manner that which is most inward, the renewal of the imago Dei at the innermost core of the human person, and that which is preeminently outer, namely the succession of deeds done in time (ordo rerum gestarum) which comprises the divine ‘work of restoration.’”42 The relation between reading and living, between inner and outer, is critical to monastic spirituality of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, as it is for many contemporary mystics like Hadewijch.

LIVING, RE ADING, AND BEING HADEWIJCH OF BR ABANT Hadewijch of Brabant is the first poet to write in Middle Dutch, yet we have little to no biographical knowledge of her. The only traces of her are furnished by her works, which survive in three main fourteenth-century manuscripts, all dated significantly later than her life, which is estimated to have been in the first half of the thirteenth century. Hadewijch’s works—comprising letters (Brieven), visions (visioenen), the List of the Perfect, songs (Liederen; formerly Poems in Stanzas), and rhymed letters (Mengeldichten; also “Poems in Couplets” 1–16)—are bound together, in this order, in her two oldest surviving texts, referred to as manuscripts A (Brussels, KBR, ms. 2879–80) and B (Brussels, KBR, ms. 2877–78), which date from between 1325 and 1350 and from 1380, respectively.43 B adds new materials at the end (poems 17–29 and a treatise), now attributed to another author, designated


Copyrighted Material

20

P

INTRODUCTION

as Hadewijch II, whose works bear a stronger relation to Pseudo-Dionysian forms of Neoplatonism and mysticisms like Eckhart’s. A third text, manuscript C (Ghent University Library, 941), which dates to the end of the fourteenth century, inverts the order, placing the Visions first and altering the position of the treatise.44 She writes at a time when vernacular theology begins to flourish, and does so in her native tongue, Brabant (known as Middle Dutch, or Flemish), yet she intersperses her works with Latin phrases and French words, reflecting the trilingualism of this region.45 Her vernacularity reflects a contact and exchange with Latin texts characteristic of the period. Hadewijch writes during what McGinn declares is “the great age of women’s theology,” the period starting in the thirteenth century, and shares many of the traits of other mystics of the period.46 While we have no biographical information about Hadewijch, Cistercian and Victorine influences are easily traceable in her spirituality, which is not surprising given their prominence in the Brabant regions in this period. The deeply Trinitarian thought of Augustine inherited by Richard of Saint Victor and William of Saint Th ierry is prominent in all of Hadewijch’s work and explicitly articulated in her letters.47 While Hadewijch, like other mystics, focuses on the humanity of God, she nevertheless reminds her readers about the different roles of the Trinity, emphasizing the participation of all three. When Hadewijch cites her Cistercian and Victorine predecessors, she incorporates their work without referring to the sources, but rather including and shaping them to her own idiom and spirituality. One notable exception to this is when she refers to Bernard of Clairvaux explicitly in Letter 15 (“Saint Bernard speaks of this, ‘Jesus is honey in the mouth’ ” [CW, 79]), and includes him in her List of the Perfect as number eighteen, claiming, however, “I know little about him” (List, 284).48 As Paul Mommaers has emphasized, Hadewijch follows the path of Bernard in insisting on the affective and experiential priority in understanding God and on a life that reflects how one reads and interprets the divine.49 All understanding of the divine must manifest itself as doing, becoming the living example of scripture and living out the imitation of Christ. The idea of becoming the living example of scripture is by no means a new one—both Bernard and Hadewijch are elaborating on an aspect of Benedict’s Rule. In the Rule, the outer and inner are appealed to in various ways: monks are asked to listen to the abbot’s rules and to attend to them with the inner ear of the heart: “Listen, son, to the master’s rules and incline the ears of your heart.”50 The abbot is designated as the primary agent of the rule, making the text instrumental and instructional in nature. The “tools,” or instruments for the “inner” (instrumenta artis spiritalis), that enable the monk to do good works with the appropriate spirit are themselves pragmatic interpretations of scripture and provide a


Copyrighted Material

INTRODUCTION

P 21

means for modeling one’s thoughts, words, conduct, actions, and desires on scripture itself via slightly more tangible and private means (through prayer, lectio divina, and the moral guidelines of scripture). While the Rule encourages the fusion of the inner with the outer, as a text it does not claim to serve as a direct means for fusion, but proposes monastic life as that means. Benedict’s emphasis on good works as the ultimate end for spiritual life parallels Hadewijch’s emphasis on werke, as we will see. The abbot, like Hadewijch herself a magister, provides a model through words and works, developing what the rule calls a “twofold teaching” relevant to the cultivation of inner and outer.51 The mapping of words onto an embodied counterpart is part of the implementation of the rule; the abbot, like Hadewijch, provides a double teaching in his words and through his embodied example for the monks to “read.” This correlation between understanding and living the divine is manifest in the larger context of medieval spirituality and impacts the nature of embodiment. As M. B. Pranger argues in his reading of a monastic poetics in works of the eleventh-century abbot Anselm of Canterbury, meditation on texts and prayer prevent “the self from dissolving into the vagueness and diff usion of the world and prepar[e] it for ‘living the way one reads.’ ”52 This mutual interplay between reading and living is highlighted by Rachel Fulton in her work on Marian devotion and the Song of Songs, wherein she shows that “for the monks, texts—and biblical texts in particular—were not so much read as lived.”53 The body is thus conditioned via the mind to become adapted to a text and read accordingly. Likewise, the mind can be conditioned via the body (from the outside in) by means of correct behavior, speech, and discipline. Stephen Jaeger has underscored the role of the inner and outer in medieval education: “For Hugh of Saint Victor discipline began with the control of the body and moved inward. For Bernard the cultivation of virtue begins in the conscience and moves outwards.”54 While this poetics—which operates between inner and outer persons and moves both ways—may not be a belabored, conscious production, a work, or any work, may be steeped in a poetic tradition inherited through cultural and textual milieux.55 The growing tendency, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, to associate an active spiritual life with embodied forms of understanding is critical for understanding how the mystic’s body is read, understood, and connected to spiritual life.56 Hadewijch’s spirituality radicalizes the theme of living as one reads to the extent of dispensing with any exterior vow, encouraging all formal rule to be generated from within. As far as we know, Hadewijch, a beguine, took no ecclesiastical vows, even though her spirituality shows Pauline, Augustinian, Cistercian, and Victorine influence and demonstrates contact with Latinate sources. For Hadewijch, the interiorization of an ecclesiastical vow, a vow that marks and seals


Copyrighted Material

22

P

INTRODUCTION

the admission of an exterior rule, is deemed unnecessary and even obstructing in sealing her union with God. Hadewijch explains, “With a rule of life, people encumber themselves with many things from which they could be free; and that causes reason to err. A spirit of good will assures greater interior beauty than any rule could devise. . . . In desires for devotion, all souls err who are seeking anything other than God. For we must seek God and nothing else” (CW, 54).57 For Hadewijch as for many other beguines, rules imposed from the “outside” do not necessarily reflect the “inner beauty” (in binnen scoendere) that comes out of this autodiscipline and means nurturing the inner. Obedience to an outer rule is put aside in favor of a spiritual exercise—a self-imposed rule in the individual’s desire for devotion. For Hadewijch, as for Bernard, interior beauty trumps exterior form, although exterior comportment may reflect a divinely ordered soul. This emphasis on the inner in Hadewijch, however, does not exempt her from outward manifestations of the “inner beauty” of the soul. Like her contemporary Beatrice, Hadewijch also requires that one live the divine and, like her Cistercian counterpart, that she live the way she reads. The distinction between inner and outer persons and its relation to modes of reading has an existing and uncontroversial counterpart in the recent scholarly recognition and revalorization of the active, the embodied, and the link to hermeneutic and affective practices in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. This phenomenon of inner and outer bodies also deploys the deep structure or informing background of such tendencies in very particular and sometimes unexpected ways. As I have been suggesting, while the body appears to be materially present in women’s mystical texts, and while mystics seem to be calling into attention their own bodily experiences, the body of the mystic should not be read only according to the time of sensation, exteriority, and unmediated experience. To do so is to misleadingly detach women’s embodiment from the long tradition of the inner and outer bodies, discussed above, evident in their monastic contemporaries. In reading the mystic’s text solely in terms of the body, we privilege a decontextualized phenomenality that, as I will show, needs to be read in relation to textual mediation (that is, how it is mediated by language) and in relation to an atemporal referent (that is, in relation to what it promises in the register of the eternal) in order to be fully understood. The time of the mystic’s body thus needs to be read—and is often read by the mystic and hagiographer—along the syncopated measure of a time that is not its own, the time of the inner person that animates the body and the memory of an experience or consciousness of divinity that recalls an atemporal moment to which the mystic is bound and seeks to return. This atemporal moment orients and punctuates the mystic’s texts and persons, in turn providing an underpinning that sets a measure for the work.


Copyrighted Material

INTRODUCTION

P 23

This other temporality will be important structurally in the ways I have outlined, but it will also contribute to the significance of song and music in relation to the reconfiguration of historical time. The influential role of the liturgy in women’s mysticism highlights this temporal refiguration. Reading the medieval mystic’s body—an act that is just as important for the hagiographer and the mystic as it is for us, although for different reasons—involves understanding how the present of the text hosts the promise of enlivening the less visible inner person and this other time to which it attests, allowing the body in its multiplicity to resonate in differing temporal and material registers. In examining this culture of hospitality—of times, bodies, texts—in close readings of the writings of Hadewijch and other mystics, I show that this poetics is both particular to women’s spirituality and at the same time relatable to other textual traditions and spiritual practices. Mysticism offers us a more complex idea of the materiality of the body, of the body’s relation to a text, and of the acts of reading and contemplation that join body and text together. The fact that the body makes an—often dramatic—appearance in many medieval women’s mystical texts is often considered in relation to a displaced and subversive form of textual authority (thus aligning the body and experience with a position of an authorial “I”). Yet the reason for this bodily presence may have less to do with such alluring subversion than with the hermeneutic tradition, outlined above, in devotional texts that uses the inner body to connect with scripture. Also important, of course, are women’s participatory role in the liturgy and their partaking in a communal identity, other active forms of devotional practice, and the attention paid by religious communities to controlling and refashioning the body (in its relation to time and place) according to an ideal that is promised in and through the body. In short, women’s “bodily presences” in texts may incorporate what is also conventional and permissible in their positions not as preachers and theologians, but as practitioners and observers of their faith. Women’s access to scriptural exegesis through the practice of liturgy, hymns, prayer, sermons, and regulations of their own bodily practices emphasizes the merging of inner and outer through the means of reading. The body is part of a script (textual and performative), part of a textual and temporal network that allows for its multiple articulation and offers a means for giving up a personal identity in favor of a promised unity with Christ. While mystics, like Bernard, look to the book of experience (liber experientiae)58 or the book of life (liber vitae) for a reflexive understanding of meaning in scripture mediated by their conscience or mind, the point of bodily involvement for women mystics may not have so much to do with the authority of experience, as we understand it (which grants a certain degree of autonomy to its subject and presupposes an active agency), but with the authority of the inner body and the imago Dei which does not properly belong to


Copyrighted Material

24

P

INTRODUCTION

her.59 As William of Saint Thierry reminds his audience, “When man loves God, man is at work, but it is God who works. Not Paul, but the grace of God with him.”60 The divine that acts in the mystic is not yet entirely of the mystic, except in hope and in promise. Since the mystic seeks to immerse herself in a memory of God operative within her, the category of authority is delicately distinct from the category of experience. The category of experience is also problematic in that the mystic undergoes what I call an unlived experience, an experience that does not find its roots in the time and place of the body proper, or the time and space of the here and now, but in the inner body and a promise that will unfold itself in time while never being entirely realized. This unlived experience, the experience of union with God, is experienced as a promise of union, but this union never actually happens in the time of its having been lived, that is, it never fully unfolds in chronological time, or the time that can be pointed to as “now.” Augustine and Paul provide the mystic text with a sense of the atemporal, that is, the eternal time of God, which is manifest in the perspective of the present, and in how a moment outside of time may be hosted by a moment in time without ever being reduced to it.

FR AMEWORK Examining the conceptualization of time, body, and language in Paul and Augustine provides a framework for understanding how these phenomena operate in Hadewijch’s texts, how language plays a part in their elaboration and constitution, and how these conceptual frameworks extend beyond the mystical tradition to appear and operate in other literary and spiritual practices. I am not arguing for a strict Augustinian reading that would completely explain any and all references to embodiment in the Middle Ages, à la D. W. Robertson; rather, I am showing a phenomenon apparent in (while not limited to) Augustine’s reading of the Trinity (initiated before him, as is evidenced in Hilary of Poitiers, Victorinus, and Theophilus of Antioch, among others), a phenomenon that partakes in a Pauline tradition and influences the conception of the Word as it relates to medieval mystical expressions of embodiment and temporality. The influence of Augustine, Paul, and Origen on the mystical tradition, and on medieval literature in general, in its literary and religious facets, is certainly widely recognized if not self-evident, yet the implications of this influence are what I pursue here in relation to the materiality of women’s bodies.61 The work of Hadewijch manifests this influence in ways pertinent to a wide spectrum of mystical texts. Hadewijch’s writings in verse and in Vision 7, with


Copyrighted Material

INTRODUCTION

P 25

which I began, are often cited for their expression of immediacy, corporeality, and eroticism, yet if looked at in light of their Pauline and Augustinian influence, the focus of chapter 1, her work exhibits a subtlety of literary and theological affiliations that challenges this overarching perception. Embodiment becomes intimately related to interpretation and the mediating properties of language, reinscribing the sense of materiality to a future moment and spiritual embodiment. By understanding Augustine’s elaboration of two persons (inner and outer), we can better comprehend the ways in which the united bodies witnessed in mystical texts, such as those of Christ and Hadewijch in Vision 7, are unity promised but never fulfi lled, destabilizing the idea of a body that possesses unity in and of itself. The unusual diversity of genres of Hadewijch’s work—letters, visions, songs (poems in stanzas), rhyming letters (poems in couplets), and a descriptive list of people who have reached “perfection”—presents an opportunity for demonstrating how different poetic and prose forms correlate to different ways of embodying and inhabiting the divine particular to the focus and practice of her spirituality as a beguine. At the same time, the specificity that ties form and content together in her work gives us a measure to gage the singularity of other women’s mystical texts. Focusing primarily on Hadewijch’s Visions, but looking to Hildegard’s and Marguerite d’Oingt’s visionary activity, chapter 2 examines the temporal and hermeneutic roles inner and outer bodies serve in connecting visions to narrative and to embodied experience. Visions place an emphasis on relating the inner person to the outer, helping to shape the embodiment of spiritual life from the inside out. Like the Carthusian prioress Marguerite d’Oingt, Hadewijch partakes of the Cistercian language of spiritual battle; nevertheless, their respective visions’ uses of imagery reflect differences in beguine and Carthusian spirituality, the latter using embodied book-related imagery pertinent to the emphasis on reading and book-learning, unlike the beguine emphasis on an active life. In chapter 3 I explore the importance of the term werke for Hadewijch, a concept related to the Pauline notion of “deeds,” which follows Richard of Saint Victor’s emphasis on the lived (outer) person as the highest means of conformity with the divine. Through werke, the outer body is transformed according to the perfected inner body manifest in the visions. As the visions progress, the way Hadewijch reads and understands the inner informs the nature and experience of the outer material body. Embodiment is thus inextricable from reading, interpreting, and performing textuality, recasting how we conceptualize the role of the body in women’s mystical texts. While visions operate from the inside out, Hadewijch’s Liederen (her songs, or poems in stanzas), the subject of chapter 4, operate primarily from the outside in. Drawing on an understanding of the medieval liturgical uses of psalms, this


Copyrighted Material

26

P

INTRODUCTION

chapter demonstrates how Hadewijch’s Liederen provoke, structure, and provide a hermeneutic means for understanding affect and performing imitatio in a way that informs many women’s mystical texts. Hadewijch’s spirituality is clearly influenced by the Cistercian and Victorine traditions, yet to reduce her role to merely being a sophisticated advocate of these forms of spirituality would overlook the ways in which her writings innovate from within this tradition and also the ways in which her work reflects its gendered audience and milieu. As the following chapters make clear, Hadewijch’s work evidences a complex salvational theology that emphasizes community and suffering particular in both style and content to her life as a beguine, yet exemplary for how we may approach the many other mystics in order to understand singularity of their own spiritual idiom. By comparing her writings to other women’s—Hildegard von Bingen, Marguerite d’Oingt, and Julian of Norwich, among others—all of whom are influenced by Pauline and Augustinian distinctions of inner and outer persons yet manifest this influence in significantly different ways, we may begin to understand a poetics of embodiment. How we read literature is, as always, a product of our own self-fashioning; in our desire for bodies, selves, agency, sexuality, autonomy, teleology, clear periodicity, and well-defined subjectivity, we read only one side of an increasingly complex story. A new set of criteria (of which this study of Hadewijch is one example) bound to a historic specificity and at the same time able to read theologically across mysticism can produce a more consistent means for understanding and assessing the singularity of women’s mystical texts. If we read women’s mystical texts with an eye for two persons, two bodies, two sets of senses, and a theological complexity that yokes these concepts to the means and style of their presentation, then we no longer truncate and isolate their relation to the exegetical tradition of which they are a part. While I do not intend to overlook the productivity of the category of gender as it has been invoked over the past thirty years, it is time to also acknowledge the narrow confines of this designation and the way in which it has paradoxically limited our understanding of women’s writings. If we put aside the concept of gender as an overt “given,” we can ask how it might resurface critically, once similarities between men and women’s writings are established, to help think through differences in style, language, interpretative practices, forms of literacy, and uses of textuality. If we formulate our criteria with an eye to the categories and concerns immanent in medieval texts, these new criteria may generate new categories, a different “order of things,” to echo Foucault, for how we read.


Promised Bodies, by Patricia Dailey